When it Comes to Leadership, Women Rule

Or do they?

To fuel debate for the October 19th edition of #LeadershipChat Steve Woodruff and I have chosen the article entitled, “Girls Rule” by Michael K. Ozanian at Forbes.com.

The gist of the article comes in the very first paragraph: “Which companies perform better for investors–those led by women or those by men? In our limited study, at least, there’s a ringingly clear answer: Women deliver the goods on a far more consistent basis.”

So, does that mean that women make better leaders?

Well, I was all set to make a very strong case that they do.  But when I started to think about it I realized that what I respond to in a leader in actually their feminine attributes.  For example, I absolutely embraced in my mind President Pinera of Chile as he embraced each of the miners that rose from the depths of the Earth last week to freedom – rejoicing jubilantly, showing his emotion and his passion, exalting with his people and his country, hugging, kissing, singing, inspiring…  

He was showing his feminine side – wasn’t he?  And I believe in my heart I’d follow him anywhere.

When I think about the leaders I’ve worked with and for, the ones I have most respected are women and the few men that genuinely empowered me. 

As I think about that last part, I think what I’m saying is in my experience male leaders have a much harder time giving power to others – empowering others – to make something happen in the way they deem best.  I think men have a deep rooted fear that by empowering others they are giving away their own power, which I believe could not be further from the truth.

On the other hand, women leaders I’ve worked with and have admired seem to have a more innate ability to empower others, nurture others, to not fear others’ success but rather to set their employees up for success, to share credit, to listen, to negotiate without ego getting involved but rather to strive for the win-win, to encourage, to teach, to trust, and to allow themselves to dream big.

So what struck me, in particular, about “Girls Rule” was the statement that Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon, who led the study with a 394% increase in the stock performance of her company during her tenure, is known for her “confrontational style.”  I’m curious as to why the author pointed this out – does he think that is what drives her success?  Did he want us to know that her defining style is one that some might say is male in nature?

Which leads me to these questions:

  • Is it perhaps leaders who exert a balance of feminine and masculine attributes as they lead that are most successful, and not necessarily one gender or the other?
  • Do I “respond” best to leaders who openly exhibit feminine attributes because I’m a woman?
  • Do my male colleagues respond to feminine attributes more so than male attributes when it comes to leaders?
  • Do men feel the need to hide their “feminine side” (and you all have one, it’s part of being human) when it’s time for them to lead?


What do you think…? Join Steve and I on Tuesday evening, October 19th at 8:00 pm Eastern Time for a lively #LeadershipChat debate!  And don’t forget to go to Steve’s blog tomorrow to see his video counterpoint to my post!

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Photo is Estatua de la Libertad by Esparta.


  1. Lisa,

    I think a balance works best and that one side may need to predominate depending on context.
    Hans Hageman´s last blog post ..Bullying and Some Thoughts On Stopping It

    • Hans,

      Interesting point that depending on the circumstances the scales may tip a bit. And even though I asked it I wonder if it’s really even possible to be balanced? I hope you’ll join us tomorrow night to chat more about it – thank you so much for taking the time to comment. :)

  2. OK, I am doing my homework even though I’m not sure I can join the chat.

    I think the results are encouraging if not misleading. First, I’m glad to see the study was able to include 26 women. I wanted to do a similar study back in 1999, but that was impossible because at the time I could not find a single female leader of a publicly traded company. We are making progress.

    Still a sample size of 26 is way to small to draw the conclusion that being female causes performance, and there are way too many other variables that are not accounted for. The only explanation offered is gender, and that’s not enough.

    What if we had compared the performance of companies run by people less than 5 feet 8 inches tall to those taller? If we found an effect, how would we explain it?

    Open ended questions like “how do you explain this?” are better (with all do respect) that the four questions leading questions you suggest. (don’t ask yes/no questions!)

    • Bret,

      You’re so wonderful to voluntarily do homework even if you can’t attend class! :)

      Thanks so much for the great feedback about the questions, I never thought about it that way and will mull that over in future posts. I think as I was writing them I was imagining more of a, “hmmmm, I don’t know, let me think about that” kind of response – but I can see how you’re right that they may lean more yes/no.

      And yes – thank goodness we’re making progress and yes, 26 *is* a very small sample size yet a very impressive array of companies that they are leading.

      I hope your schedule will change a bit and you’ll be able to join us tomorrow night as I do expect we’ll be mulling over how to explain it. All the very best!

  3. Lisa Mack says:

    What about women leaders who exhibit male attributes, especially with other women for the same reason you describe male leaders?

    I have had many experiences with women who bring out their inner male. They did not empower their people. If anything, they micro-managed their people so not to show any signs of weakness or control. I’m not saying all women leaders I’ve observed but they are out there!

    • Lisa,

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I believe that’s why, as I was thinking about the leaders I’ve worked for and with, I realized I couldn’t make a generalization.

      Probably the worst leader I ever worked for was a woman who was extremely controlling. It is perhaps unfair of me to associate controlling behavior with males – which is why I asked some of those questions at the end of the post. I do expect we’ll have a lively discussion about all of this tomorrow night – hope very much that you’ll be there and honored to have a fellow MENG colleague stop by!

  4. Well won’t this make for an interesting #LeadershipChat…

    This “study” is one of my favorite things about marketing and data…. Give me enough time and I can make it say anything…

    So, for example – in looking at the data – the author states that 16 of the top 24 beat their industry… and that in total they topped their respective industries by 15%”….

    So, if one were being a bit jaded about this study – one might say that just over half of the most “powerful women in business” (60%) beat their industry’s average… But of the 40% who didn’t – they underperformed by an average 17%… Oops… Thanks Carol Bartz for screwing it up for the rest of the women :-)

    Also, it’s hooey that it’s not skewed by Anne there at the top… Take her out of the equation and the performance of the other 25 is only 8% over industry average… Still impressive mind you – just not quite as headline grabbing…

    Anyway, having said all that – this is a wonderfully fascinating topic for conversation – especially as you’ve framed it here… The idea of masculine and feminine energy, and how it affects leadership in the C-Suite is just a wonderful topic… And is really what we should be looking at anyway…

    Looking forward to the discussion….
    Robert Rose´s last blog post ..Top 25 Content Strategist

    • Rob,

      It seems you and Bret are on the same page here – the headline is questionable, and I love the way you laid that out for us! I’m so glad you like the question of masculing v. feminine energy and its impact – and thrilled you’ll be able to be at #LeadershipChat tomorrow night! Looking forward to seeing you there… :)

    • Michael Weiss says:

      I agree that this is a fascinating topic. I don’t find delegating tasks and empowering my employees as a feminine trait. is it? I delegate specific tasks because I know that someone else can do a better job. I give praise and nurture my employees because a happy employee is a good employee. Does that make me more in touch with my feminine side?

      • Hi Michael,

        I think you raise some excellent questions, although I can weigh in on nurturing – that’s definitely a feminine trait. Is delegating? Is empowering? I have my opinions but I am very eager to hear others’ thoughts tomorrow night – hope we’ll see you there!

  5. I think what you are really comparing Lisa is whether certain personality traits make people better leaders. I think that makes for a valid argument. I don’t think gender is a fair comparison. It’s like saying men are better football fans because of their testosterone.

    Wait… should I be saving this for the #LeadershipChat debate?
    Bill Szczytko´s last blog post ..3 ways the new Facebook features can help your multifamily social media strategy

    • Bill,

      That’s quite possible and an interesting twist. Thank you for sharing it here and it sounds like you’ll be at #LeadershipChat tomorrow night to discuss it there as well. I hope that’s the case because you raise a great point and we’d be honored to see you there! :)

  6. Here’s the Woodruff response (w/video): http://bit.ly/95Og27
    Steve Woodruff´s last blog post ..Are Women Better Leaders than Men Puh-lease!

  7. Very thought provoking post. I know that I have had some very strong women as leaders in my life- they scared & inspired me in the same way my male leaders have. I think it has more to do with the level of respect for the person- not necessarily the gender. Women probably feel a sense of proving themselves- so they put more into it.
    Gina´s last blog post ..ECO 102- Microeconomics The Little Things That Matter

    • Thanks so much, Gina!

      And talk about thought-provoking, your sentence about women feeling the need to prove themselves is as well. It may be true and would be very interesting to see how others respond to that perception. I hope you’ll raise it tomorrow night! Thank you for taking the time to stop by and share your opinion – it means a lot to me. :)

  8. Hi Lisa,

    Love that you chose Lady Liberty for the graphic on this post!

    I’m in the camp nodding their heads ‘yes’ to your first bulleted question; I do believe that the best leadership style is an appropriate mix of yin and yang.

    Saw Steve’s headline and thought, “Oh THIS is gonna be good”…TweetChat Transcript worthy!

    I’m especially sorry to miss it but will be hosting a Phillies playoff game dinner party. I’ll sneak a Twitter stream peek if I can. Hopefully the Phillies will be as good at delivering what I know you’re both sure to bring!

    • I wanted to wait to respond til I saw Steve’s reply.
      I agree with Steve’s point that making a blanket statement that all women are better leaders than men isn’t fair.. (or to use his words “is stupid”)
      I also agree with both Steve and Lisa that certain leadership styles are considered feminine or masculine.
      I also agree with Steve that we should be choosing the right “person” for the right situation and time.
      But I think there’s an important point somehwat missing in this debate (though Lisa mentions it) – then why don’t we have more female leaders?
      Women are the majority of the population in the US and are about to be th majoirty of the workforce.
      So why is it that the very numbers this article is based on are being questions because the sample size of women leaders is too small?
      So I hope in your leadership chat tonight you’ll address what I think is the more interesting question – why don’t we have more female leaders?
      Holly Buchanan´s last blog post ..Sun Trusts Live Solid Is a Solid Winner

      • Holly,

        Done – I’ll be sure to bring it up. It’s an excellent question and perhaps as contentious as the original question. Thank you so much for letting us know your thoughts and for joining in the chat – it means so much to us! See you tonight…

    • You’ll be missed Jeanne and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you leaving the comment and letting us know your thoughts! I hope the transcript will live up to your expectations. :) Have a wonderful time tonight and hope to see you next week. :)

      • This is a fascinating and important topic. I really connect with your notion that it’s the feminine qualities that make the leader – male or female. I’ve found that women who try to be more ‘male’ in the role – controlling, overbearing, etc. tend to go to far – particularly if they’re competing in a male-dominated environment. But those that embrace who they are and stand on their own strengths are fabulous to work for / with.

        I actually thought the same of Pinera – powerful example of true leadership. More men should pay attention to this.

        This reminded me of the book Leadership of the Sexes – a great read for all leaders (my thoughts reposted here http://patrickprothe.com/2010/10/leadership-of-the-sexes-book-review/ – which talks about why men and women lead differently – it comes down to chemicals in the brain that affect style and approach. And how by being aware of these differences we can both become better leaders.
        Patrick Prothe´s last blog post ..Move over technology Time for us to drive

        • Patrick,

          I really wish you were there last night – that’s an incredible insight to say that women who embrace who they are and stand on their own strengths – and don’t try to be like men – are fabulous to work for and with. Thank you for that. I think more women need to hear it!

          Thank you, too, for the book recommendation. I will check it out. Hope to see you next Tuesday evening at 8pm ET!

  9. Hi Lisa…

    I suspect the answer to all your questions might well be a resounding YEEEESSSSS!
    Sharon Eden´s last blog post ..Gone fishing!

  10. Tim Jackson says:

    a shift in perception is underway. world in increasingly becoming aware of women around as consumers, as leaders as drivers of the overall economy. just take a look around and you see this. there are research reports focusing on women consumers, Mckinsey report highlighting the impact of women on organization profitability, An India CEO Vineet Nayar writing about women leadership.

    I guess women always ruled as leaders, the world has recently started to notice the same.

    • Tim,

      I think you’re right about the shift. It’s imperceptible right now in many ways and to many people but I think you’re right about it taking place. And isn’t it interesting when you look far back in history and see the impact woman made. So glad you’re saying that the world is starting to notice – I find that very exciting!

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here, Tim – I really appreciate it!


  1. […] is Lisa’s take on the issue, in which she raises some great questions. On the other hand, below is my rant. I don’t often […]

  2. […] my original blog post about this topic I made the comment, “in my experience male leaders have a much harder time giving power to […]

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