Effective Leaders Are Adopting More Female Attributes

By: Christine Persaud

July 22, 2014

woman-blackberryThe idea of a strong leader has always been equated to traits like confidence, control, and the avoidance of showing signs of weakness. But, according to a new study, that’s changing. And the most effective leaders, whether male or female, are adopting more traditionally female-centric qualities.

The Ketchum Leadership Communications Monitor (KLCM) was conducted by the global communications company with more than 6,500 people in 13 countries, in partnership with market research company Ipsos Reid. It discovered that people are no longer interested in the typically “macho” leadership method. The new “feminine” model, as Ketchum calls it, includes traits like leading by example, communicating openly and transparently, admitting mistakes, and bringing out the best in others. And, according to the study, female leaders performed better than male leaders in all four of these categories. In fact, in some instances, women leaders scored almost twice as high as men. This is despite the fact that male leaders still outnumber females globally, at 54% versus 46%, reports the study.

“The show-no-weakness, admit-no-errors macho leadership model has been on its sick bed for years,” comments Geoffrey Rowan, Partner and Managing Director for Ketchum Canada, adding that the “command-and-control” approach to leadership that can often times be perceived as one-way, domineering, and potentially even arrogant, is no longer considered the effective way to lead.

“…We are seeing the birth of a new leadership model of communication based on transparency, collaboration, genuine dialogue, clear values and the alignment of words and deeds,” says Rowan.

The last point is an important one, as there currently sits a full 22-point gap between what’s expected from a leader, and what people feel leaders across 19 verticals actually deliver. Almost three-quarters (74%) of the respondents rank transparent communication as the top quality that makes a good leader, yet only 29% feel leaders do this effectively.

On a positive note, leaders in the technology sector were actually rated the most effective among all verticals considered. This industry had 37 more points than the next highest sector, which was hotels, tourism, and leisure, on the scale that measured performance in communication, taking responsibility when things go wrong, and effective leadership overall.

There’s a fifth critical trait: handling controversial issues or crises calmly and confidently. On this, both male and female leaders were relatively on par at 48% and 52%, respectively.

In attempt to avoid perpetuating any stereotypes, it’s important to note that not every male leader falls into the traditional male leadership type, nor does every female leader fall into this “feminine” leadership style. But as a whole, effective leaders are, or should be, following this more female-centric approach, if this study has anything to say about it.

What remains to be proven is if the traits that a representative sample of individuals feel would make a good leader are actually the traits that do, in fact, make a successful leader. That said, a leader is only as powerful as the people who work for and with him (or her). And in this study, at least, those people have spoken. Openly and transparently.

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