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8 Leadership Lessons Men Can Learn from Women

I’ve been reading Why do so Many Incompetent Men become leaders! (it was a title that made me smile) Please don’t get me wrong – I’m no man hater – I have an amazing hubby, 2 fantastic sons, a brilliant dad, and I know some amazing male leaders! But I also have come across bad ones too!

There has been a lot of talk about ensuring more women become leaders, balancing out our representation in the ranks of power, rightly so. As long as those women get in on merit, not just because of their gender of course! Too many suggested solutions to striking the balance , however, are based on the misconception that women ought to emulate men. The thinking is: “If men have most of the top roles, they must be doing something right, so why not get women to act like them?”

This logic fails to account for the relatively dismal performance of some leaders — who are overwhelmingly male. The real problem is not a lack of competent females; it is too few obstacles for incompetent males, which explains the surplus of overconfident, narcissistic, and unethical people in charge.

According to Harvard Business Review, gender differences in leadership effectiveness (i.e. what it takes to perform well) are out of sync with gender differences in leadership emergence (what it takes to make it to the top). Research shows that the prevalence of male senior leaders is not a product of superior leadership talent in men. Large quantitative studies, demonstrate that gender differences in leadership talent are either nonexistent, or they may actually favour women.

So, therefore, maybe it would make more sense to flip the suggested remedy: instead of encouraging women to act like male leaders (many of whom are incompetent), we should be asking men in power to adopt some of the more effective leadership traits more commonly found in women. This would create a pool of better role models who could pave the way for both competent men and women to advance?

8 Leadership Lessons for Men,

Here are some top leadership lessons that most men can learn from the average woman.

Don’t lean in when you’ve got nothing to lean in about. There is a trend of telling women to lean in, using qualities like assertiveness, boldness, or confidence. Speaking up when actually listening is the better tactic. In men, these qualities can turn into self-promotion, taking credit for others’ achievements, talking to be noticed and acting in aggressive ways. Since there has never been a strong link between leaning in and being good at something — especially for men —a better option would be to not rewarding those who lean in when they lack the talents to back it up.

Reward competence not confidence! Businesses should promote people into leadership roles when they are competent rather than confident, vetting them for their expertise, track record, and relevant leadership competencies (e.g., intelligence, curiosity, empathy, integrity, and coachability). Note that all these attributes are far better evaluated with science-based assessments than via the typical job interview. In the job interview leaders will meet ‘other’ leaders who may well have the same poor skills, which they see as a ‘good thing’, ie just like them !

Raise your self awareness. We live in a world that celebrates self-belief, but it is far more important to have self-awareness. There can be a conflict between the two. For instance, awareness of your limitations (flaws and weaknesses) is incompatible with high levels of self-belief, and the only reason to be utterly devoid of self-doubt and insecurities is delusion. I’ve met a few of those in my corporate career.

Although most women are not as insecure as they are portrayed to be in much of the popular media, studies do show that they are generally less overconfident than men. Women tend to be more aware of how people see them and this gives them the capacity to spot gaps between where they want to be and where they actually are. People who see themselves in a more critical way than others do are better able to prepare, and that’s a solid way to increase your competence and performance.

Lead through shared purpose and inspiration. Academic studies show that women are more likely to lead through inspiration, transforming people’s attitudes and beliefs, and aligning people with meaning and purpose (rather than through carrots and sticks), than men are. Since transformational leadership is linked to higher levels of team engagement, performance, and productivity, it is a critical path to improving leaders’ performance. If men spent more time trying to win people’s hearts and souls, leading with both EQ and IQ, as opposed to leaning more on the latter, and nurturing a change in beliefs rather than behaviors, they would be better leaders.

Put your team ahead of yourself. It’s very hard to turn a group of people into a high-performing team when your main focus is yourself. People who see leadership as a glorified career destination and individual accomplishment are too self-centered to foster their teams’ wellbeing and unlock their subordinates’ potential. I have seen this in action so many times with my bosses. Actions were not taken to enable their teams, as it would have hindered their career, even though it was right for the business! Blame was placed on team members rather than being owned by the leader, even when the team members were merely carrying out the bosses wishes! On the flip side certain actions were taken to win hearts and minds of their bosses even though the feeling of their team it wasn’t the right thing to do.

Imagine a person who is only interested in being a leader because they are chasing a bigger salary, the best office, a more senior title, or any form of status. Clearly, they will be less interested in making others better; their only goal is to be more successful themselves. Because men are generally more self-focused than women, they are more likely to lead in a narcissistic and selfish way. If the average male leader wants to improve their performance, they would do well to adopt a less self-centered style of leadership. Keeping talented team members away from senior teams, allowing exposure of their talents, is also often a sign of a self serving leader.

Lead with empathy and compassion. Throughout history, we have told women that they are too kind and caring to be leaders. Twenty-first century leadership demands that leaders establish an emotional connection with their teams, and that is arguably the only reason to expect leaders to avoid automation. Indeed, while AI will hijack the technical and hard-skill elements of leadership, so long as we have humans at work, they will crave the validation, appreciation, and empathy that only humans — not machines — can provide. Men can learn a lot about how to do this effectively by watching and emulating women. Or maybe AI can take over their roles !

Focus on nurturing and elevating your team. Female leaders have been proven to be more likely to coach, mentor, and develop their direct reports than male leaders. They are true talent agents, using feedback and direction to help people grow. This means being less transactional and more strategic in their relationship with colleagues, and it also includes the openness to hire people who are better than themselves, because their egos are less likely to stand in the way. This enables them to unlock other people’s potential and promote effective cooperation on their teams. While we gravitate towards leaders who are self-focused and self-centered, the likelihood that such individuals can turn a group of people into a high-performing team is low.

Lead with humility. We have been asking for humble leaders for 20 years or so, but we keep gravitating toward ones who are overconfident and narcissistic (generally not female). There are well-established gender differences in humility, and they favor women. Not all women are humble, of course, but selecting leaders on humility would result in more female than male leaders. Humility is fundamentally a feminine trait. It is also one that is essential to being a great leader. Without humility it will be very hard for anyone in charge to acknowledge their mistakes, learn from experience, take into account other people’s perspectives, and be willing to change and get better. Perhaps the issue is not that men are unwilling or unable to display it, but that we dismiss them for leadership roles when they do. This must change, for humility is a critical driver of leadership effectiveness in both men and women.

It also makes me question how many male leaders are trying to fit the approved mould, rather than being their genuine self? Quite often behind the gruff leader sits a big softie who is scared to let the feeling side come out.

Does reading this upset you?

Ask yourself why. If you’re a man, does this make you feel that there’s a campaign against white males and toxic masculinity and that angry feminism is on the rise? That reaction is getting in the way of your learning from women what you can do to make yourself more successful. If you’re a woman — and/or a feminist — do you reject the idea that women are generally more likely to display feminine traits than men are? That’s exactly the reason the average woman has more potential for leadership than the average man.

The best gender equality intervention is to focus on equality of talent and potential — and that only happens when we have gender-equal leadership to enable men to learn different leadership approaches from women as much as women have always been told to learn leadership approaches from men.

Men, these lessons accelerate your leadership development. Women, these are the reasons why you should have been leaders already and why you should demand what you deserve now. Remember we can all learn from each other, it’s just been too one way! Now is the time to change that

I created Leading Ladies partly, so we can identify what good looks like for future leadership. So women can have a voice on the board that is theirs, genuine, honest, open and very much female. Then to inspire future generations with this knowledge.

So feel free to join us… Find out more here

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