Why Women Leaders Rule—and What Anyone Can Learn From Them

By Anna Medaris Miller

It looks like the old playground taunt “girls rule, boys drool” is all grown up. According to an article in February’s Monitor on Psychology magazine, where I’m an editor, the leadership styles that are “in” today may come most naturally to women.

In one study of 7,280 people, for example, women scored higher than men on 12 of 16 workplace traits such as taking initiative and displaying high integrity when using input from their managers, co-workers, and others in their organizational orbit. Only one business skill—developing strategic perspective—was handed to men, according to the article.

In another study, researchers asked a group to label 125 characteristics such as resilience or decisiveness as masculine or feminine, and another group to rate the same qualities in order of what they think makes an effective leader. Overwhelmingly, the feminine traits overlapped with those descriptive of effective leaders, the article reports. My favorite finding? Two-thirds of the people surveyed agreed the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.

But you don’t have to be a woman or even pull a Mel Gibson in What Women Want to channel your inner leading lady. Here’s what else to take away from top dolls (and guys) instead.

1. Get to Know What it’s Like on the Bottom

If you’ve ever watched Undercover Boss, you’ve seen multi-millionaire businesspeople’s lives change when they jet in—in disguise—to work alongside their lowly employees. The tears, toupees, and tuition bills paid make for good TV, but they also reflect research finding that today’s hot leadership styles are more social and less directorial than in years’ past. In other words, connecting with people on all rungs of the corporate ladder is more valuable than being a distant and demanding voice from up top.

2. Lead and Learn

As industries change rapidly, and people switch jobs as often as they do underwear, traits including a collaborative spirit, flexibility, and openness to change are more important than ever for business success. As my colleague wrote, good leaders are good learners—“open to growth, change and leaning, and deft in handling ambiguity and understanding complexity.”

3. Consider Yourself a Coach

According to the Monitor article, the most effective general leadership styles are marked by leaders who inspire, teach, and coach. Those with stringent reward and punishment systems or who let their minions run free, on the other hand, don’t usually win best boss awards. Ultimately, businesses that tap into customers’ and employees’ empathy, such as TOMS shoes—and bosses who follow suit—are a likely wave of the future.

Of course, your gender alone doesn’t predict your success in the corner office. And just because girls rule, doesn’t mean boys can’t too. (Nor does it mean, as my pillow could tell you, that girls don’t drool.) But if your office motto becomes “What would women do?” Consider it a step in the right direction.

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