Leadership has been traditionally regarded as a solely male domain (Spector, 1996). However, it is quite apparent that the working female population has rapidly increased, and furthermore many females hold supervisory, managerial, and consequently leadership positions (Klenke1996). Robbins, Bergman, Stagg, and Coulter (2000, p.593) define leadership as “the ability to influence a group towards the achievement of goals”. There are various methods that can be used to influence a group towards a specific goal, some more effective than others (Muchinsky, 1997). As Robbins et al.
, (2000) note, some leaders will have a democratic or person orientated leadership style, whereby the leader takes the opinions and feelings of their subordinates into consideration, and involves them when making a decision. Conversely, there are other leaders who may use an autocratic or task orientated leadership style, where they make decisions based on what is required to be done and do so without consultation with their associated subordinates (Robbins et al., 2000).
Given that leaders may vary in the style in which they lead, the question arises as to whether females and males engage in different leadership styles, and more importantly are such differences stable across various leadership contexts.
In order to determine if in fact there are stable differences in leadership style between males and females, a critical evaluation of the current gender leadership literature is required.
A Critical Evaluation of the Gender – Leadership Style Literature. Research considering gender differences in leadership has been conducted since the early 1970s and continues to be an area of leadership research that generates a great deal of debate and contentiousness (Klenke, 1996).
Early studies such as those conducted by Dimarco and Whitsitt (1975), and Petty and Bruning (1980) report that female leaders were more likely to display consideration, rather than an initiation of structure. This finding suggests that females are more likely to be concerned with the people aspect
of leadership, rather than a task orientated approach. Such conclusions were also consistent with the gender stereotypes of women being more nurturing and interpersonally orientated in comparison to men who were considered to be much more goal directed and task focussed.
This was also supported by Loden (1985) who maintained that there is a masculine mode of management characterised by qualities such as competitiveness, authority, controlling, and an unemotional analytic problem solving approach. Loden (1985) argued that women prefer, and tend to behave in terms of an alternative feminine leadership model characterised by cooperation, collaboration, less control by the leader, and problem solving based on intuition and empathy, as well as rationality. However, such findings were not supported by other early research studies.
Donnell and Hall (1980) found that female managers did not differ in the way they managed their organisation’s technical and human resources. Further, the study by Kushell and Newton (1986) reported that female autocratic leaders were not perceived negatively by their subordinates, thus not supporting the typical stereotype for female leadership.
Judy Rosener (1990) is a proponent of the feminist leadership style, and believes that there are distinct differences in the way men and women lead. She writes that successful female leaders engage in a style based on the skills and attitudes developed from their shared experience as women. Rosener (1990) goes on to say that women do not covet formal authority and have learned to lead without it, where men in comparison are characterised by the ‘tough’ command and control leadership style. She also states that women are more likely than men to say they make people feel important, included, and energised. Rosener (1990) argues that women differ from men in the way they encourage participation, share power and information, enhance other people’s self worth, and get excited about their work. Whilst Rosener (1990) makes such a claim, there are certainly examples of female leaders who do not fit such a model of leadership. Examples are charismatic female leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Indira Ghandi, and Eva Peron. An important note to Rosener’s (1990) statements is that she, like Loden (1985), does not cite any research evidence to support her claims of the distinct differences between male and female leadership styles, instead focussing on her own relative experience of female managers within the workplace.
Perhaps one of the most cited piece of gender-leadership research is the meta-analysis conducted by Eagly and Johnson (1990). Eagly and Johnson (1990) base their meta-analysis on 162 separate studies on the gender leadership relationship, which use objective measures of leadership style such as the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire, the Supervisory Behavior Description Questionnaire, or Fiedler’s Least Preferred Co-Worker scale. It provides a systematic, quantitative integration of the 162 research papers considering the four main types of leadership styles on two dichotomies, namely; Interpersonal leadership versus Task leadership, and Democratic leadership verus Autocratic leadership. An interpersonal leadership style is one where the leader is more concerned with personal/ subordinate relationships, whilst task leadership is where the leader focuses on the goal or required outcome with little consideration for their subordinates (Robbins et al., 2000). A democratic leadership style is defined as a leader who involves subordinates in decision-making and encourages participation, whilst an autocratic approach describes a leader who centralises authority and makes unilateral decisions, limiting subordinate participation (Robbins et al., 2000).
In terms of interpersonal versus task leadership, Eagly and Johnson (1990) found no statistically significant differences between males and females. The study did show, however, a tendency for women to adopt a more democratic and participative style when compared to men. Whilst the difference between men and women in terms of democratic versus autocratic leadership style was found to be statistically significant, such differences were also found to be quite small. Eagly and Johnson (1990) caution their readers to refrain from interpreting the tendency for women to lead more democratically as either an advantage or disadvantage. This is because a democratic leadership style may enhance leader effectiveness under some circumstances, whilst the autocratic style may facilitate a leader’s effectiveness under a different set of circumstances. This is a very important point that Eagly and Johnson (1990) raise.
The circumstances of leadership, or the situation in which the leader finds themself in will often dictate the type of leadership style they will engage in. In most cases the leadership style between men and women will be quite similar in a common context. Whilst the small differences found by Eagly and Johnson (1990) between men and women on the democratic-autocratic dichotomy of leadership style should not be discounted, such differences are subject to the constraints of the position. For example female and male military leaders would not differ in their leadership style, as such a position has extremely precise and clear guidelines for expected leadership behaviour. Such a situation has no ambiguity in the way a leader is expected to act. Conversely, a female and male bank manager may differ slightly in their leadership style, as the position is more ambiguous in terms of expected leadership behaviour.
A follow up study was conducted by Eagly, Karau, and Markhijani (1995), which considered whether differences in leadership style between men and women resulted in differences in leadership effectiveness. This study used a meta-analytic approach, combining 86 separate studies for statistical analysis. The final conclusion of Eagly et al., (1995) was that female and male leaders did not differ in their leadership effectiveness. This finding applied to all conditions, including when the style of leadership between males and females was different, thus showing no difference between genders in their competence and capacity to lead. Further qualification of this finding is that Eagly et al., (1995) suggest that there are certain conditions or environments that favour the effectiveness of females, and others that favour that of males. Eagly et al., (1995) found that men were more effective than women in roles that were defined in more masculine terms, such as policing. Women on the other hand were found to be more effective than men in roles that were defined as less masculine, such as nursing.
Whilst overall Eagly et al., (1995) conclude no differences between men and women in their leadership effectiveness, on a contextual level it can be seen that there are differences between men and women which is contingent on the particular environment in which the leader is required to operate. This finding is clearly related to the different styles of leadership between men (autocratic) and women (democratic) found by Eagly and Johnson (1990), and how such styles are often situation specific. Further evidence for the situation dependant leadership style is provided by Eagly et al., (1995) in the finding that men were more effective than women to the extent that leader and subordinate roles were male dominated numerically, and conversely women were deemed to be more effective than men to the extent that leader and subordinate roles were female dominated numerically. This finding presents the notion that leadership style and effectiveness is not only a reflection of gender, but also the situation, the gender of subordinates, and subordinates’ expectations. It may well be that male subordinates expect to work under an autocratic leader and deem this style of leadership as effective, as they themselves condone such a leadership style. Female subordinates on the other hand may feel that a democratic style of leadership yields the greatest effectiveness, as they themselves would expect and engage in such a leadership style.
If indeed women do differ to men in their leadership style, it would make sense that women would give greater, more detailed performance feedback to their subordinates in comparison to men. Evidence to suggest this lies in the finding of Eagly and Johnson (1990) that women favour a democratic approach in comparison to males who favour an autocratic approach. According to Eagly and Karau (1991) the democratic leadership style is one that involves the use of feedback, which provides the opportunity for the leader to coach their subordinates.
Eagly and Karau (1991) found in their meta-analysis very little difference between the amount of feedback male and female leaders gave their subordinates. However, whilst quantitatively there was no difference, Brewer, Socha, and Potter (1996) investigated the notion of whether female and male leaders differed in the delivery of performance feedback to subordinates. Brewer et al., (1996) assessed the degree to which female and male leaders differed in providing negative and positive feedback. Whilst Eagly and Karau (1991) found that men and women were quite similar in the amount of feedback that they would give their subordinates, Brewer et al., (1996) identified that there were marked differences in the delivery and type of feedback female and male leaders would provide.
Brewer et al., (1996) found that males would give more specific negative feedback to their subordinates, and do so on a more frequent basis. Females on the other hand were seen to give more general feedback, both positive and negative, and on an equal basis. This finding has further implications on the debate of whether males and females engage in different leadership styles. The fact that males would provide specific negative feedback, and on a more frequent basis in comparison to females, would be a reflection of the directive or autocratic leadership style that males generally engage in. Again further qualification of this finding is required. Brewer et al., (1996) duly note, as does Eagly and Johnson (1990), Eagly and Karau (1991), and Eagly et al., (1995) that leadership style, leadership effectiveness, and leadership-subordinate feedback are subject to many factors. Such factors are gender, the situation, the ambiguity of the task, and the expectation of subordinates. Further implications arise within the gender factor, as it has been suggested that females are socialised to be more caring and nurturing, whilst males are socialised into more large group, less personal types of behaviours (Berk, 1997). It is quite plausible to suggest that socialisation plays a role in the way men and women lead, the leadership styles they engage in, and the way they provide feedback to their subordinates.
A further difference in the delivery of feedback between males and females may be in the attributional biases males and females engage in. Brewer et al., (1996) note that males are more likely than females to attribute poor subordinate performance to external, controllable factors. In other words, they are more likely to lay blame on their subordinates for poor performance and therefore provide such subordinates with more frequent negative feedback. Females, however, are more likely to question their own leadership effectiveness if subordinate performance is poor, and consequently reduce the amount of negative feedback, as they would accept some of the responsibility for subordinate poor performance. Whilst future research is required to determine why males and females differ in their leadership style, it is apparent that the finding of Brewer et al., (1996) provides further confirmatory evidence of Dimarco and Whitsitt (1975), Eagly and Johnson (1990), Eagly and Karau (1991), Eagly et al., (1995), and Petty and Bruning (1980), in that women and men tend to use different leadership styles.
Yammarino, Dubinsky, Comer, and Jolson (1997) conducted a study that considered the type of leadership females engaged in, and the degree to which female leaders experienced successful outcomes. Yammarino et al., (1997) designed a levels of analysis study, which considered the leader’s leadership style, their effectiveness, their subordinates’ commitment to the task, and also their subordinates’ performance in completing the task. Yammarino et al., (1997) used a sample of solely female leaders and therefore could not make any comparisons with male leaders due to their exclusion. Yammarino et al., (1997), however, did find that the female leaders within the sample were characterised by a transformational leadership style. Robbins et al., (2000, p.617) defines a transformational leadership style as those “leaders who provide individualised consideration and intellectual stimulation, and possess charisma”. Yammarino et al., (1997) found that each female leader within the study formed a unique relationship with each subordinate that was independent of their group membership. In other words the female leader developed a relationship with each individual subordinate on a personal level, over and above their working relationship, thus supporting the notion that the females in this sample were transformational leaders. It suggests that females have a tendency to strengthen working relationships by creating personal relationships with their subordinates. Whilst this is the case, it should be emphasised that Yammarino et al., (1997) did not include males within the study in order to compare the two genders and their leadership style. Yammarino et al., (1997), however, did include the attitudes of the leader’s subordinates. It was found that the leader’s subordinates (comprised of men and women) rated their leadership in a positive manner. Subordinates felt that the leader was positive, encouraged participation, and fostered personal relationships based on trust and mutual respect. Subordinates’ general ratings of their leader give credence to the notion that female leaders engage in a democratic style of leading.
The overall findings of Yammarino et al., (1997) suggest that females engage in a transformational leadership style, but also, Yammarino et al., (1997) recognise that subordinates’ perception of their female leaders is that such leaders show a democratic approach to leading. The findings of Yammarino et al., (1997), therefore provide further evidence that females have a tendency to follow a democratic leadership style, even though in this study males were not included for comparison.
Kabacoff (1998) also considers gender differences in organisational leadership behaviour. Each leader was asked to complete the self-version of the Leadership Effectiveness Analysis. Bosses and peers were also included in the study and asked to complete the observer-version. The Leadership Effectiveness Analysis provides scores on 22 leadership behaviours and styles. After collating leader’s self ratings with those of their bosses and peers, Kabacoff (1998) concluded that women scored more highly on leadership scales which reflected a people orientated democratic leadership approach, while men were shown to score higher on business orientated leadership skills. These findings are confirmatory of the results of the meta-analysis of Eagly and Johnson (1990) who found that women favoured a democratic approach to leading, whilst men favoured an autocratic approach. An interesting finding from Kabacoff’s (1998) study was that women tended to score higher on leadership measures that reflected an orientation towards production and the attainment of results, characteristics of a task leadership style. Men tended to score higher on leadership measures that reflected an orientation towards strategic planning and organisational vision. This finding is somewhat surprising as very few, if any, of the studies that consider gender differences in leadership style since the 1980s support the notion that female leaders favour task leadership when compared to men. However, Kabacoff (1998) did conclude that women engaged in a democratic style of leadership in comparison to males who were considered to use an autocratic approach. Also, Kabacoff (1998) as with Brewer et al., (1996), Eagly and Johnson (1990), Eagly and Karau (1991), and Eagly et al., (1995), found no differences in leadership effectiveness between males and females when rated by their bosses and peers. Similar results were found in the follow up study of Kabacoff (2000), which considered gender and leadership style of various chief executive officers (CEOs). Kabacoff (2000) used the same measures as those in the Kabacoff (1998). Kabacoff (2000) concluded that female senior executives were more likely to monitor progress of subordinates, provide feedback, and encourage participation, a reflection of a democratic leadership style. Also, Kabacoff (2000) found that males were more restrained in their emotional expression, whilst females were rated as operating with a greater degree of energy intensity and emotional expression, and having a greater capacity to keep others enthusiastic and involved. As with previous studies, Kabacoff (2000) found no difference in leader effectiveness between female and male senior executives.
It can be concluded, from the evidence provided that women tend to engage in a democratic style of leadership, whilst males engage in a more autocratic approach. However, there are some qualifications that need to be addressed. The differences between males and females on the democratic – autocratic leadership style continuum, although statistically significant, are small. Also, the evidence presented shows the importance of the leader’s environment and the degree of ambiguity of the required leadership behaviour. A leader, be it female or male, will lead the same when the guidelines for leading are clear and regimented, such as that in the military. A bank manager, however, will have more freedom in the leadership style they wish to adopt, as the guidelines for leading are more ambiguous. Another point of qualification is that in all of the research papers presented, it was found that men and women experienced the same levels of leadership effectiveness. This was true for all conditions including when females were shown to engage in a different leadership style in comparison to males.
In general, it is evident that females engage in a different leadership style to males. Women tend to adopt a democratic approach to leading, whilst men are more likely to lead with an autocratic style. The differences between gender leadership style are small. Reasons for such discrepancies are often put down to the differences in socialisation of females in comparison to males, although further research is required to determine the strength of such effects on leadership style. Finally, it should be emphasised that although there may be differences in the way females and males lead, both genders were equal in respect to their overall effectiveness. This finding supports the notion that there is more than one way to lead effectively.
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