Women Make Better Leaders

The best bosses serve as encouraging mentors, not disciplinarians.

By Carlin Flora, published on September 1, 2003 - last reviewed on September 19, 2008

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.

"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.