How to Lead Like a Woman

Find out why today's leaders are those who can affect the most positive change -- and why they're often women.
How to Lead Like a Woman
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Leadership Futurist and Gender Equity Advocate
5 min read
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The following excerpt is from Dr. Patti Fletcher’s book Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break the Mold. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Effective leadership in the modern age doesn't revolve around who can make the most decisions or even the best decisions. Today's leaders are those who can affect the most positive change.

Unfortunately, that's not the culture most people live in. Most women in the workplace have been directed to lead like a man, which means a command-and-control approach, emphasizing assertive decision-making, a rational (read: emotionless) approach and a stockholder-centric approach to business.

But, to achieve the life you want and the success you crave, you don't have to throw yourself into the business world's melting pot and come out as another assimilated corporate employee, ready to be part of the mothership.

In 1958, Lawrence Kohlberg finished his dissertation on what came to be known as "Kohlberg's stages of moral development." It was quite a pioneering move, since psychology still wasn't regarded as a serious science and morality was considered a subjective topic. Nevertheless, Kohlberg pursued his research and eventually came to be recognized as one of the preeminent psychologists in history.

Of course, like any academic, he had his critics. Perhaps his earliest was his own research assistant, Carol Gilligan, who became a distinguished psychologist in her own right. Gilligan thought Kohlberg's research was too narrow: He focused almost exclusively on how men made decisions and looked for the patterns in their moral development. Gilligan, on the other hand, didn't believe that women's morality mirrored men's; she thought they had a fundamentally different rationale for how they viewed ethical behavior and weighed decisions.

To her credit, Gilligan didn't believe that one was superior to the other. She said there were two "voices," a masculine and a feminine and that ideally a person would listen to both to realize their full potential in moral development.

Related: 10 Inspirational Quotes From Women Business Leaders

So how do men and women lead differently?

If you've ever taken a business or economics course, you've had Milton Friedman's core principle pounded into your skull: The only reason to do anything in a company is to make as much money as possible for its owners.

I'm an angel investor, business owner and public company shareholder. I know that a company has to turn a profit. But, I'm not so narrow-minded as to believe that executives should pursue that goal to the exclusion of all else. I couldn't sleep at night knowing my teams, businesses and investments were hurting people for a few extra cents. Just because you can use a sweatshop in China doesn't mean you should. Just because a foreign government doesn't restrict you from dumping toxic waste into its water supply doesn't mean it's a good idea.

What we're talking about is stockholder (aka shareholder) vs. stakeholder. When making major decisions, the masculine approach focuses on how the outcome affects the stockholders: the people who own the company, division, department, project, etc. It's a linear, hierarchical perspective.

Related: These Female Entrepreneurs Created a Fake Male Co-Founder to Work Around Sexism. How Well It Worked Is Incredibly Eye Opening.

The feminine approach looks at the stakeholder perspective: In addition to the people who "own" the results of this decision, who else will be affected? What other departments, companies, individuals, customers and vendors will this decision impact? This is usually called a radial approach to decision-making: looking not just up and down the organizational chart, but laterally and even outside it completely.

Instead of just looking at how decisions will affect the lines on the P&L statement, you should take other groups into consideration: not just stockholders, but employees, contractors, customers, suppliers, partners, communities and families.

Along the same lines, the masculine view of authority usually follows hierarchical structure: the person with the most authority is the one who has the most explicit authority, i.e., the person with the biggest title.

Thus, when measuring their own power or influence, the masculine approach tends to view it in light of how much recognized authority they have. It's a factor in why formal titles and positions seem to be more important to men than women.

The feminine perspective tends to view authority in terms of implicit influence and reputation. A manager may be nominally in charge of an initiative, but are they really the driver behind the project? Or is there someone lower on the totem pole who wields more influence over its direction?

Related: How to Succeed as a Female Leader Anywhere In the World

(It reminds me of a cartoon I once saw that asked, "Do you want to speak to 'the man in charge' or the woman who knows what's going on?")

Thus, when we measure our own authority, we tend to think in terms of "platform": Have we cultivated relationships and a reputation that will enable us to move an initiative in the direction we want? It often bothers us less that someone else is nominally in charge so long as we're can achieve what we've set out to do.

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