Battle of the Sexes: Male vs. Female Leadership
Do men and women lead differently?
While they share the same responsibilities in any given leadership role, researchers have found that in all the areas that really set leaders apart like how helpful, supportive and personally engaged they are, male and female leaders typically vary.
The result? Men and women tend to have two distinctly different leadership styles that shape how they run their teams.
Let’s begin with ladies first.
Females Are Transformational Leaders
Several studies show that women tend to use what’s called the transformational leadership style. This is a style where “leaders and their followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.”
Picture the leader who, instead of sitting in her office all day, frequently visits her team members while they’re working to offer guidance and encouragement. For most females, leadership isn’t just about accomplishing goals; they want to transform their followers into better people.
Here are some key tactics of transformational leaders:
- They seek to be a role model who inspires their subordinates
- They invest a lot of time in coaching their team members and care about their personal development
- They emphasize teamwork and authentic communication as a key to success
Whether you’re a man or a woman, here are some things you can do to become a more transformational leader:
- Spend more time engaging with your team members on a personal level
- Look for ways to inspire your team members to be more motivated in accomplishing your goals
Males are Transactional Leaders
Males on the other hand tend to favor the transactional leadership style. This is more of the old school leadership style where leaders are dominant figures with strict expectations and should not be questioned.
To understand transactional leadership, picture the boss who sits in his office giving orders and receiving progress updates from his employees, but rarely engages with them on a personal level. They’re all about the results.
Key tactics of transactional leaders include:
- They often remain uninvolved to let their teams focus on their work
- They wait until problems become severe before they step in take charge of the situation
- They usually only engage with subordinates to give orders and hold them accountable for making mistakes and/or failing to meet expectations
Here’s how to be a more transactional leader:
- Give subordinates the freedom to solve problems independently
- Provide clear directions so team members know how to meet your expectations
Why Do Males and Females Lead Differently?
Both leadership styles have benefits and limitations depending on the environment and team personalities, however, the effectiveness of each strategy isn’t necessarily what drives people to choose them. Research shows there are physiological differences between males and females that explain why females are more transformational while males are more transactional.
Let’s dig into the science.
Neuroscientists have discovered that women have higher oxytocin levels than men. Oxytocin is nicknamed “the cuddle hormone” because it makes you feel connected to people. Because of this, women instinctively care more about their subordinates’ well-being and have a stronger desire to connect with them on a personal level. This is why women, more so than men, view leadership as an opportunity to grow their subordinates as individuals instead of just giving directions to reach goals.
Women’s brains are also better at verbally explaining their emotions. You notice how women feel the need to share their feelings with you and expect you to share your feelings in return–this is why. In the workplace this shows when female leaders ask how you’re feeling about a project instead asking for a progress update.
It should come as no surprise that men are the opposite. They are neurologically wired to focus more on rewards which is why they prefer the performance-oriented transactional leadership style. To them, results yield their greatest sense of satisfaction. .
Many men also naturally fear vulnerability. Being emotionally vulnerable can trigger the release of the stress hormone, cortisol, causing men avoid addressing emotions because it stresses them out. They’d much rather focus on the logical problem-solving that accompanies the transactional leadership style.
Social expectations also play a role in male vs. female leadership styles.
Researchers have found that while males only need to display strength to be respected, women need to show strength and sensitivity. This lends itself well to the transformational leadership style because it allows them to set high expectations while personally helping the members of their teams. It could be that the transformational leadership style is more popular among women simply because it increases their likelihood of success.
Males on the other hand, tend to receive worse evaluations when they are emotional which reinforces their inclination to be stricter, more hands-off transactional leaders.
So Who Wins?
Cheers for the females! Research shows the transformational leadership style is more effective in the people-centered work environments that are becoming more popular today. Transformational leaders’ natural inclination to support their subordinates’ personal growth and to emphasize open communication allows them to create comfortable work environments and inspire exceptional results.
But, transactional leadership isn’t entirely bad. The benefit of it is subordinates have more autonomy which works for quiet, logical people who want to do their jobs without dealing with a leader who frequently stops by check in or forces them to make friends with their colleagues.
The key to being a successful leader is meeting the needs of your subordinates whether that’s giving them encouragement or the independence to work alone.
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