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Leadership and Gender

February 5, 2019

First a disclaimer…when I use the word “leadership” I am talking about real, effective leadership. To be a leader all that’s technically required is that people are following you. People follow bad leaders because they have to; people follow good leaders because they want to. And therein lies the underlying difference between good and bad leaders, regardless of gender.

I recently read a LinkedIn article titled “Leading Like A Woman” written by Andrea Heuston, from March 2018 (link at the bottom of this post) however I can give you the gist of it – women are better leaders than men, because they are better at what Heuston calls the “common traits of great leaders.”  Putting aside the thinly veiled feminist slant, and the included absurd quote form Sheryl Sandberg, I’m confused about the point of her article.

If her point is to remind us of the under- representation of women in key leadership roles, I agree that is a problem. However, placing any woman – or man – in a leadership role because of gender is a decision made on affirmative action criteria not leadership abilities.  This is a mistake, inflicted on both the person who will likely fail as a leader without the right skills, and on the people s/he will lead who will become disengaged and less effective under poor leadership.

If the point of Heuston’s article is to highlight the traits of good leaders, I am in agreement with the point but not the way its presented. Gender has no bearing on whether a person is a good leader or not; the traits she describes are common to all good leaders, whether women or men. I and probably most of us have worked for some great leaders – women and men – who taught us how to lead effectively -so much so that people follow because they want to.  Likewise, we have also worked for some bad leaders -regardless of gender – including some so terrible they couldn’t lead a starving dog to a meat wagon.

Throughout my career I have had the pleasure of coaching, mentoring, and developing emerging leaders, both men and women, and both with equal success. Their gender made no difference to them or to me, and that’s how it should be.

Leading Like A Woman

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