The Lopsided Leader

March 10, 2016

The Lopsided Leader

Recently the Organizational Intelligence Institute conducted a *survey regarding gender expressions that exist within leadership competencies. The gender expression concept essentially states that within each competency, there exists a masculine expression and feminine expression. This was a public survey with over 1,012 respondents from a variety of industries within multi-national/global organizations. And a surprisingly even distribution of males and females (506 each), the distribution of generations were as follows: Gen X, 43 percent (ages 35–49); Millennials, 26 percent (ages 19–34); and Boomers, 31 percent (ages 50–68).

As the data was analyzed, several themes and trends became apparent. For example, when males expressed both the masculine and feminine aspects of a competency, overall it was accepted. However, when females expressed the feminine it was accepted more often, but when they expressed the masculine aspect of competencies it was accepted less often.

This, of course, is not news to most of us, but then I started to dig into why.

The question that came to mind was why is this acceptance so lopsided? Why is it ok for a male leader to express compassion, nurturing, collaborative, and even gentle, behaviors, but it’s not ok for a female leader to be competitive, confident, strong, and decisive?

It took me down a path to observing what has been going on in the realm of leadership development, especially within the past three to four decades. And where my research lead me was to a shift that took place in the early 90s. As more women were moving into leadership positions, it became apparent that female leaders had some very effective leadership skills that resulted in stronger team and communal behavior, less hierarchy, a stronger sense of trust and inclusion, integrity, increased employee empowerment, increased productivity, and increased innovation, to name a few.

The Shift

Businesses took note of this impact and determined they needed to find ways to bring out these behaviors in male leaders as well. And so began the process where we started to see leadership moving from an autocratic dictator top–down approach to a coaching, communicative empowerment style, moving away from management by fear to managing by reward, recognition, and positive reinforcement. We also saw inclusion and diversity start to become more prevalent. Interestingly, these were insights and approaches attributed to the feminine style of leadership.

Another fascinating trend from that period in the mid-90s is the executive coaching industry really started to take off as businesses wanted to ensure their leaders, especially their male leaders, were incorporating these highly effective new behaviors, which as we know drove us to the point where we are today--workplaces continue to evolve. We see collaboration, innovation, leaders as coaches, and rewards and recognition becoming the norm and at all-time highs. And as Millennials move into leadership, this is now the accepted and expected way to do business, so the shift has been successful and looks like it will continue to expand.

The Lopsided Female Leader Is Unveiled

All of this is wonderful. However, because we spent so much time developing the feminine aspects of our male leaders, making them open, caring, and less autocratic, we ended up neglecting to develop our female leaders in the masculine aspects. After all, there are wonderful masculine leadership traits that, although some female leaders naturally possess, many struggle with, just as many male leaders have struggled with incorporating the more inclusive feminine aspects.

So here in lies the outcome of the lopsided female leader. When we see a female leader express those traits which are typically associated with males; we as a society get highly critical and want to push her back to the feminine side of the leadership continuum. And sometimes her female peers push even harder than her male peers. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying women should become men—but just as the male leader has learned to incorporate the positive feminine aspects of leadership—a female leader, while maintaining her authentic self, should be developed to incorporate the positive aspects of the masculine style of leadership; traits such as confidence, executive presence, risk taking, being bold, decisiveness, and having a commanding presence. Female leaders also need positive role models, both male and female, who demonstrate the effective use of the masculine traits while maintaining a female posture.

We All Need Both—It’s Called Balance!

For any leader to be highly effective, he or she must possess both the masculine and feminine traits of a leadership competency—and then use the appropriate trait when it is needed. It’s like taking situational leadership to the ultimate next level. Each situation requires a specific competency or reaction by the leader and even more specifically, the situation requires the use of the appropriate feminine or masculine aspect of the competency.

What we ultimately want to achieve is balance within our leaders, both male and female. Providing a sense of confidence and even security that if an employee, peer, or even their own manager has a challenge, issue, idea, or win, the leader is going to respond in the appropriate way. And that requires the ability to pull from certain behaviors and competencies and both sides of the masculine or feminine aspect of the needed competency for that specific situation.

So the next time you are considering leadership development—either for you, your staff or your organization—make sure you incorporate a balanced approach of the gender expression within the desired behaviors or competencies. It is after all, how each of us will achieve the best of who we are.

*The results of the survey conducted by the Organizational Intelligence Institute will be published in April 2016. If you would like a copy please contact or visit to download a copy.

The Authors: 

Stacy Shamberger is executive vice president of Skyline Group, the leading provider of scalable leadership solutions with a foundation built upon decades of executive coaching.