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 are just told what to do.

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

Additionally, the masculine leader makes all the decisions on how the company is being run and what its goals are, not to mention 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 of pushing for higher performance by every person in the organization.  Promotions are given to those who work long hours and give up their personal lives to further their careers.  Think high-powered law firms and the drive that is expected to make partner.

In a feminine lead culture, consideration is given to each person’s skill set and passion.  They are encouraged to find their zone of genius and, with approval, to 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 Friday afternoon pizza parties are more of the masculine locker room type, versus the more subdued baby showers thrown for expectant mothers during lunch breaks.  

There’s nothing wrong with either style, but I do think we’ve seen a huge rise in the feminine style as more women start and 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 because we are authentic and open with one another and I want them to know that 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 and if the stress of life overwhelms you and you are not functioning at the top of your game at work occasionally, it is understandable and forgivable.  

I do see some feminine style leaders being 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 just because they don’t own their own power and step up.  

I also see that the feminine leaders are more likely to barter or trade services instead of insisting they be paid for their going rates for their services and paying the other person’s rates in return.  Too many time trades are unequal.  If you stick to your set rates, then balance is guaranteed.

Generally speaking, the masculine leaders are more decisive.  They are willing to take bigger chances and just “go for it.”  The feminine style leaders can get caught up in analysis paralysis.  I think this goes to lack of confidence in themselves and their decision making which 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 is not a bad trait unless it’s carried too far and people get stepped on in the process.

The bottom line is every leader needs to develop their own personal style and craft the company culture that they want.  Being aware of the difference between a masculine and a feminine leadership style 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 centric and not overly black and white could be beneficial to an organization’s ability to attract and retain a diverse group of excellent employees. 

Consciously choosing the atmosphere you wish to cultivate will help you be the best leader you can be and build the strongest company you desire.  Evaluating your personal style and making changes as you see fit 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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