Female Leadership? Human(e) Leadership!
– translated by Jürgen Große-Puppendahl
In the context of the exciting catalogue of questions on Twitter:
I'd like to deal with these here today:
Is there a difference in leadership style between men and women? - Why are there often those personalities in leadership positions who are humanely the least suitable for them?
Alternatively, based on your suggestion: "Is there such a thing as male and female leadership style, and is it linked to gender?"
It is almost impossible to discuss the topic of "Female Leadership" without missing or neglecting something, without hurting feelings and with not losing balance.
The moment we compare women with men or men with women, we are in the midst of polarizations that we should better avoid if we really want to get out of this situation with a gain in insight.
I would therefore like to choose an approach that takes a little leap off the system. I would like to ask less about the fundamental differences between men and women and get caught up in the impossibility of being able to distinguish how much of the culturally typical behavior of women and men is nowadays typically cultural or natural.
I am doing something different:
I am asking how we as women can benefit from our global oppression in order to develop leadership qualities that are attractive, orienting and exemplary for other women and men.
I would like to say in advance that I do not believe that these are typically female quality characteristics, but that I also find them in men - and that they appear more often in men, the more leadership is heterogeneously distributed and the more those involved understand to value others as equals and to respect them for what they are capable of.
In this respect I understand leaders not only as people who lead other people, but as people whom others (like to) listen to and follow in the field in which these leaders can (perhaps even competently) convince.
I regard leadership systemically - and thus as something that is ascribed on one hand, but that someone can acquire on the other by developing the qualities that make up the respective ascription. Power arises from expectation structures and uses expectation structures.
Observed in the masses, female and male managers differ fundamentally. Their leadership styles are still differentiated/attributed as "female", "male". We have created a male/female apartheid in which polarization, expectation and expectation structures have a determining effect. But in Female Leadership lies an opportunity to lead the human discussion in a new way.
In my last article I wrote about the importance of leadership, quoting Christiane Amanpour from her BBC article of 5 May 2020.
I would like to quote this again today:
Each of these leaders communicated tough „Stay at home, stay alive!“-messages, combined with empathy, calm, competence and hard work and always, always favouring science over politics.
The leaders highlighted here by Amanpour are all women without exception.
Of course there are also men who live up to such qualities, and Amanpour has also left a political message with her selection. Nonetheless, it is remarkable that in the crisis so many women could proportionally come up with crisis-functional leadership qualities, and there are reasons for this:
We as women have learned to make lemonade from lemons.
Especially in crises people tend to listen more to men – and, as Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic has pointed out so excellently in his TEDx on incompetent men. But we as women come with a tremendous evolutionary advantage: our handed down and still not fully processed socio-structural oppression.
We just have to try harder. We as women, in particular, live in a constant crisis of social recognition.
Whether in daily struggle for status at work and in everyday life, whether in scientific research and writing: men find it easier being heard, seeing their work accepted, bringing their scientific research “to the man", as we in Germany say when we want to sell something.
No matter which woman and from which educational background or culture I speak to: when it comes to what we need to do to be heard, most people tell me that they have to try harder than men, and I share that experience. And the best of us turn lead into gold.
Accustomed to the fact that the man is heard first - conditioned not to solve our problems with the fist (or in direct quarrel and confrontation), we have learned to listen to the subtle tones, to sense the relationships, to take feelings into account - and to use all this.
This does not always work out to our advantage:
Every woman who acquired a leadership position knows the small and large intrigues and meannesses of other women.
We are allowed to compete with each other and we like to do it and not always fair.
If one of us sets off in intellectual male domains, things can get unpleasant. Then we quickly get to deal with arrogance-, being overly intellectual- and other accusations from our fellow females, because they – just like us – have been conditioned not to feel comfortable in it ... and they are now passing on this conditioning.
Since they cannot or do not want to follow us there, we must be brought back – or socially ostracized. Some men who venture into emotional domains copy this behavior. Our clarity is isolated as „complicated", while men who write in a complicated way are often considered particularly clever.
And we all know the woman who tries to control the group dynamics through emotion, who tries to educate and determine what can and cannot be talked about, while the more modern men feel queasy about it because they know that if they try to interrupt it, they will quickly be accused of having no feeling for feelings or even thinking anti-women.
We also know that women who do not want or are not able to reflect try to condition us - and in case of doubt try to make us socially unbearable/impossible – as we know the granduncly and grandaunty assaults that, protecting us like little children, try to appease us while we were not emotional at all or when our emotionality had very good reasons.
But when we women make gold out of lead, something happens that we rarely find in male leadership:
Our experiences in and through daily non-equality (and the qualities we had to achieve in order to survive in them) flow into our communication-, work-, writing-, research- and so on activities and then we become better than most men.
There is a disadvantage in the daily male experience of being heard earlier, simply because of their gender, the higher average height, the lower voice, the habit and socio-structural conditions and conditionings:
The one who lives in luxury, just does not have to make such an effort. And that means: In case of doubt, he is not so good either.
We women know: When we submit a scientific paper, we have to exert more. We know that when we make stylistic- or content-related mistakes, we will not only have to deal with men, but also – and often even first – with other women.
We know that we do well to check every word we say, to listen carefully when others say something, to pay attention to communal understanding, to keep calm and at the same time to convey to shine as super competent in our work.
We experience daily that we are more likely accused of arrogance as soon as we feel confident about our thoughts and ideas. Conversely, our forthcoming explanation is interpreted as excuse – and often as weakness. Some women understandably fail to grow beyond the challenge and will refrain from forthcoming and connecting conduct in the future. I cannot blame them.
We experience that we are considered naive or hysterical as soon as we include feelings. So it should come as no surprise when some of us overdo in leadership and become more masculine than men - men do it all the time. But accusing us of this would actually be misogynistic, because we are allowed to make the same mistakes as men.
As a consequence we then have to expect to be considered as touchy, exhausting, as "bitches" which leads to the fact that many of us start to work much more accurately, thoroughly and carefully than men do or have to do.
Anyone who looks at scientific or political texts written by men will notice massive differences in style compared to those written by women. Where the woman is interested in leading well – be it as an author, a scientist, in a team, in the group, politically or organizationally – she will go comparatively deeper, work more linguistically properly, and makes sure that she remains comprehensible.
Since men do not have to make such an effort, because many of them have gotten used to the fact that they often get even more attention, especially when their language “stalks on stilts through the lettuce”, and they superficially line up soaring pseudo-intellectual ideas, they are of course not used to checking themselves for more in this respect.
Women have to, men can.
This is comparable to when we send an Olympic team with runners of both genders to the start and the men are used to getting the medals even though they have performed comparatively worse, while for the women "competitive sports" really mean continuously checking their performance, questioning it to get even better, because every misstep counts, because every gesture, every word is even more put to the test, and because nobody damn listens to them just because they are good.
So many of us have learned to use emotions in order to have something to say, while at the same time many of us have learned that we have to be three times better than any man to work out a position in this world.
Comparatively frequent Impostor-Syndrome on top of that, in which the woman every time she has performed publicly well thinks: "Now they are about to discover that I have no idea what I am talking about", and we have the perfect condition for someone who is not inclined to show off, who thinks self-reflectively, who can be modest, who naturally takes care to communicate in a binding and comprehensible way and who knows that she must not stop doing so, but must always improve.
This is how they come about, the great communicators, the quiet politicians, the fantastic female team leaders and top managers who constantly challenge themselves to become even better, who work harder than most men and who integrate the knowledge of their own need for performance. ... Women who attract the hatred of self-inflicted minors because they have empowered themselves – and who know how to deal with it in a careful, forbearing and intelligent way.
This is the soil on which understanding, readiness to cooperate, high quality communication skills, great complexity management, incredibly precise and complexity respecting writing, empathy and stable calm grow that characterize the great women of our time.
Where they perform, men and women emulate them. Where they conduct conversations, others automatically learn to do the same. Where they strive for understanding, an atmosphere is created in which the men can relax and participate.
So can male leadership. It just did not need that so much, and that is why typically female-oriented communication- and conflict dynamics which are good at creative understanding and cross-individual and cross-cultural cooperation atmospheres, are still forward-looking.
We are talking about human(e) leadership, which we urgently need in the emergence we have entered.
We as women cannot overcome a philosophical discussion just by means of flowery phrases and mere rhetoric. We are not taken more seriously when we try to dominate the field with intervention or even paradoxical intervention. People do not buy into our braggy capitalletterspeak. And if we try to suppress others with noise and pomposity or cockiness , we will see that this does not work. We also experience that every time we make an effort to do something well, we have to expect that hardly anyone will look at it. We also experience on a daily basis that men capable of only the half of what we are capable of get more attention.
This is our daily bread, and we use it to grind down our weaknesses and transform them into strengths. Female leadership can derail like male leadership. It can become rhetorical, bitchy, emotional, ice-cold, but then it does not really impress us either.
But the women who succeed in developing the qualities Christiane Amanpour mentioned (and we have to!), grow every day beyond themselves because of the conflicts they are only confronted with because of their gender.
That is why female leadership is deeply humane, because it means knowing the humane, the abysses, the meannesses, the taunts. But it also means developing the heart at them, restoring the humane, thinking heterogeneously and socially, because that is where our strengths lie, and every day facing the choice of whether to go for the rough or the fine.
When a woman really chooses social organization and politics, she speaks socially because she knows a lot about what it means to be an underdog. She has the advantage over men that she can turn this experience into gold. Exactly because as a woman I am constantly confronted with the fact that I should shut up I can develop a feeling for the fact that and when some are not quiet because they are not capable of anything, but because they are not allowed to.
Not every woman does that. But those who do become non-oppressive promoters of the project.
All over the world we can witness such women. They work for peace, for the community, for crisis-functional concepts, for social and educational projects, and they often think as healers, without claiming that it is about them as a person. They recognize the weaknesses in conditioned male leadership because they experience them daily firsthand, and they use this knowledge to grow beyond it, even to reach beyond it, as a person, as a human being, as someone who is actively involved in communication.
The future is female. And it will become all the more humane the more women and men work at being first someone who works on her-/himself.
It is not an easy path and it can ideologize (itself) when the emphasis is too much on heart, community, emotional solutions. But, the women who really go beyond themselves always develop a brilliant intellect – only that it does not need to dazzle. It convinces through humane-rational argumentation and therefore works wonderfully as a role model.
Why do we often see that just those who are worst suited lead the way?
Because we are used to making things easy for ourselves. We are used to being led by men. Men who reflect themselves encounter the same difficulties. They have to redefine themselves, and the moment they do, they become weaker. And that ... is good. We will be learning to do this, because bad leadership has systemic effects. We see this today: The Trumps of this world are leading us straight to the doom.
The future is humane. And good female leadership shows the way for men and women to meet us wherever communication succeeds and where we all become leaders as soon as our own competence is concerned.