Feminine Leadership Traits - the way of the 21st Century

We’ve all seen plenty of articles about what it is that women do wrong.  Sad to say, I’ve certainly contributed my fair share in that space . Why? Because they get higher read rates from both men and women alike. Case in point, I’ve been publishing almost weekly for one year, and the three articles that have been most popular (and I don’t just mean by a few hundred views, I’m referring to 1000’s of views)?


(Hint: don’t click on the links if you don’t want to perpetuate the cycle!)

The fact remains that when there is gender diversity in the leadership team – organisations have a better track record of achieving great results including increased productivity, increased profitability, better risk mitigation, higher staff engagement and higher customer satisfaction ratings amongst other things.   

In fact, if there were an “app for that”, it would be an absolute sell out!

The reality however is somewhat more challenging as organisations and governments struggle to meet gender diversity targets, with women hitting up against road blocks, brick walls and glass ceilings of bias, discrimination and resistance to change.

“I haven’t found myself constrained by the male models of leadership because I haven’t found them particularly inspiring, so why copy something you didn’t like?” Ann Sherry, 2015 AFR & Westpac Woman of Influence

Our business culture is pretty saturated with images of masculine leadership as the ideal – strong, decisive, direct and to the point.  Female leaders as role models are still pretty few and far between in business and politics the world over and frequently stereotypes one or two characterestics such as "grace and poise". I'm pretty confident that while grace and poise are wonderful things, feminine leadership is made up of much, much more. 

Additionally there is a tendency for us to fall back on all or nothing thinking - so if one woman makes a mistake, gets something wrong or even behaves less than leaderly - it becomes a transgression for all women, judged by both men and women everywhere.  

So what exactly is it that women bring to the table that appears to add such great value? What do women do right – not wrong?  What are these characteristics/traits/values? And are they limited to only women?   We’re pretty focused on “fixing the problem” but the reality is perhaps these characteristics should instead be highly sought after by both men and women.

The Athena Doctrine - by John Gerzema & Michael D’Antonio explores a bunch of characteristics that are traditionally seen as the domain of the feminine, are great for solving problems in business, and are also seen by younger generations of future leaders as highly desirable.

“Femininity is the operating system of twenty-first century progress. Women—and the men who can think like them—are creating a future we’ll all want to inhabit” John Gezerma

Why? Because we live in a world that is increasingly global, interconnected, social, transparent and interdependent. This new world needs long term solutions, collaborative strategies and joined up thinking.  These traits are more than a simple preference. In fact it would appear they are more in the needs/must category.  So the traits/skills/characteristics that operate well in this new joined up global economy include:

  • Listening
  • Communicating
  • Collaborating
  • Adapting
  • Promoting a positive culture where purpose and profits co-exist
  • Inclusive decision-making and
  • Nurturing of relationships.

As you can see, anyone can do these things - men and women alike. They are not gender specific but more traditionally aligned with the feminine. There is an interesting interview with Janet Crawford on Forbes that highlights feminine leadership traits and how they contribute to great leadership and innovation if you want to know more.

So what can you do?

Do you remember in a recent article on negotiation and bias, we learned that when women are told that good negotiators require listening, communication and emotional intelligence, they outperformed the men in negotiating in mixed pairs?

So maybe if we remind ourselves that the traits and skills that women use more naturally are highly desirable as leadership traits, we'll be more likely to want to put our hand up to lead, to lean in and to ride out the initial discomfort and resistance to change from others.

Feminine leadership traits are alive and well and should be encouraged rather than torn down, allowed to flourish rather than trying produce little “mini me’s”, and also allowed to be diverse rather than limited to simply grace and poise under pressure.

So next time you read articles about what women do wrong, remind yourself again of what exactly is it that women do right – and that it’s not just great for women, but great for business and community too.  

Your thoughts?  Comments below.

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  •  I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and  art of amping smart and savvy. 
  • I mentor busy professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game. 

  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so

Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months