Are Women Better Leaders?Posted: March 24, 2012
Michael Gray, COO of Champion Solutions Group, said, “I think women are better leaders,” during a leadership panel discussion at the Central FL Women In Technology International (WITI) meeting Tuesday evening at Mise En Place in Tampa. Now granted, he was speaking to a room full of women. Champion Solutions Group, an IT infrastructure consulting company, hosted a forum on leadership in IT, which was moderated by Kathleen Long, Director of Web Services at the University of South Florida. Debbie Brenner, VP of Professional Services, and Mr. Gray shared the conversation they had about this on their drive up from Miami to Tampa that day. (Photo L-R: Debbie Brenner, Michael Gray, Kathleen Long, Kelly Oliver, Network Director of WITI Central FL.) Michael said, “Since men are so competitive, and always want to win, they’re more: ‘Ready. Aim. Fire.’ Women, like Debbie for example, take copious notes covering all the details, analyze the information and come up with a plan.”
Michael, a former IBMer of twenty plus years, spoke about how he always knew what position he wanted next at IBM. Having grown up at Xerox, I understood; many Fortune 500 global companies have developmental action plans to grow their people. It’s expected you advance every two – three years, depending on area and performance.
Debbie, who was the CIO at an all woman run company before joining Champion, said she never had the goal of becoming a VP or CIO; she just always knew she wanted to work with computers. She attended community college, started as a programmer, and worked her way up through various organizations. Or as she put it, “One day I looked up and realized I was managing forty people.” What she kept emphasizing was how much she loved the work and wanted to do it; for her, it was all about the work.
The WITI event got me thinking about leadership and female leaders. At a minimum, women are raised/socialized to always consider others; at a maximum, women are raised to take care of others. Be it leading or managing, there are always people involved. So it’s a good trait to be willing to listen to and consider the viewpoints and concerns of those around you. But there’s more to it than that.
Hillary Rodham Clinton kept coming to mind as I thought about it over the week, specifically a conversation I had about her back in 2008. One of my favorite female VPs at my last company and I were discussing politics before the election (always a no-no at work: I’ve finally figured out why one should never discuss politics, religion, sex or even cat/dog preferences … because they’re all based upon childhood experience and no amount of logic or reasoning will ever dissuade people from what they were raised with. What I find ironic is no matter what flavor, everyone thinks those who agree with them are ‘intelligent and reasonable people!’). During our conversation, I said, “Obama will win and Hillary will become a part of his team.” Michelle replied, “Karen, you’re crazy! They just battled it out for a year; that will never happen.” I replied, “It will; she may even be a part of his cabinet.” Truth is, I never once thought about it before that moment, but I was saying HRC would be in ‘President’ Obama’s cabinet! That night I analyzed it: OK, so Obama’s smart and what do smart leaders do? They always surround themselves with smart, capable people. Hill knows the White House, foreign leaders, the process, hell, she lived there for eight years, he’ll definitely ask her. The tricky part is will she accept? So I thought about her: a wife (who stood by her man), mother, lawyer, former first lady and NY senator. Hmmm, is that enough for her? No, she wants to make an impact at the national level (that’s why she ran!), so if he asks, she’ll accept. After analyzing the situation, it didn’t seem like the craziest thing I’d ever said in my life. But the truth is, even I was surprised when it actually happened. I tell that story because it’s an excellent example of Hillary’s character and how she (and many other women) ‘put the work first’ over ego. Other people who had just fought the good fight may have declined, but she wanted to do the work. Plain and simple. I’d also venture a guess that our fair Secretary of State, ‘the only woman at the table,’ may have had more to do with the capture of Osama Bin Laden than we’ll ever know, and while the President gets the win, she gets the satisfaction of knowing she helped to right a wrong. I’ve read she’s sitting out the 2012 term; some speculate it’s so she can go be a grandmother, others that she’s resting up for 2016. Either way, I say, “Hillary, you are a leader! If you’re done, good work! If not, I’ll vote for you in 2016!”
I’ve worked for both men and women over my career (and managed both as well) and see the pros and cons of each. I’m not sure I have a preference over ‘smart, capable and fair.’ But I have met women, as recently as last year, who’ve told me, “I prefer working for men; they’re so much easier.” When I ask why, it seems that the detail orientation that Michael Gray loves in someone who reports to him ’cause she always knows the answer, may not be perceived the same by those in a reporting relationship.
Michael stated he’s tried to promote women in his organization who’ve told him, “Thank you, but I’m happy with what I’ve got.” That launched a discussion on the amount of time worked in concert with having/running a life. Debbie mentioned, “I never knew how much my working affected my daughter until we were discussing college and careers and she said, ‘Mom, I don’t want anything to do with IT! You work too much!’” Her daughter plans to become a pharmacist.
So what do you think? Do you think men or women make better leaders? Do you think Mr. Gray was just being nice playing to the crowd? Do you think it’s dependent upon area? Please comment below!