All of which begs the question: Do men and women lead differently? Is there such a thing as a "female style"? A recent analysis of forty-five separate studies addressing the question found that the answer was "yes." Women are slightly more likely to be "transformational" leaders, collectively setting goals and empowering their teams to achieve them. And men are more likely to be "transactional" leaders, letting subordinates know what is expected, rewarding them for their successes and holding them accountable for their failures. Not surprisingly, most leaders did not fit neatly into one or the other of these categories, but there was, nonetheless, a measurable difference based on gender.
Now comes the kicker: Research also shows that transformational leaders — especially those who also reward good performance, a positive aspect of transactional leadership common among women — tend to be more effective, particularly in the less-hierarchical, fast-paced, and innovation-driven contemporary world. So not only do women have a somewhat different style; it’s more likely to be successful.
To me, what’s most important about that finding is not that women rule (though I obviously have a soft spot for studies and statistics that put us girls in the most flattering light). Rather, it’s further evidence that there is more than one way to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, that different leadership styles — regardless of their gender bent — can get the job done. And that gives everyone more options; it creates a more flexible, more adaptive and ultimately more productive workplace.
"By valuing a diversity of leadership styles, organizations will find the strength and flexibility to survive in a highly competitive, increasingly diverse economic environment," says Dr. Judith Rosener of the University of California, Irvine.
Sally Helgesen, a leadership development expert, believes that because women have rarely fitted easily into corporate molds not designed for them, they have been "forced to pioneer policies and strategies that are turning out to be exactly suited to the conditions of the new knowledge-based economy. In the end, women’s greatest contribution to our changing world may be their insistence upon breaking the mold rather than just fitting in."
Among other things, the line between work and home is fading, and people — especially women — are learning to invent their own positions. I more or less invented my current "job," which I sometimes describe as "stay-at-home pundit." It’s an interesting and flexible mix that has included contributing to Vanity Fair, giving speeches, yakking about politics on television, consulting on politically themed-movies and television shows, and writing about stuff that interests me. I work out of an office in my house, which saves me time commuting (and I confess, on some days, showering). My children have (mostly) learned to respect my closed door, and when they don’t, I escape to the local public library, conveniently equipped with free wireless Internet. The technological innovations and cultural transformations that allow me to do what I do came together just in time for me. While I realize that it can’t work for everyone, there’s no question that opportunities to define a career path will continue to increase — a trend that I believe will be led by women.
The biggest downside to my current arrangement is the anxiety that I feel when I face the "occupation" line on a school form or loan application. I usually write "consultant" — and then hope I don’t get busted for I’m-not-sure-what. There’s also a certain guilt that comes from not having to leap out of bed before dawn to unload the dishwasher, fold the laundry, shower and blow-dry and apply makeup, get the kids ready for school, and burn rubber backing out of the driveway at 7:45 a.m. I recently saw a cartoon that summed up my life. A couple is sitting at the kitchen table in their bathrobes, drinking coffee. As the man taps away on his laptop, his wife says: "You’ve blurred the boundary between working from home and being unemployed."
This increasingly less structured, more flexible workplace suits women’s lives — and their skills. "When you put together a thirty-person project team [in the past], it was all people from Raytheon," explains Tom Peters, the management consultant. "Now, the thirty-person project team involves people from eleven companies, seven countries, and three continents. There’s no formal power or hierarchy. So we need a different set of relation-driven skills."
"This is why you want to hire women," says Pat Mitchell, a pioneer in broadcast news and the current president of the Museum of Radio and Television. "They are consensus builders. They really do look for different ways to resolve things. They are innovative and creative thinkers. And they do act on instinct and intuition."
From Why Women Should Rule the World. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Copyright © 2008 by Dee Dee Myers. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.