Leadership

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
Image credit: Hero Images | Getty Images
VIP Contributor
Leadership Futurist and Gender Equity Advocate
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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.

More From Women Entrepreneur

Financial Planning

What Women Breadwinners Need to Know About Wealth

The bottom line for female breadwinners is understanding that the right financial knowledge and support can put you in a position to create wealth and take control of the future you want.
Social Entrepreneurship

This Fashion Brand Has Built a Fanatical Following by Being Up Front With Its Politics

Wildfang donates substantial money to progressive causes and is willing to make a statement with its products, even if it loses money doing it.
Pitching Investors

How to Get Male Venture Capitalists to Invest in Your Female-Targeted Product

Often, male VCs just don't understand products for women -- or they need to ask their wife or daughters first.
Women in Tech

We Need More Diversity in Tech Companies. Finance Roles Are a Good Place to Start.

Let's make a conscious effort to find and elevate qualified women, especially in tech finance roles.

More from Entrepreneur

Grow Your Business at Entrepreneur LIVE! Join us on Nov. 16 in Brooklyn, NY, to learn from legends like Danica Patrick and Maria Sharapova, pitch our editors, meet with investors, and potentially walk away with funding!
Register here

One-on-one online sessions with our experts can help you start a business, grow your business, build your brand, fundraise and more.
Book Your Session

In as little as seven months, the Entrepreneur Authors program will turn your ideas and expertise into a professionally presented book.
Apply Now

Latest on Entrepreneur

My Queue

There are no Videos in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any video to save to your queue.

There are no Articles in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any article to save to your queue.

There are no Podcasts in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any podcast episode to save to your queue.

You're not following any authors.

Click the Follow button on any author page to keep up with the latest content from your favorite authors.