Releasing the Transformational Power of Women in Leadership

Posted by Edyta Pacuk & filed under Leadership.

Releasing the Transformational Power of Women in Leadership.

Slash that.

Unleashing the Power of Women in Leadership.

A blog by Edyta Pacuk.


I always feel privileged to be a partner of the Management Research Group (MRG) based in Portland, Maine.  This wonderful group of psychologists and statisticians has kept me on my toes since I first met them in 1998, and they seem to have had a similar impact on many others over the last two decades.

In the recent past, they published a study pertaining to women in leadership. This blog is my recollection of this research, but the brain behind the data is MRG’s.  I bow to them.

Some context…

Although women represent half of North America’s workforce, they make up 6.5% of the executive ranks in small-cap companies, 6.4% in large-cap companies, and only 5.7% in mid-cap companies. In addition, 16% of corporate officers and only 15% of board directors in Fortune 500 companies are women.

The questions MRG asked in the study were deceivingly simple:

  • How do women and men differ in their leadership practices?
  • Are there gender differences in the relative importance of leadership practices for current effectiveness and future potential?
  • Why are there so few women in senior leadership roles?
  • What can we focus on to best assist women leaders to become even more effective?

Who was included in the North American study population?

  • Vice Presidents (49%) and Senior Vice Presidents (51%)
  • 1,292 Men and 1,292 Women matched on country, management level, job function and industry

Pretty nice sample, no?

The findings (in a nutshell)…

Women and men lead differently. But the real differences are not those most commonly reported. It is not about the fact that men are stereotypically seen as agentic (aggressive, ambitious, dominant, and self-confident), while women are seen as communal (affectionate, helpful, friendly and interpersonally sensitive). It is not even about the fact that stereotypes about leaders are more agentic. The differences are real, but they are nuanced. In addition, some perceptions about leadership competencies may be limiting the number of women who are in senior roles.

So then what are the real differences?…

Using the LEA 360 tool we discovered that women place more emphasis on (in order of significance):

  • Operating with a high degree of energy and enthusiasm to engage stakeholders (Excitement)
  • Putting tracking systems and control mechanisms in place to ensure the quality of end results is not compromised (Control)
  • Ensuring proper and straightforward feedback is given on an ongoing basis – both positive and developmental (Feedback)
  • Setting high standards and ensuring all perform at their highest levels (Production)
  • Competitiveness, comparing self with the best in class (Dominant)
  • Sharing information and ensuring all who need to know are properly kept in the loop (Communication)
  • Leadership presence, taking full responsibility for their decisions and actions (Management Focus)
  • Demonstrating sensitivity for the wellbeing of others (Empathy)

…while men placed more emphasis on (in order of significance):

  • Self-censorship – knowing when and how to hide the true emotions and feelings (Restraint)
  • Delegating meaningful responsibilities and related autonomies (Delegation)
  • Taking a step back and adapting a more analytical approach to problem solving, anticipating the long- and broad implications of their decisions and actions (Strategic)
  • Using their language eloquently to win others over to their point of view (Persuasive)
  • Demonstrating willingness to push aside their objectives in order to accommodate the needs of the larger team (Cooperation)
  • Exercising prudent judgment, applying the lessons learnt (Conservative)
  • Being willing to take risks, deal with ambiguity and drive change (Innovative)

According to the research, organizations look for the following capabilities when assessing overall leadership effectiveness and potential (genders combined):

Overall Effectiveness Leadership Potential
  • Strategic
  • Management Focus
  • Communication
  • Control
  • Excitement
  • Persuasive


  • Strategic
  • Management Focus
  • Communication
  • Production
  • Excitement
  • Technical
  • Innovative

In total, nine practices are seen as attributing to an individual’s promotability. One – technical – which measures the degree to which a leader positions themselves as a subject matter expert and taps into their deep specialized knowledge when making decisions – is not seen as significant when looking at gender differences. Out of the remaining eight practices, women score higher than men on five. This raises the idea that being strategic, being able to influence stakeholders and take risks, carries the heaviest weight when finally deciding on who will be invited to the next level, or be seen as a clear successor.

What does this mean? What message does this send to us as women leaders?

As women, we can do a few things…

  • Change our communication style – ensure we are able to clearly articulate our value proposition, explain the direct advantages and long-term benefits of our recommendations, and make influencing a part of our leadership practice, not a tool.
  • Demonstrate our analytical thinking – do not get bogged down with the tasks at hand, instead assert time to think strategically and demonstrate foresight. And then claim the forum in order to communicate that thinking to others.
  • Develop a higher degree of tolerance for risk – let’s put up our hand for an assignment when we are not 100% certain that we can do it, let’s drive change, and have the courage to try the less orthodox solution to problems.

Of course, there is lots the organizations have to own up to as well, with respect to the promotability of women. The issue of conscious and unconscious biases is real and I’ll explore that in my next blog… This one is already very long. I hope you found this to be an interesting read, please do share your comments below.


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