Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Leading from the Heart

In the last post, I promised to muse about the different leadership choices women may make.

Women more often exhibit communal qualities (nurturing, cooperative, supportive) and are generally concerned with the welfare of others.  Men more often exhibit agentic qualities (assertive, aggressive, confident, attention-seeking), characteristics traditionally ascribed to a strong leader.  A woman seeking a leadership style may behave in a mostly feminine fashion (Leading from the Heart), in a masculine manner (Command and Control), or in a mixed style (Chimera).  

In the following posts, I will try to explore a bit more deeply each of these options, looking at why they work or don't work well for women.  In this post, I take a closer look at the leader who exhibits mostly traditionally female qualities.  This person may be male or female, but the female will be behaving in a manner consistent with the feminine stereotype.

This leader is concerned with the welfare of subordinates and may exhibit few qualities expected in a strong leader.  She may be timid, backs down when challenged, is tentative rather than confident (in stating an opinion or giving orders), is usually soft-spoken, rarely speaks up in meetings, and is more happy being in the background.  On the other hand, she is empathetic, concerned, honest, collaborative, encouraging, and supportive--attributes that make her good at team-building and mentoring. Such a woman may struggle with her leadership role, especially if she finds herself in an organization that favors the Command and Control type of leader and/or where there are few other leaders like her.

However, there is a growing recognition that the take-charge, autocratic type of leader is not compatible with the 21st century world where people from diverse backgrounds have to work together and where complex problems require teams of people who can all contribute creative ideas.  The networking skills of the female leader may prove to be an asset in the future, rather than a liability.  A woman in science, especially in academia, also will be training or mentoring others, which requires many communal qualities.  A female scientist in a non-academic setting will likely have a staff  who look to her for encouragement, vision, and emotional support.

I can think of several women who fall into this category.  Not surprisingly, in many science settings such women still are not generally viewed as leadership material and are undervalued.  Will this change in the future, as networking and other communal skills become more appreciated or in demand? Is this a viable choice for a woman in science now?  Is this style more likely to be successful in academia compared to other settings?  I don't have answers to these questions, but I do think that this style might work for some women in some circumstances.

In the next post, I consider the Command and Control style of leadership.  

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