WOMEN and LEADERSHIP, does still Gender Matter?

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newparadigm_largeInternational Women’s Day 2015 was celebrated just last Sunday, and thousands of women’s groups around the world created events to celebrate the positive steps taken this last year globally for all women. Some focused on gender equality, some on positive action and others chose independent themes that affect a woman’s life in specific areas. Regardless of topic, all areas of a woman’s life is important to the positive change this planet needs, in these critical times of change.

The primary facet of this global change is that women are encouraged to take steps into leadership roles, an area of life that still in this new millennium many women shy away from, and truly need to lose their fear of LEADERSHIP.

One of the most important sets of skills required in a changing world are the skills of leadership. This has become increasingly evident as we have attempted to adapt to the escalating changes in our society and workplaces over the past century. As we try to take command of our own destiny and guide the destinies of our families, communities, organizations and our planet, the necessity of effective leadership ability has become increasingly obvious. Effective leadership is one of the keys to our future success and survival.

But what is leadership, and who has it? Can you develop leadership ability, or is it something you must be born with? Some say leadership has to be learned and earned.

Others say leadership is a gift that cannot be taught.

Much of the literature on leadership focuses on “characteristics” of good leaders. These characteristics, however, are often too general to be of much practical value to someone trying to become a better leader. For instance, to say that good leaders are “gifted optimists” or are “honest” and “inspiring” provides little practical basis for specific skill development or improvement. These are typically judgments about our behavior made by others.

Frequently, descriptions of effective leadership emphasize what has been effective in a particular business, culture or environment. However, the actions, style or characteristics that make a leader “good” in one context may be ineffective or devastating in another.

From-Pain-To-Gain-Ten-Leadership-Lessons-Learned-199x300Some studies of leadership focus on the outcomes of effective leadership; pointing out that good leaders “create vision,” “mobilize commitment,” “recognize needs,” etc. However, simply knowing about these goals is not enough. The key to actually achieving them involves having the mental and behavioral skills required to put them into practice.

With the tools of NLP it is possible to define and explore some specific models, principles and skills that will allow you to be a more successful leader; i.e., the “how to’s” of effective leadership.

In defining what effective “leadership” is, it is important to distinguish between (a) a “leader,” (b) “leadership” and (c) “leading.” The position of “leader” is a role in a particular system. A person in the formal role of a leader may or may not possess leadership skills and be capable of leading. “Leadership” is essentially related to a person’s skills, abilities and degree of influence. A good deal of leadership can come from people who are not formal “leaders.” “Leading” is the result of using one’s role and leadership ability to influence others in some way.

In its broadest sense, leadership can be defined as the ability to influence others toward the accomplishment of some goal. That is, a leader leads a collaborator or group of collaborators towards some end.

In businesses and organizations, ‘leadership’ is often contrasted with ‘management’. Management is typically defined as “getting things done through others.” In comparison, leadership is defined as, “getting others to do things.” Thus, leadership is intimately tied up with motivating and influencing others.

In the emerging views of leadership, however, leaders do not have influence simply because they are ‘bosses’ or ‘commanders’. Rather, leaders are people who are committed to “creating a world to which people want to belong.” This commitment demands a special set of models and abilities in order to effectively and ecologically manifest the visions which guide those committed to change. It involves communicating, interacting and managing relationships within an organization, network or social system to move toward one’s highest aspirations.

Leadership has been described as “a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”. For example, some understand a leader simply as somebody whom people follow, or as somebody who guides or directs others, while others define leadership as “organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal”.

Studies of leadership have produced theories involving traits, situational interaction, function, behavior, power, vision and values, charisma, and intelligence, among others.

The search for the characteristics or traits of leaders has continued for centuries.

Philosophical writings from Plato’s Republic to Plutarch’s Lives have explored the question: “What qualities distinguish an individual as a leader?”

platoUnderlying this search was the early recognition of the importance of leadership and the assumption that leadership is rooted in the characteristics that certain individuals possess. This idea that leadership is based on individual attributes is known as the “trait theory of leadership”.

A number of works in the 19th century – when the traditional authority of monarchs, lords and bishops had begun to wane – explored the trait theory at length: note especially the writings of Thomas Carlyle and of Francis Galton, whose works have prompted decades of research. In Heroes and Hero Worship (1841), Carlyle identified the talents, skills, and physical characteristics of men who rose to power. Galton’s Hereditary Genius (1869) examined leadership qualities in the families of powerful men.

After showing that the numbers of eminent relatives dropped off when his focus moved from first-degree to second-degree relatives, Galton concluded that leadership was inherited. In other words, leaders were born, not developed. Both of these notable works lent great initial support for the notion that leadership is rooted in characteristics of a leader.

Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) believed that public-spirited leadership could be nurtured by identifying young people with “moral force of character and instincts to lead”, and educating them in contexts (such as the collegiate environment of the University of Oxford which further developed such characteristics. International networks of such leaders could help to promote international understanding and help “render war impossible“.)

This vision of leadership underlay the creation of the Rhodes Scholarships, which have helped to shape notions of leadership since their creation in 1903.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, however, a series of qualitative reviews of these studies (e.g., Bird, 1940; Stogdill, 1948; Mann, 1959) prompted researchers to take a drastically different view of the driving forces behind leadership. In reviewing the extant literature, Stogdill and Mann found that while some traits were common across a number of studies, the overall evidence suggested that persons who are leaders in one situation may not necessarily be leaders in other situations.

Subsequently, leadership was no longer characterized as an enduring individual trait, as situational approaches (see alternative leadership theories below) posited that individuals can be effective in certain situations, but not others. The focus then shifted away from traits of leaders to an investigation of the leader behaviors that were effective. This approach dominated much of the leadership theory and research for the next few decades.

Reemergence of trait theory

oldnewparadigmsNew methods and measurements were developed after these influential reviews that would ultimately reestablish the trait theory as a viable approach to the study of leadership.

For example, ‘improvements in researchers’ use of the round robin research design methodology allowed researchers to see that individuals can and do emerge as leaders across a variety of situations and tasks.

Additionally, during the 1980s statistical advances allowed researchers to conduct meta-analyses, in which they could quantitatively analyze and summarize the findings from a wide array of studies. This advent allowed trait theorists to create a comprehensive picture of previous leadership research rather than rely on the qualitative reviews of the past.

Equipped with new methods, leadership researchers revealed the following:

  • Individuals can and do emerge as leaders across a variety of situations and tasks.

    Significant relationships exist between leadership emergence and such individual traits as:

    • Intelligence
    • Adjustment
    • Extraversion
    • Conscientiousness
    • Openness to experience
      General self-efficacy

    While the trait theory of leadership has certainly regained popularity, its reemergence has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in sophisticated conceptual frameworks.

    Specifically, Zaccaro (2007) noted that trait theories still:

    • Focus on a small set of individual attributes such as Big Five personality traits, to the neglect of cognitive abilities, motives, values, social skills, expertise, and problem-solving skills.
    • Fail to consider patterns or integrations of multiple attributes.
    • Do not distinguish between those leader attributes that are generally not malleable over time and those that are shaped by, and bound to, situational influences.
    • Do not consider how stable leader attributes account for the behavioral diversity necessary for effective leadership.

    Leadership can be defined as the process through which an individual guides and motivates a group towards the achievement of a common goal/s. Research has examined whether or not there are sex differences in leadership, and these differences can be seen from a relationship based or task based perspective. Until recently, leadership positions have predominantly been held by men and men were therefore stereotyped to be more effective leaders.

    Women were rarely seen in senior leadership positions leading to a lack of data on how they behave in such positions.

    However, current research has found a change in trend and women have become more prevalent in the workforce over the past two decades, especially in management and leadership positions. The gender gap is decreasing and these stereotypes are changing as more and more women enter leadership roles. The data from the primary literature on this topic is inconclusive as the two main lines of research contradict one another, the first being that there are small, but nevertheless significant sex differences in leadership and the second being that gender does not have an effect on leadership.

    It is difficult to determine which line of research has more validity as there is no conclusive evidence that supports one more than the other. More research needs to be conducted as more women are entering into higher level leadership positions and as better research methodology becomes available.

    womenleadersWhen studying perception and effectiveness of men and women in leadership, in multiple studies, Eagly found that men and women are perceived better by subordinates and are seen as more effective leaders when in positions in accordance to traditional gender roles. In a study conducted in 1990, it was found that women “lose authority… if they employ feminine styles of leadership in male-dominated roles.”

    A meta-analysis conducted later yielded similar results in which men and women are both perceived as more effective leaders in stereotypical roles and both are found ineffective in non-traditional roles. Female leaders are perceived as less dominant than male leaders by their subordinates. Furthermore, a single male in a group is more likely to assume leadership than a single female in a group, who is likely to have less influence over the group members. Members of the group are more likely to agree with a male leader when power is exerted than a female leader.

    However, in a study conducted by Shelby et al. (2010), female leadership advantage was investigated by specifying contextual factors that moderate the likelihood that such an advantage would emerge. These authors considered if female gender role and the leader role were incongruent and led to a disadvantage or if instead, an advantage. They conducted two studies and found that only when success was seen as internal that top women leaders were considered more agentic and more communal than top men leaders. They also found that the effect on agentic attributes were mediated by perceptions of double standards, while communal traits were mediated by expectations of feminized management skills. This particular study showed the presence of qualified female leader advantage.

    Even though women exhibit more qualities that qualify them to be more effective leaders,

    men still assume far more leadership positions and are more likely to be seen as leaders.

    Another similar study Dobbins and Platz (1986) found that even men and women show equal amounts of relationship orientation and task orientation and have equally satisfied subordinates. Even though male leaders are rated as more affected than female leaders, these findings are based on laboratory research and may not hold in organizational settings.

    These studies correlate with other research cited by Vecchio (2002), Dobbins and Platt (1986), Gibson (1995), and van Engen et al. (2001), who all argue that no significant gender differences in leadership exist.

    In this new millennium and new paradigm of thinking, women may still have a way to go in the removal of appearance, stigma or public opinion in the area of including gender into the equation when qualifying LEADERSHIP, but we say: “Women – Lead on!”

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