Sex and Leadership for Women

Sharpening the female competitive edge

Posted Mar 01, 2015

Three men walking on a beach find an old lamp. One of the men rubs the lamp, causing a genie to appear, who grants each man one wish. When the first man asks to be the richest person in the world, he immediately receives a text from his bank informing him that a trillion dollars has been added to his account.  As soon as the second man asks to be the sexiest person in the world, he is mobbed by every woman on the beach. The third man, thinks for a moment, then asks to be the smartest person in the world. Before granting the wish the genie asks, “Are you sure this is what you want?” When the man nods  “yes”, the genie turns the man into a woman.

Eric Haseltine
Source: Eric Haseltine

This story reinforces what Neuroscientists have known for some time, that –on average- women exhibit superior skills to men in key areas that drive success in the workplace. For example, women tend to be better verbal communicators than men, and possess greater emotional intelligence (EQ) than the average man. Thus woman leaders may have an edge in communicating a corporate vision to their employees, and be better able to read people: always a crucial skill in the workplace.

 Advances in technologies such as MRI, fMRI and diffusion tensor imaging, suggest that these gender differences in cognition arise because brains of women are structured and wired differently than men’s, in ways that give them better verbal and emotional skills. For example, Dr. Godfrey Pearlson of Yale and colleagues found that areas of the frontal and temporal lobe responsible for language are larger on average in women than in men.

Before going further, I need to emphasize that I am describing average gender differences in the brain and cognitive performance. I’m sure you know men who possess superior verbal and emotional skills and women who do not.

That said, it’s worth asking: if you are a professional woman, how can you make better use of your natural cognitive advantages to succeed at your job?

The research of Marcus Buckingham, co-author of Now, discover your strengths, holds the answer: if you are a good communicator and have high EQ, become an even better communicator and elevate your EQ to even higher levels.   

This might not be as easy as it sounds.

If your boss is typical of most, he or she may resist this idea during your annual performance review, asking you instead to “fix” your weaknesses. But  Buckingham and others have shown that correcting  your weaknesses is far less effective in improving your job performance than adding to your strengths.  There are two reasons for this. First, great strengths more than compensate for minor weaknesses.  Second, as Sir Arthur Helps succinctly wrote in 1868 “Nothing succeeds like success.”

So, if your boss focuses on your weaknesses, discretely ignore him (or her)  and devote much more energy to  strengthening your communication and emotional skills.

Take a creative writing class, an acting lesson or join Toastmasters to expand  your communication  skills. 

Read Preston Ni’s work on improving your emotional intelligence and practice his “six essentials” for elevating  your EQ. One of these essentials  is learning to control “negative personalization.” If a friend fails to return a phone call, she may not be ignoring you, just too busy coping with problems at work to return any phone calls. Another of Ni’s essentials is to develop the ability to express  difficult emotions by replacing “you” statements (you hurt me when you did X) with “I” statements (I felt hurt when you did X and in future I would like you to do Y).

When you increase your natural strengths through such techniques, you, your company, your paycheck, and yes—even your boss—will ultimately be glad that you did.

More Posts