Do Female Leaders Need To Be Masculine, Feminine, or Both?

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For years, women in leadership have faced the so-called “double bind”: lead in a friendly and collaborative (i.e. feminine) way, and you are pegged as a weak leader; be assertive and dominant (i.e. masculine), and you are penalized for being unfeminine. A new article in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies looks at these stereotypes in the context of transformational leadership, offering some gender-bending implications for both men and women:

Organizations aiming to enhance female leaders’ career progression may be well advised to encourage female leaders to develop and display various transformational leadership behaviors. What is interesting from our study is that female leaders, and indeed the organizations they work for, should think about the extent to which they possess gender-typical attributes. Our study suggests that although it would be advantageous for them to have masculine and/ or feminine attributes, what does not work is if they lack both. This lack of gender-typical attributes seems to be particularly negative when using charisma/inspiration. When female leaders lack both feminine and masculine attributes, with regard to implied role deficits they may be seen to lack both interpersonal warmth (Heilman & Okimoto, 2007) and professional competence (Eagly & Carli, 2007). For male leaders, our findings suggest that possessing feminine and masculine attributes (i.e., being androgynous) is advantageous, especially when using contingent reward, as this might result in increased workgroup performance.

JLOS_72ppiRGB_150pixWFrom a more practical perspective, organizational career management programs may offer trainings for both female and male leaders in, for example, self-assertiveness along with communication skills to ensure these leaders develop and possess the gender-typical attributes that can positively influence effectiveness. Conventionally, it is recommended that female leaders should be trained in self-assertiveness and male leaders should be trained in communication skills, thereby compensating for stereotypically assumed deficits (i.e., lack of self-assertiveness in female leaders; lack of communication skills in male leaders: Berryman-Fink & Fink, 1985; Sargent, 1981). Our suggestion is to train female and male leaders in both self-assertiveness as well as communication skills. In this way female leaders could be equipped with the feminine and/or masculine attributes that they need to avoid being undifferentiated, whereas male leaders could be provided with the feminine and masculine attributes that they need to demonstrate androgyny.

Read the paper, “Gender Role Self-Concept, Categorical Gender, and Transactional-Transformational Leadership: Implications for Perceived Workgroup Performance,” by Hans-Joachim Wolfram of Kingston University and Lynda Gratton of London Business School, in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies.

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This is interesting although one cannot help thinking that part of the leadership qualities (if not the main one) is the ability to follow through with key principles/values. The question that arises is what type of personality supports commitment to social justice/environmental care principles despite the pressures from executive management (generally favouring quantity over quality or long term relationships). The debate tends to be truncated (and polarised?) by focusing on gender or other types of differences which tend to sideline these important issues.


I like the suggestions for training women in self-assertiveness, and men in communication. This resonated with me because I have worked my way to the glass ceiling that, unfortunately is still intact. I also think that conflict management should be paramount in leadership. Many problems can be alleviated.


.. lead in a friendly and collaborative manner …

and you are pegged as a weak leader;

be assertive and dominant and you are penalized for being overly aggressive, micromanager, and a jerk –

Just lead

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