Masculine vs. Feminine Leadership Style

By Sherry Lutz Herrington

At the risk of being called sexist, I’d like to postulate that typically men and women have different leadership styles.  To avoid being too black and white I’ll call them masculine and feminine, as you could have traits from both sides and be either male or female.

The masculine leadership style is a bit more traditional.  It’s what we’ve seen historically in corporations throughout America.  It tends toward a more direct style: “Do what I say now because I said so.” People who’ve worked under this type of leader know what I mean.  There is no room for discussion or feedback. You follow orders.

Feminine leaders tend to be more about allowing people to step up and decide how to best carry out their duties.  Usually it is within a reasonable framework, but with enough leeway that the employee feels empowered. They make their own decisions on how to implement their responsibilities.

The masculine leader makes all the decisions on running the company, what its goals are, and how to get there.  I see it as more fact-based decision making.  A “what do the numbers tell us” approach, not “what do we think would be best.”

On the flip side, the feminine leader is not afraid to ask for others’ opinions on what they think would be best or what they might like to do.  This style tends to listen to their intuition more and not make decisions entirely on facts.  They like to let other variables come into play.  They listen to what their team says and generally allow the decisions to be more of a consensus.

Masculine leaders like to set goals and strive for them through traditional means. They push for higher performance by every person in the organization.  Promotions come to hose who work long hours and give up their personal lives to further their careers.  Imagine high-powered law firms and think of the drive that is expected to make partner.

A feminine lead culture considers each person’s skill set and passion.  They encourage staff members to find their zone of genius. With approval, they create a position that maximizes that sweet spot while benefiting the company.  That doesn’t mean they don’t work hard. They are just more likely to realize the benefit of work/life balance.

Every company has a unique culture, but some tend more toward the masculine and some lean more to the feminine.  Rowdy afternoon pizza parties are more of the masculine locker room type, versus the subdued baby showers for expectant mothers.  

There’s nothing wrong with either style. But I do think we’ve seen a huge rise in the feminine style as more women run their own companies.  These women are realizing that the traditional masculine style just doesn’t fit them. So they are creating their own softer, more people-centric environments.  

I remember feeling tremendous shame at work when I broke down and cried in my early career days.  It just wasn’t okay to cry at work.  It was a sign of weakness and it certainly could cause damage to one’s career potential.  Now I’m not afraid to let my team see me cry. We are authentic and open with one another, and I want them to know it is okay in our culture.  It doesn’t mean coming to work twice a week crying over massive drama in your personal life.  It just means that we are all human. The stress of life is overwhelming. If you aren’t functioning at the top of your game, it is understandable and forgivable.  

I do see some feminine style leaders acting a little too soft and allowing others to run them over.  When I’m at networking events I see leaders concede the floor to more vocal dominating leaders. It’s just because they don’t own their own power to step up.  

Feminine leaders are also more likely to barter or trade services instead of insisting payment for their going rates.  Too many time trades are unequal. Balance is guaranteed if you stick to your set rates.

Generally speaking, the masculine leaders are more decisive.  They choose to take bigger chances, and they just “go for it.”  The feminine leaders can get caught up in analysis paralysis.  I think this reflects lack of confidence in themselves and their decision making. It causes them to waffle and miss out on potential opportunities.

However, the masculine style can come off as cold and uncaring, or even bullying.  Being strong and decisive are not bad traits. But if carried too far people get stepped on in the process.

Every leader needs to develop their own personal style and craft the company culture that they want.  Awareness of the difference between masculine and feminine leadership styles can help you decide where you want to fall on the spectrum.  Perhaps bringing in some of the opposite styles’ traits could be a benefit.  Learning to be more central and not overly black and white is beneficial to an organization’s ability to attract and retain a diverse group of excellent employees. 

Consciously choose the atmosphere you wish to cultivate. This will help you be the best leader you can be and build the strongest company you desire.  Evaluating your personal style and making necessary changes will drive the company culture and build long term success.

Sherry Lutz Herrington is the owner of Sherrington Financial Fitness, a business consulting and accounting firm specializing in strategic business planning and solid financial accounting for businesses. She is also the author of Strong Women Thriving (https://strongwomenthriving.com/), a blog which focuses on empowering women to be financially savvy, particularly after experiencing financial abuse. Sherry is currently writing a new book that both shares her personal story and addresses financial abuse. She can be reached at hello@strongwomenthriving.com.

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