Is there a possible gender bias in relationship building? It’s often said that women are better listeners than men. Are men who are comfortable with the Awareness Factor also more comfortable with their “feminine” side, such as intuition and emotional sensitivity? Are women effective in business more in touch with their “masculine” side, such as logic and objectivity?
Even the most powerful men in the military have room for their intuitive, supportive side. Colin Powell, for example, prior to his stint as secretary of state, was the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. armed forces. Under President Reagan, he accepted the position of chief of Forces Command (FORSCOM), responsible for more than one million U.S. troops, yet he allowed himself sufficient emotional sensitivity to be a listening post for those serving under his command. Powell states in his book, My American Journey, that “leadership is problem solving. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” After serving in the Army for 35 years, Powell went on to assist the president on national security affairs and then became the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before becoming secretary of state. He was a great leader, by any measure. The Awareness Factor of listening to others was primary for him. He wasn’t afraid to let emotions come into play.
What this says to those of us in the workplace is that as we become more mature as professionals and leaders, we allow the qualities of the opposite gender to emerge within us. So men, using their relationship building skills at work, may allow their emotions to play a larger function in their decision making, particularly when it comes to making judgments about others in the workplace. They may allow their intuition or gut feelings to play a larger role as they decide whom to trust with greater responsibility, whom to assign to tough jobs, and with whom to align in the process of collective leadership.
Women who succeed in business, on the other hand, are often helped by their confidence in their own decision making as they begin to feel comfortable making crucial decisions based on logic and facts rather than solely on feelings and shared opinion. “You need to be…willing to make statements affirmatively and take ownership of your ideas,” says Julie Hembrock Daum, practice leader of Spencer Stuart, in an issue of Newsweek. Yet, despite the fact that more than half of all managers and professionals are female, just 2 percent of Fortune 1000 CEOs and only 7.9 percent of Fortune 500 top earners are women. What’s the problem?
Part of the problem may be that many women are unwilling to give up their best child-rearing years to devote the long hours and globe-circling travel that seem to make up the hoops we must jump through to achieve top leadership status. In fact, this may be a primary reason since countless surveys reveal that male and female leadership styles show few differences, according to an analysis by the New York-based Catalyst research group. A larger problem may be that women see themselves as stereotypes more than is justified by the facts. The Catalyst group surveyed 296 leaders of both genders about leadership effectiveness. Men gave women high marks for supportive and rewarding skills, but gave themselves more credit for four critical leadership skills-problem solving, inspiring, delegating, and influencing upward (having impact on those above you). So this male prejudice may, in part, account for women’s small ranks at the highest levels of leadership.
Women, in agreement with men for the most part, gave men more credit for networking, influencing upward, and delegating. “These are the perceptions, not the reality,” says Catalyst President Illene Lang in an article in The Wall Street Journal. “Women as well as men perceive women leaders as better at caretaker behaviors and men as better at take-charge behaviors…Men aren’t expected to be supportive.” Yet Powell, one of the most effective leaders, shows just how support can be an important part of a man’s leadership style.