Those with “Feminine” Qualities are Viewed as Better Leaders

Many studies have shown that a woman’s leadership style is preferred over a man’s.  A recent study from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network titled, “Feminine values can give tomorrow’s leaders an edge,” argues that all leaders would be better off if they exhibited more “feminine” characteristics. Research was conducted amongst 64,000 people across 13 different countries worldwide for their opinion on male and female leadership.

The results were quite revealing. 57% of the respondents were dissatisfied with the conduct of male leaders in their country, and two-thirds of respondents believe that the world would be better if male leaders were more like women (i.e. if they had more female qualities).

Respondents were also asked to identify over 100 characteristics as either feminine or masculine as well as the top 10 qualities they believed are most desirable for the ideal leader in today’s world–that is, someone who can lead in “an increasingly social, interdependent and transparent world.” A surprising eight out of the top 10 traits were viewed as “feminine” characteristics and only two were deemed “masculine.” [1]


Why do mere perceptions matter, you ask? First, what others think of you is often a better reflection than what you think of yourself, and thus perceptions are a good gauge of a leader’s actual abilities. Second, when others perceive you to be a more effective leader, you are often treated more like one. By gaining more respect, willingness to obey commands, and motivation to work from your employees, you will have indirectly improved the company’s performance by increasing job satisfaction and productivity while decreasing turnover. External perceptions are often a good signal of reality. [2]

What these findings may be suggesting is that women make better leaders since the majority of the top 10 coveted leadership qualities are perceived as “feminine.” This provides inspiration for women in leadership roles and aspiring female leaders everywhere.

However, we should keep in mind that many of the qualities may actually be neutral, rather than a clear-cut feminine quality, such as plans for the future, reasonable, and intuitive. Further, it is unclear whether a man with all of these traits would be perceived as a better leader than a woman with all of these traits. This could possibly be the case because society holds women to the expectation that they already embody those desirable feminine traits, but not men.  

Although some questions have yet to be answered, the main takeaway from the research is that we, regardless of our gender, should personify all of these top 10 qualities in order to become better leaders, both in other people’s perception of us and in reality. 

Heidi Hu

University of Waterloo

[1] Feminine Values Can Give Tomorrow’s Leaders an Edge

[2] Organizational Behaviour: Concepts, Controversies, Applications, Sixth Canadian Edition


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