Leadership skills and traits traditionally considered soft and feminine have taken center stage in the post-industrial paradigm of leadership. Unsurprisingly, female leaders find it more natural to adopt these traits. That partly explains why women have emerged as more successful and effective leaders under pressure and otherwise in recent years.

We tend to confuse leadership with social dominance.

We all have preconceptions about what makes a leader great and effective. It is human nature to gravitate toward authoritarian leadership that displays high confidence, a lack of humility, and a headstrong attitude regarding various challenges. Do our instincts deceive us? Does such leadership fulfill its purpose in the context of the post-industrial paradigm of leadership?

Evolution and Leadership Skills

According to evolutionary leadership theory, during times of crisis, people tend to choose physically fit, young leaders exhibiting overwhelmingly masculine leadership traits.

By contrast, in peacetime, people more readily entrust leadership to older people with better social skills and “more feminine” leadership traits.

According to recent science, however, in this day and age and at the current development level of human society, these theories are no longer valid.

Women and Crisis Leadership

The ongoing COVID crisis has unequivocally proved that women are better leaders in a crisis. Does this mean that women lead better because they are women or because they find it more natural to adopt the principles of intelligent leadership?

Indeed, as I have pointed out in my leadership development books, some of the leadership skills and competencies that modern, intelligent leadership requires may carry feminine connotations for some.

Inasmuch as we consider caring, empathy, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence “feminine” traits, we can talk about feminine leadership abilities.

Leadership Development and “Feminine” Leadership Traits

From the perspective of leadership development, it makes little sense to brand such leadership traits as feminine or masculine. Looking at them through the lens of gender does, however, explain why women are emerging as more intelligent leaders than men, against the odds.

Humility is an essential intelligent leadership trait that women have embraced more successfully than men. Looking past the scientifically established gender differences between men and women concerning humility, it is clear that we are culturally inclined to dismiss humble males for leadership roles.

No one can dispute that humility allows intelligent leaders to acknowledge mistakes and adopt more mature attitudes toward failures. Humble leaders find it easier to contemplate issues from unfamiliar angles. As a result, they are more willing to improve and embrace change. Yet for men, humility carries the stigma of weakness and submission.

Women and Intelligent Leadership

Embracing humility within the framework of intelligent leadership isn’t the only leadership lesson women executives can teach us all.

Validation, empathy, and appreciation are commodities that all employees value. A leader who can deliver in this respect finds it easier to build emotional connections and meaningful relationships. Most female executives are naturally better at adopting these values of intelligent leadership than male executives clinging to the obsolete ideas of vertical hierarchies.

Intelligent leadership rewards “feminine” leadership traits and abilities. 

Intelligent leaders don’t lose sight of succession. Mentoring, coaching, and developing one’s high potential reports are the hallmarks of solid leadership, and women excel in this respect as well. Female executives more readily recognize the importance of elevating others and focus on the deeper, strategic aspects of their relationships, unlike men, who tend to adopt a transactional approach instead.

Female executives are more inclined than men to observe the true essence of leadership, which is to build high-performing teams and organizations. By contrast, ego-driven authoritarians see leadership as a personal career destination. Such leaders find it impossible to put others ahead of themselves, thus sabotaging the effectiveness of the leadership they provide.

Confidence is another hallmark of traditional-style leadership, although, in a testosterone-fueled context, confidence easily degenerates into overconfidence and cockiness. Female leaders are apt to be more aware of their limitations than their male counterparts.

Having a healthy understanding of your weaknesses and flaws does not translate to insecurity. Rather, it gives self-aware, realistic leaders a solid base for improvement and future development.

Interestingly, for decades, women aspiring for leadership positions saw fit to emulate successful male leaders, espousing their ways as the key to “proper” leadership.

According to science, however, more male leaders should adopt the ways of female leadership to become better and more intelligent leaders of their organizations.

Read my books if you find the idea of intelligent leadership appealing and want to learn more about it.


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