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Do men and women lead differently?

Vanessa Judelman

President, Mosaic People Development

I had a great discussion with a group of leaders earlier this week. A female leader mentioned that she was concerned about the dynamics on her team after her recent promotion. She is now leading a group of people who used to be her peers. She worries that they won’t respond well to her direction. By the way, this is a very common concern that I hear from a lot of leaders.

What fascinated me was the response from a male leader in the room. He explained that he was also promoted to lead a group of people who were his peers. He then went on to describe how successful he had been in handing this situation. He shared with us all the key strategies he implemented and explained what a great job he did.

What amazed me about his response was his confidence and his unabashed celebration of his successes. I just loved it! I work with a lot of leaders who question themselves all the time. They feel insecure as a leader and suffer from the imposter syndrome. Now, while some may think this leader was “tooting his own horn”, I thought he had done such a great job of reflecting on his successes and sharing his best practices.

What struck me more was how uncommon it is for female leaders to “toot their horn” in this way. In fact, during a break, I brought this up to some women in the room. I asked them how they felt about his comments. They explained that while they thought his comments were acceptable, they would never “toot their horns” in that way.

This provoked me to get in my soap box and launch into a pep talk. I told these female leaders that they need to start doing some self-promotion. Men do it so well as their colleague just demonstrated. It’s time that female leaders own their successes and share them just like our male colleagues do so well.

If you’d like to be promoted or to be given the opportunity to work on that fantastic new project, your manager needs to know what you are working on, accomplishing and where you are going the extra mile.

Yes, there are clear differences in how men and women lead. Women for example tend to demonstrate a higher level of empathy as leaders. This is a skill I’ve had to coach many male leaders to practice. Some don’t even know what it means to be empathetic.

While these differences exist, I don’t view them as a negative thing. I see it just as a fact of life. The goal is to learn from each other. Maybe you need to be more assertive or “toot your own horn” a little more. Perhaps being more empathetic will make you a more successful leader. It’s up to you to look around and learn from the best practices of other leaders around you, regardless of their gender.

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