The benefits of embracing both feminine AND masculine traits as your leadership style

I wanted to talk about masculine and feminine traits in leadership. This is a topic that has cropped up many times in may different contexts recently so it seems appropriate to give it some time.

Here I touch on how different traits can be beneficial, as well as damaging and offer how coaching can support you to embrace different leadership styles and to discover your own authentic leadership style.

Masculine and feminine traits

Masculine leadership typically includes traits such as competitiveness, decisiveness and risk taking. Whereas feminine leadership styles include intuition, empathy and diligence. Too much risk taking and self-interest can undoubtedly be detrimental to a business or a project. Conversely, placing too much focus on the detail can lead to missing the bigger picture and failing to act on emerging external indicators. Also detrimental to a business.

Here are some of the traits typically associated with each leadership style:

Masculine traits Feminine traits

Decisive

Assertive

Competitive

Resilient

Direct

Independent

Patient

Intuitive

Collaborative

Adaptable

Loyal

Humble

A balanced approach

In business and the working environment we’ve traditionally seen an over-reliance on masculine leadership and the dismissal of feminine. Arguably, some of the most powerful women that have made it to the most senior positions of power (think UK Prime Ministers) have done so by operating with masculine leadership traits.

While both styles of course have positive traits, the trick, as with anything is about understanding when to apply each style (situational leadership). An accomplished leader will understand that it is NOT essential to always adopt a masculine leadership style in order to be successful. Neither masculine or feminine is better. The best leaders will be able to draw on either or both traits when needed but always keeping the right balance in check.

Contingency Theory and Situational Leadership

To help in thinking about when and how to apply different leadership traits, there are a couple of models which I like that provide a framework. These are the Contingency Theory and Situational Leadership models.  Both are similar with a slight nuance:

Contingency Theory posits that there is no right or best leadership approach but that a leader’s effectiveness is contingent on whether or not their style is suited to the situation at hand. A leader’s effectiveness is based on if a leader is more task or relationship orientated and also what is required for the team to be successful.

Situational Leadership is based on four different styles; delegating, supporting, coaching, directing and involves leaders recognising and adapting their approach to suit the development level of their team.  For instance, a more directive approach would be suited to a junior team or a newly formed team with little or no experience of the task or of working together, whereas a delegating approach is appropriate for an experienced team who is known and trusted to deliver outcomes autonomously.

Finding your own effective leadership approach

There are lots of free tools and quizzes that you can take which are more light hearted and fun but can give you some interesting pointers about your own qualities and areas of development as a leader. The only way to truly get to know your style and to harness your strengths and identify areas of development is by putting in some dedicated time and effort. Start by observing how others lead and consider what reactions and results their leadership style gets. Undertake some self reflection following an outcome that has gone well, or one that as not. Consider these questions:

  • What did I do?
  • What other options did I have in terms of how I behaved?
  • Did I make any assumptions that drove me to a particular course of action and were these assumptions false?
  • How might this have been for others involved?

Honestly appraise how well you think you handled a situation. None of this is about self-blame if things could have been done differently. But taking the time to consider such questions will give you an opportunity to identify and explore alternatives which you may be able to apply in future scenarios.

Leadership coaching can help to discover your own authentic leadership style. Coaching can generate raised levels of awareness of yourself and also of others which is critical when leading teams. Coaching can help you to dial up or dial down certain traits to get the best results.

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