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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Leadership Styles of Women and Men

As women increasingly enter leadership roles that traditionally were occupied mainly by men, the possibility that the leadership styles of women and men differ continues to attract attention. The focus of these debates on sameness versus difference can obscure the array of causal factors that can produce differences or similarities. Adopting the perspective of social role theory, we offer a framework that encompasses many of the complexities of the empirical literature on the
Leadership styles of women and men. Supplementing Eagly and Johnson’s (1990) review of the interpersonally oriented, task-oriented, autocratic, and democratic styles of women and men, we present new data concerning the transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles.

The Leadership Styles of Women and Men Whether men and women behave differently in leadership roles is a much-debated question. Although there is general agreement that women face more barriers to becoming leaders
Than men do, especially for leader roles that are male-dominated, there is much less agreement about the behavior of women and men once they attain such roles. This issue is usually discussed in terms of leadership styles, when style is understood as relatively stable patterns of behavior that are manifested by leaders. Differences in styles can be Consequential because they are one factor that may affect people’s views about whether women should become leaders and advance to higher positions in organizational hierarchies. To approach this issue, we first analyze traditional thinking about the leadership styles of women and men. Then we present our own theoretical framework for understanding these issues and examine and interpret relevant research findings.

Leadership Styles of Women and Men Theoretical Rationale for Sex Differences and Similarities in Leadership Style Analysis of the situation that women and men face as leaders provide a rationale for expecting differences and similarities. From the perspective of social role theory of sex differences and similarities, this analysis begins with the Principle that leadership roles, like other organizational roles, are but one influence on leaders’ behavior. In addition, leaders elicit expectancies based on people’s categorization of them as male and female. These expectancies constitute gender roles, which are the shared beliefs that apply to Individuals on the basis of their socially identified sex. These roles are assumed to follow from perceivers’ observations of men and women as concentrated in different social roles in the family and paid employment.

Communal characteristics, which are ascribed more strongly to women than men, describe primarily a concern with the welfare of other people–for example, affectionate, helpful, kind, sympathetic, interpersonally sensitive, nurturing, and gentle. In employment settings, communal behaviors might include speaking tentatively, not drawing attention to oneself, accepting others’
Direction, supporting and soothing others, and contributing to the solution of relational and Leadership Styles of Women and Men interpersonal problems.

Simultaneous Occupancy of Gender Role and Leader Role

Managers and other leaders occupy roles defined by their specific position in a hierarchy but also simultaneously function under the constraints of their gender roles. Although it would be consistent with a structural interpretation of organizational behavior to predict that men and women who occupy the same leadership role would behave very similarly, gender roles ordinarily continue to exert some influence, with the result that female and male occupants and potential occupants of the same organizational role may behave somewhat differently. Consistent with this reasoning, many argued that gender roles spill over to organizations, and maintained that gender provides an “implicit, background identity” in the workplace.

Despite the likely influence of gender roles on leaders’ behavior, formal leadership (or managerial) roles should be of primary importance in organizational settings because these roles lend their occupants legitimate authority and are regulated by relatively clear rules about appropriate behavior. This idea that the influence of gender roles can be diminished or even eliminated by other roles was foreshadowed by experimental demonstrations of the lessening or disappearance of many gender-stereotypic sex differences in laboratory settings when participants received information that competed with gender-based expectations. In contrast, research in natural settings suggests that, although some gender-stereotypic differences erode under the influence of organizational roles, other Differences do not. Particularly informative is a field study that examined the simultaneous influence of gender roles and organizational roles. These Leadership Styles of Women and Men Study used an experience-sampling method by which participants monitored their interpersonal behavior in a variety of work settings for 20 days. In general, agentic behavior was controlled by the relative status of the interaction partners, with participants behaving most agentically with a supervisee and least agentically with a boss. However, communal behaviors were influenced by the sex of participants, regardless of participants’ status, with women behaving more communally than men, especially in interactions with other women.

Congruence of Leader Roles and Gender Roles

Female leaders’ efforts to accommodate their behavior to the sometimes conflicting demands of the female gender role and their leader role can foster leadership styles that differ from those of men. Gender roles thus have different implications for the behavior of female and male leaders, not only because the female and male roles have different content, but also because there is often inconsistency between the predominantly communal qualities that perceiver’s associate with women and the predominantly agentic qualities that they believe are required to succeed as a leader. People thus tend to have similar beliefs about leaders and men but dissimilar beliefs about leaders and women, as demonstrated. Nonetheless, the degree Leadership Styles of Women and Men of perceived incongruity between a leader role and the female gender role would depend on many factors, including the exact definition of the leader role, the activation of the female gender role in a particular situation, and individuals’ personal approval of traditional definitions of gender roles.

As argued, perceived incongruity between the female gender role and typical leader roles tends to create prejudice toward female leaders and potential leaders that takes two forms: (a) less favorable evaluation of women’s (than men’s) potential for leadership Because leadership ability is more stereotypic of men than women and (b) less favorable evaluation of the actual leadership behavior of women than men because agentic behavior is perceived as less desirable in women than men. The first type of prejudice stems from the descriptive norms of gender roles–that is, the activation of descriptive beliefs about women’s characteristics and the consequent ascription of female-stereotypic qualities to them, which are unlike the qualities expected and desired in leaders. The second type of prejudice stems from the injunctive (or prescriptive) norms of gender roles–that is, the activation of beliefs about how women ought to behave. If female leaders violate these prescriptive beliefs by fulfilling the agentic requirements of leader roles and failing to exhibit the communal, supportive behaviors that are preferred in women, they can be negatively evaluated for these violations, even while they may also receive some positive evaluation for their fulfillment of the leader role.

In summary, the social role argument that leadership roles constrain behavior so that sex differences are minimal among occupants of the same leadership role must be tempered by several more complex considerations. Not only may gender roles spill over to organizational settings, but also leaders’ gender identities may constrain their behaviors in a direction consistent with their own gender role. Also, the female gender role is more likely to be incongruent with leader roles than the male gender role is, producing a greater potential for prejudice against female leaders.  Such prejudice could produce negative sanctions that affect leaders’ behavior.

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