Are Women Better Leaders?

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!


6 Comments on “Are Women Better Leaders?”

  1. It is a very interesting question. I have had both good and bad experiences of working for a woman, so I think it depends on the personal qualities of the individual. It is important to me that the person who manages me is someone who I can respect, regardless of gender.

    Having managed a number of staff myself I have pondered the difference between my view of how I should conduct myself as a manager and what my staff expect from me.

    My perception is that employees expect different personal qualities from a female manager than a male manager.

    • Karen Baglin says:

      Thanks for your comment Lipstick:) It is an interesting question … one that made me think about if leadership is different for men and women. I can see and relate to the truth in your comment!

      • Karen, I am interested to see others’ perspectives on this topic. I have been quite disappointed in the lack of support I have received from other women I have managed. Until women start to become more supportive of other women in business, we are going to continue to battle. I find it off-putting myself and I hate to think how our male counterparts view such destructive behavior.

      • Karen Baglin says:

        I’ve seen lack of support go in both directions; from female managers to subordinates and vice versa. Often male managers are unaware and not tuned into it. But I’ve also seen very supportive female managers who do right by their people and their customers. Here’s to those women!

  2. Jane Barr says:

    Thanks Karen for starting this discussion. Some really great thoughts about leadership and women. I really liked your description of Hillary Clinton and your very astute guess that Obama would invite her to be a part of his cabinet.

    I also left that meeting thinking about Michael Gray’s comment that women are better leaders then men. I think what Michael sees is the difference between being a competitive leader and being a nurturing leader. Neither is right/wrong or good/bad. Depending on the situation one can be more effective than the other. Below I’ve put down some definitions of different types of leadership including “Avoidance,” “Conflict,” “Competitive,” “Nurturing,” and “Opportunity.” I’ll be interested to hear if your experiences jive with mine.

    – Avoidance leaders avoid leading and just allow things to happen. Sometimes these leaders are referred to as “victims.” They believe that nothing they do will make any difference or they just want to avoid any conflict so they do nothing because they don’t know how to solve the problem. You can pick out these leaders because generally their departments or companies are floundering because nothing is getting done.

    – Conflict leaders are demanding. They spend their time and energy fighting to get to the top at the expense of others. People working for conflict leaders feel defensive because their thoughts and feelings are not taken into consideration. It’s easy pick out these leaders because there is a lot of conflict, even overt yelling in the workplace. Even if they are holding their anger in it can come out in ways such as being mean or grumpy. All this conflict creates a toxic work atmosphere and frequently turnover is very high.

    Note: Based on their presentation last week neither Michael Gray nor Debbie Brenner appear to be either Avoidance or Conflict leaders, although most everyone has their moments when they slip into one of these types of leadership – yep, me too 🙂

    – Competitive leaders think “ready, aim, fire” and don’t necessarily take into account how their actions are affecting other people. Competitive leaders are all about winning. They get a lot done but they often aren’t good at delegating. The result is that they try to do it all themselves or they micromanage their employees. There might be a tendency for men to lead this way because many men are frequently trained to believe that winning is the only thing that matters (think football) and if you have to trounce on someone to win then that’s just the game and not something people should take personally. However this is their training and not necessarily their nature. Women can be just as competitive as men.

    – Nurturing leaders are very much about taking care of their employees. The nurturing leader gets a lot of satisfaction from helping their employees succeed. Nurturing leaders have a deep compassion and connection for others. Their goal is all about service whether that’s for their employees or their clients. I’m guessing that what Michael may have seen was this “nurturing” side of Debbie that he assumes is natural to women. In fairness to Michael we often label women as nurturers – it’s the ‘mommy’ side of women. But nurturing is not locked into just women. In fact I’d bet that we all know women who make lousy mothers and men who do a great job fathering.

    – Opportunity leaders have high expectations for their employees and expect positive attitudes and high performance and generally people respond to their expectations by giving their best. Opportunity leaders tell their employees what is expected of them and hold them accountable for delivering in a great way. Their focus is on solutions and being the best. Because of their intention to find the best solution they naturally win without being competitive or nurturing. Opportunity leaders don’t waste time deciding who is at fault when something doesn’t go the way they had hoped. Instead what most people perceive as mistakes or problems, these leaders look at as an opportunity to improve or change in order to be better.

    • Karen Baglin says:

      Hi Jane, Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment! What I like best is it’s not an “either/or” situation. Often a person can display different leadership styles depending on the situation and variables, but we all probably ‘live’ or feel most comfortable predominantly in one of these styles. Definitely food for thought for anyone leading organizations or managing people!

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