Leadership in 2016: A Girls' World?

Posted on 25th July, 2016 in Leadership
I recently met a woman whose strapline might well be ‘it’s a girls’ world’; it was certainly a phrase she used a lot, although in fairness to her, I should point out normally in the context of her daughters.  However recent political events have encouraged me to reflect on whether she might be more prescient than I gave her credit for.  Female leaders in Scotland and Westminster, as well as in Europe’s powerhouse in Germany, may soon be joined by a female ‘leader of the free world’ in the USA.

Is it a girls’ world?

More seriously, is a female brand of leadership now taking over from ‘the boys’ version’?  Is there actually a difference?  In spite of society’s trend towards androgyny, the medical evidence that men and women are different in more than just physical traits is indisputable.  One of the best commentators I have heard on this subject is Dr Steve Peters, who goes where many fear to tread in pointing out the impact of some of those differences.  It may not be a coincidence that Peters is a mental conditioning coach to a number of highly successful elite sports people of both sexes.  Uncomfortable though it may be, high performance is, by its very nature, discriminatory, and results speak louder than political correctness.

Self-evidently, the physiological traits identified by Peters and other experts apply also to the leadership domain.  However, our tiny number of data points in the current political arena doesn’t do much to prove the thinking one way or the other.  Any one woman can fit the ‘average’ profile of generic ‘female traits’, as could any one man.  But she could equally be an outlier.  Those who have risen to the very top of what have traditionally been male-dominated arenas are almost certainly outliers in some context.

So where does that leave us?

Female leadership has been associated with a more balanced approach, less inclination to rush to conflict and a participatory decision-making style, possibly accompanied by a steely inner resolve.  Will there be less commitment to conflict now?  Thatcher led Britain against Argentina.  Is Merkl’s longevity as German (and default European) leader more a function of her gender-specific traits or her upbringing in East Germany and her evidence-based objectivity as a physicist?  Is a vote for Clinton a vote against the alpha leader of the troupe (Trump) or simply a vote for a different alpha?  The British Conservative party voted between 2 women.  Ironically either Johnson or Gove would have probably provided a more credible competitor to May than Leadsom did.

It may appear to be a girls’ world and it’s wonderful to reverse some historical trends in terms of the female role models available to young girls now.  However, I’m not sure that the current rush of female political leaders proves any case for a different gender-based leadership style one way or the other.  In fact, the leadership style described above would fit well the current incumbent of the White House, whom I for one, think that history will judge rather more kindly than his opinion polls. 

So good luck to May, Sturgeon, Merkl and Clinton, but I’d prefer just to regard them as the right person for the job.

Disclosure of interest:  Father of twin girls (with an American mother) destined to be Prime Minister of the UK and President of the USA.

Grab your copy of The Business of Excellence by Justin Hughes

Add comment