Why are women naturally better suited to 21st century leadership

future leaders

In the 20th Century, traditional leaders predominantly led in a way that could be characterised as an authoritarian one; ‘know everything and tell people what to do’.

In a world that changed relatively slowly, knowledge was power. 30 years ago a leader could hold in their heads about 75% of the information needed to do their job, so it was easy to lead in that paternal way. We have a mnemonic for this, as described in our new book, Leading beyond the Ego (Knights et al 2018) which is: REAL(1) – Rational, Ego-based, As-usual Leaders.

Today, the amount of knowledge necessary to do their job that a leader can hold in their heads is below 10% and falling. Information is available to all at the click of a mouse. So a crucial requirement for any leader is the ability to collaborate with team members and draw on their combined knowledge. Factor in the impact that AI, machine learning and other technical advances will have on the work place and we’re headed for another industrial revolution of sorts. To cope with such disruption, companies will need to be radical and collaborative in their strategy and its execution.

On top of this, a generation of employees with new work expectations is emerging fast. By 2020, according to a 2011 PWC Report, Millennials will comprise 50% of the world’s workforce. These younger employees place a much higher value on diversity practices, such as flexible working hours and schedules to aid parenting, so that they can maintain a healthy work-life balance. This ranks above pay in many cases. According to PWC, 95% of employees in the 20-30 years age bracket rated work/life balance as important, with other aspects such as a collaborative workplace, rapid progression, learning and development, corporate responsibility, reputation and values of the employer also prominent (Forbes, 2014). This calls for leaders who have developed emotional intelligence and thus are Robust Emotionally Aware Leaders (REAL 2).


So how does this relate to women’s capabilities as leaders? From research done and published in our previous book, Leadership Assessment for Talent Development (Wall & Knights 2013), we found women outscored men significantly in a number of Emotional Intelligence capabilities that relate strongly to Social Awareness and Relationship Management.

These capabilities are those most closely linked to the requirements of our rapidly changing world and are those that most contribute to the higher performance of organisations where more women are on Boards.

21 century leader

Women leaders are more likely to collaborate and have a higher desire to serve others. This leads to more flexible and innovative thinking because the presence of women (and other minorities) enables the board to better reflect the customer base and innovate to meet its needs. These advantages are significant; they result in better business performance. The working culture fostered by women leaders also attracts great staff, by offering the flexibility and collaborative environment that is precisely what Millennial employees are seeking.

Men tend to do better in areas connected to self-awareness and self-management; they are better at self-orientated capabilities whereas women are better at relationship/other-orientated capabilities. The data shows that two areas where women don’t score as well as men are self-confidence and emotional self-control. The value of working on these attributes is that women will become more comfortable in putting themselves forward for ‘stretch roles’ and thereby increase the likelihood of promotion, eventually to Board level.


Developing greater self-confidence does not mean women should become louder and more strident to be ‘confident’ in the way that men often show themselves. It is about that inner self-assurance in that they can see and acknowledge their own qualities. Women have a much greater tendency to have hidden strengths, things they do well that they do not recognise and they tend to underestimate their abilities. This is supported by data about ‘Imposter Syndrome’ (a concept describing individuals who struggle to internalize their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”), affecting more women than men. The way for women to start to address these is to volunteer to undertake a robust 360-degree feedback process, like LeaderShape Global’s LEIPA® (Leadership and Emotional Performance Accelerator). Their hidden strengths will be identified and they will hear the positive. This process can be transformational in enabling women to see themselves and their abilities more accurately, especially when supported by an effective coach. One also has to wonder whether women are actually less emotionally self-controlled than men or, maybe it is that the greater transparency of women may sometimes be interpreted as lack of emotional self-control.


However, to lead successfully into the later years of this century and beyond, we need transpersonal leaders, who are Radical Ethical and Authentic (REAL3). These are leaders who can balance the needs of ensuring their organisations enjoy healthy (not excess) profit. They create sustainable practices, take account of the interests of all the organisation’s stakeholders (including the community and the planet). They lead without egocentricity by setting aside a personal desire for power, prestige, recognition and reward. Women’s established strengths in service orientation and empathy are a good foundation. Another benefit that women bring is their natural long-term focus, (perhaps linked to maternal instincts around considering the needs of the next generation and thus sustainable futures). One example is this quote around women’s superior investment outcomes “Women have long-term goals, and they stick with the plan,” Kathy Murphy, president of personal investing at Fidelity, told CNN in an interview. “They focus on saving and investing for retirement or a kid’s college fund, not on outsmarting the market.” In a volatile and often uncertain world, women’s natural attributes will set them up to spearhead the transformation of leadership in the twenty-first century; making a compelling case for increasing the incidence and prominence of women leaders.

Read more about developing Transpersonal Leadership in Leading Beyond the Ego by John Knights, Danielle Grant and Greg Young (Routledge, £24.99 paperback) available from Amazon and all good bookshops. Wearethecity.com readers can get 20% off Leading Beyond the Ego by using WAC18 when purchasing the book at www.routledge.com.


This discount code cannot be combined with any other offer and only applies to print copies of Leading Beyond the Ego purchased directly from www.routledge.com. Valid until the 31/03/2018

danielle grantAbout the author

Danielle Grant is a Director of LeaderShape Global with many years’ experience coaching and facilitating programmes at CEO and Director level. She is a thought leader in blended learning methodologies. Danielle held Director level positions in UK, US and European blue chip and executive search businesses, including Disney. She has an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching and is an accomplished coach and facilitator and an expert in the development of neuroscientifically based leadership programmes. She is an accredited University Lecturer and has led Masters’ programmes in leadership and coaching.

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