How bossy are you?

Sunday, 19 January 2014 - 9:07am IST | Agency: dna
Are men and women wired to interact, communicate, influence and lead differently? Rupali Sebastian investigates.

A feminine way of leading includes helping the world to understand the need to be a more compassionate place, as it is important for people to feel understood, supported and valued;
and being principled about values that really matter
Ritu Chawla, General Manager, Courtyard by Marriott, Chakan, Pune

Trawl the net, and you will find plenty of information about male and female leadership styles; more notably findings by Alice Eagly, Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University, on the psychology of gender, especially differences and similarities in leadership. She says that though sex-related differences between leadership styles are small (after all, one needs to have a certain mental make-up to succeed, irrespective of gender), they are nevertheless present. For instance, men take a “command and control” approach, while women tend to be more democratic and participative. Another meta-analytic generalisation, according to Eagly, is that women, more than men, combine feminine and masculine leader behaviours, something that Ritu Chawla, General Manager, Courtyard by Marriott, Chakan, Pune, concurs with.

“Today’s leaders follow a hybrid style, (i.e. transformational leadership), which is highly effective while fostering the growth of human relationships. Women leaders can be as assertive and persuasive, have a stronger need to get things done and can be as willing to take risks as male leaders. Women leaders are also found to be more empathetic and flexible, as well as stronger in interpersonal skills than their male counterparts... enabling them to read situations accurately, with the  benefit of information from all sides. They can bring others around to their point of view because they genuinely understand and care about where others are coming from,” feels Chawla.


An aggressive, go-getter woman leader has only one goal—results! And she achieves it at any
cost. But a nurturer will build her team and guide it towards success. A combination of both
is important
Mamta Shah, Director, KidsVita Edustation

Of Kid Gloves and Iron Rods
And it is not only a highly corporatised culture, such as Chawla’s, which seems to favour such a style. The combination of the kid glove and iron rod also finds followers in pursuers of ‘softer’, if you will, professions such as education. Mamta Shah, Director, KidsVita Edustation, a program that aims to enrich children’s lives through fun and activity, believes, “an aggressive, go-getter woman leader has only one goal—results! And she achieves it at any cost. But a nurturer will build her team and guide it towards success. A combination of both is important.”


It’s important to remember that you aren’t in the job to be popular, but to get the job done. If the job can be done in a harmonious way, then it’s always the better choice for me. But I’m OK with being disliked too
Gauri Vij, Editor, TimeOut Mumbai

Beyond Stereotypes
Owing mainly to historical gender inequalities, women have often had to battle against perceived inferiority and stereotypes. For instance, women may be ‘seen’ as competent or liked, but rarely both. Does this make it difficult for women to assume the mantle of a leader?

Though Chawla and Shah give an emphatic thumb’s-down to this statement, Gauri Vij, Editor, TimeOut Mumbai, agrees with it: “Yes. It’s quite frustrating at times. But you can always strive to be both. It’s a struggle though. It’s important to remember that you aren’t in the job to be popular, but to get the job done. If the job can be done in a harmonious way, then it’s always the better choice for me. But I’m OK with being disliked too.” Considering that media has an appreciable male workforce, has she ever felt that she could benefit from being a ‘manly’ leader? “No. Though it seems to be the general perception that a woman has to be a man to survive in a leadership role, everyone has their own style of leadership. And it’s best to find your own mix without looking for stereotypical ‘masculine’ ways to lead.”

Chawla, too, shrugs off the ‘being a man in male-dominated field’ argument. “Domination as a leadership style is becoming less and less popular. I believe the answer lies in a balanced approach–be assertive, persuasive and a risk-taker, whilst being empathetic, flexible and with higher EQ.”

Women bring something beyond their unique leadership style to the table—a difference in values and attitudes compared to their male counterparts. Numerous studies, says Eagly, show that woman treasure benevolence and universalism; endorse social values that promote others’ welfare; uphold socially compassionate policies and moral practices; and believe in ethical business practices—qualities that spell good things for companies. Chawla echoes, “A feminine way of leading includes helping the world to understand the need to be a more compassionate place, as it is important for people to feel understood, supported and valued; and be principled about values that really matter.”

Leading by Example
So who are the woman idols that these three leaders hold in high esteem? While Shah admires Indira Gandhi for her strong fearless personality and being an achiever, Chawla applauds Kiran Bedi for being “unrelenting and, yet so nurturing, as visible in the Tihar Jail reforms and other social reforms that she was associated with.” For Vij, it’s someone much closer home, “Sheila Shahani, Editor of Inside Outside magazine and my former boss. She never raised her voice yet managed to run a tight ship in terms of managing within a budget, maintaining a network of professional contacts and a small yet dedicated team. And, she is also always remarkably well turned out! She’s a good combination of empathy and professional integrity. And, of course, a hard example to follow!”




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