Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

Leadership: Gender and Executive Style

Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

Leadership: Gender and Executive Style

Article excerpt


Leadership literature has often predicted that men favor a "transactional" style while women are more comfortable with a "transformational" style. Indeed, as women began to breach the glass ceiling in recent decades, many believed they needed to act like male executives. Over time, however, actual field studies show a convergence of the two styles as executives discover and leverage their particular strengths in the context of their business environments. Based on 80 interviews with male and female executives that appeared in the Sunday New York Times "Corner Office" series in 2010 and 2011, the author spotlights many significant aspects of current leadership styles and analyzes links to gender as predicted in foundational literature--or the absence of such links. Some results are expected, but some are surprising.


Twenty-two years ago, Judith Rosener's "Ways Women Lead" was published in the Harvard Business Review. It reported that women tend toward a transformational leadership style based on personal power. Women were described as using that style to motivate followers to change self interest into group interest through shared concern for broader, overarching goals. Rosener reported that men, on the other hand, tend toward a transactional leadership style based on position-based power. Men were described as using that style to leverage subordinate performance through a series of exchanges in which rewards and sanctions are based on the subordinate's work (1990).

Five years later Deborah Tannen published "The Power of Talk: Who Gets and Heard and Why" also in the Harvard Business Review (1995), and her book with parallel content Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work (1995). Tannen's work depicted gender-linked behavior consistent with that reported by Rosener, describing these behaviors as derived from developmental socialization. Tannen reported that working women, as a result, interact in ways centered on relationship, people, collaboration, and furthering rapport. She described working men as interacting in ways centered on power, task, showing their ability and knowledge, challenging others and resisting challenges, and seeking to win.

Some studies in the years since, including the meta-analyses summarized by Gary Powell in Women & Men in Management, have found that effects of gender on leadership style vary based on the contexts within which they are studied. While the overall findings of his review of gender-linked leadership behavior are consistent with those of Rosener and Tannen (i), Powell in addition concluded that laboratory and field studies may produce different results. Powell reports that fewer gender-linked style differences are found in field studies of actual managers than are found in laboratory studies or studies of non-leaders who are asked how they would behave if they were leaders (Powell, 2011).

It has been 26 years since a Wall Street Journal article by Carol Hymowitz and Timothy Schellhardt used the term "glass ceiling" (1986). The impact of gender on leadership style appears to be no less salient today than it did to these ground-breaking authors. The number of women who have broken through to executive levels remains relatively small and disproportionate to their demographic workforce presence. The nonprofit research organization Catalyst reports women to be 51.5% of workers in management, professional, and related occupations but 15.7% of Fortune 500 board members, 14.4% of Fortune 500 executive officers, 7.6% of Fortune 500 top earners, and 2.8% of Fortune 500 chief executive officers (2011). Moreover, its study of MBAs from top business schools found that these high-potential men advance and experience compensation growth at a faster rate than their peer women starting with their first jobs (Carter and Silva, 2010a). It also found that growth rates for high-potential women strengthened when they made their achievements known and networked with influential others. …

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