How leadership is designed for men

It's time our notions of leadership were updated

Sarah Thompson
28th March 2023
It's time our notions of leadership were updated
Common depictions of leadership are seen from a male point of view, this can lead us to think of leadership as something inherently masculine, but is this really the case?

Recent studies by the ‘American Psychological Association’ show that there isn’t empirical basis for the claim that men are better leaders.

In fact the main difference found out from the research was the differing styles of leadership that men and women adopted. Men opted for leadership styles that managed tasks, alternately women were seen to operate through leading other people.

This research prompts a very interesting discussion about the way society perceives leadership.

In most scenarios, leadership is seen through lenses of strength, competition, ability to take risks and asserting yourself.

However, the diverging methods of leadership that the recent research shows, is that maybe there is a fundamental flaw in the way we define leadership which makes it seem like an inherently male trait.

Men have been seen to lead with this ‘from above’ strategy more naturally. This is a style of autocratic leadership with a focus on delegating tasks.

This hierarchical nature of leadership is supported by the patriarchy. Men are not called out for being assertive or competitive in the way women are. For example, women will more likely be referred to as ‘bossy’ than a man for simply asserting their position.

Discussion of hormonal imbalance is often also mentioned as a reason for their lack of leadership proficiency

Additionally, in mainstream conversation about political leaders people are often concerned with the irrational nature of women. Discussion of hormonal imbalance is often also mentioned as a reason for their lack of leadership proficiency.

The patriarchal society also propels a narrative that practical leadership is not possible by women who are seemingly scripted by their choice between career or children. This archaic biological tie still prevents women from gaining access to higher positions in order to prove their competence.

With all of this in consideration it is easy to see how masculine leadership qualities are privileged, leading society to entangle the trait of leadership with the masculine essence.

So to some extent, yes, leadership is a male trait, in the way it is most commonly understood. But this is mostly due to essentialist social construction. It in no way negates women from the picture of leadership.

Within the recent research, it was found that women tend to lead through organising other people. This approach is sometimes referred to as a ‘participatory’ style of leadership and usually follows a more democratic style of power.

Participatory leadership is altogether different from the findings of the male ‘command and control’ style. It relies more on communication between the leader and the people being led. Additionally, female leadership tends toward a more inclusive relationship with those led, built around a core of emotional intelligence.

to truly appreciate the leadership qualities women possess, we must broaden the commonly accepted styles and traits that make up ‘good leadership styles’

In many studies, women have been found to be more effective leaders. I’m not here to comment on that specifically. Instead I believe that to truly appreciate the leadership qualities women possess, we must broaden the commonly accepted styles and traits that make up ‘good leadership styles’.

By saying this, I do not wish to be misconstrued as stating that women cannot also have these traditionally ‘masculine’ leadership qualities.

Through widening acceptance of what is considered good leadership I believe that we will start to deconstruct these binary definitions of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits.

Surely by taking the best and most effective parts of typically ‘male’ and ‘female’ leadership, the role of leadership positions will be bettered. Having the traditional assertion of masculine decision making, with conventionally ‘feminine’ emotional intellect. Creating amalgamated leadership styles independent of somebody’s gender.

By conceiving of leadership in only one sense – through masculine traits – female leaders pale in comparison. If instead,  we allowed more space for alternative leadership styles to count as such, possibly leadership and masculinity would diverge.

Essentially, in the current way we define leadership, it is more lenient to typically masculine forms of leadership. This is due to leadership being trapped in the confines of socially constructed masculine traits. To widen this definition and stop reducing down to gender binaries would be to the benefit of all.

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