Women Make Better Leaders

Searching for better leaders? Don't overlook the women in the office. An analysis of 45 leadership studies found that the best bosses are inspirational mentors who encourage underlings to develop their abilities and creatively change their organizations. Women, on average, are more likely than men to enact this "transformational" style.

In this "transformational" management style, managers are more like good teachers than traditional bosses. But the analysis, conducted at Northwestern University, revealed that men are more likely to use a "transactional" management style—doling out punishments for poor performance and rewards for good behavior—or a laissez-faire style, characterized by a basic lack of management. Previous research has shown the transformational style to be most effective, particularly when companies rely on innovation to stay competitive.

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"CEOs should level the playing field, and make sure women are given equal opportunities to be managers," says lead author Alice Eagly, a professor of psychology at Northwestern. "The study shows they are not only doing just as well as men, but they are doing better."

Eagly speculates that the transformational leadership style may suit women because it includes nurturing aspects, and women are traditionally socialized to be nurturers. Women who instead use a tough "command and control" leadership style meet with resistance and suspicion from employees, other studies have found.

Women striving for leadership roles may also have to meet a higher standard than men. They may therefore adapt their leadership tactics along the way to fit the more effective transformational style, Eagly says.

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