Most leadership positions in many large and mid-sized are still held by men. But, a few women in chief executive positions such as Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Cynthia Carroll or former CEO of of Anglo American rank among the world’s most powerful businesswomen and have proven that they are steering successfully their companies through unusually challenging times. There are other examples such as Queen Rania of Jordan who exert tremendous influence so as to make this world a really better place. In Europe a few women are currently running very successfully some of the largest utilities in an industry that has undergone demanding changes over the last few years. So, the questions are: “Are female leaders better positioned for meeting successfully the key challenges of the 21st century and what can we learn from them?”
Many scholars tend to assert that new technologies, genetic engineering or other innovative products will be the only keys for coping with our pressing problems on Earth. However, there might be another much more effective answer to these challenges: it is a shift towards a leadership paradigm embracing “feminine” values such as interrelationship, cooperation, integration, balance, holism and especially respect for each other.
For nearly 2000 years the worldview has been driven by a leadership paradigm based on autonomy, separateness and control. These have also been the root metaphors influencing business and science mainly in the Western world. This traditional “masculine” archetype supports not only autonomy and freedom, but also control and manipulation. Nothing was wrong with such an approach up to a point for it was the basis for an enormous technical advancement on earth. But over the last 2 decades this old paradigm based on classical “masculine” values got into big trouble. Already in the early 1990s the shortcomings of command- and-control management were becoming apparent. The hierarchy of bosses organized in ranks with each superior exercising authority over subordinates who do exactly what their boss wants has long been dominant. Many companies underwent a drastic paradigm shift in their leadership style over the last two decades. However, since then not a lot of things have really changed. According to reliable studies all over the world more than 70% of all employees do not trust their leaders anymore.
While working with many female leaders in over 25 different countries I personally found that women have some assets and embrace values that builds a more solid foundation for earning trust: Most of them dare to give an honest and straight feedback, rely more easily on their intuition when it comes to making decisions in critical situations and lending a caring hand for others, and promote cooperation.
Alice H.Eagly conducted a study based on the research of Bass and Avolio, who have identified eleven leadership behaviors in corporations, and found that women use five leadership behaviors (“People development”, “Expectation and rewards”, “Role model”, “Inspiration”, and “Participative decision making”) more frequently than men. Men adopt two behaviors (“Control and corrective action” and “Individualistic decision making”) more often than women.
Feminine values, as a basis for earning more trust, can also often be found in individuals living and leading authentically. Such people have learnt to stand up for their life mission, to live by their principles and to align consistently their actions with what their heart is telling them. Such individuals have found the power of speaking up and lending a caring hand to people and the planet as a whole by reaching deep into their hearts and living up to their unique life purpose.
The sad news is that business, politics and even education is not rewarding authenticity yet. We all are still growing up in a command- and-control society, which is not promoting to live authentically. Many are still driven by the constant fear of not amounting to anything or loosing praise and recognition if they dare to live up to our innate principles and values.
Therefore both men and women adopting an authentic leadership style are well positioned for becoming leaders earning a high degree of trust. Women however might even be much better positioned since they are already living up more frequently to the feminine values which seem to be a natural output of authentic leadership.
I strongly believe that women will play a significant role in the future when it comes to pave the way towards a new leadership paradigm driven by the power of authenticity for meeting successfully the key challenges of the 21st century. We are therefore well advised to both learn from their leadership style and to create the right structures and incentives so as to promote these leaders.