Why Women Make Better Leaders Than Men Do

Don Tennant

In a recent post, I wrote about Dr. Gordon Curphy, an industrial and organizational psychologist and leadership consultant who maintains that there has been a collapse in the confidence that we as a society have in our leadership. According to Curphy, this collapse is largely attributable to a widespread inability among leaders to build cohesive, goal-oriented teams. So it might come as no surprise that in Curphy’s view, women, who are generally more collaborative by nature than men are, make better leaders than men do.

Curphy, co-author of the book, “The Rocket Model: Practical Advice for Building High Performing Teams,” explained in an interview what led him to draw that conclusion:

I went to school at the Air Force Academy, and the first two years I was there, it was an all-male institution—I was there when women were brought in, in 1980. I went back to the Academy several times to coach and teach there. I was working in the psychology department, and we were doing all kinds of research on male vs. female leadership effectiveness. Research conducted at the Academy, at Catalyst, and at many organizations that are doing work in this area, shows that females generally make better leaders. To me, leadership is all about whether you can build a cohesive, goal-oriented team that gets results. Women do a better job at that than men do. Women are more collaborative, and they do a better job of getting people working effectively together. So I think the leadership crisis is probably more male-oriented than female-oriented, simply because there are more males in leadership roles.


I asked Curphy how he would characterize the significance of the fact that GM named Mary Barra as its next CEO, making her the first female CEO of a major automaker. Curphy said it’s huge:

It’s such a male-oriented occupation, a male-oriented industry. It’s like putting a female in charge of Harley-Davidson, or Smith & Wesson. In most of these organizations, where you find the females is in HR—we have to have our token female, so let’s put her in HR. So I think it’s absolutely huge, and it’s great. I don’t know if she’s any good, but I applaud the fact that they put her in the role.

To sum up, then, I asked Curphy how the overall quality of leadership in this country would change if there was more parity in the percentage of male and female leaders. He said it would “definitely” get better:

Being a male isn’t a black mark, a scarlet letter saying you’re going to be ineffective as a leader. And being a female is no guarantee that you will be effective. But, generally speaking, gender does matter, in terms of your ability to build a team.

On a separate topic, I mentioned to Curphy that Hector Ruiz, former CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, once accepted a leadership award, and in his acceptance speech he referred to the company’s employees, and he said, “I'm thrilled to be able to be their leader and follow them." I asked Curphy what he made of that, and to what extent the best leaders are actually followers. His response:

Followership is one of those incredibly undervalued and under-studied phenomena in organizations. There have probably been 10,000 books written about leadership; there have been about five on followership. And the books that have been written about followership, frankly, aren’t that good. Highly effective leaders end up being highly effective followers, because there are many times that they realize that they are not the right people to be leading Project X or Project Y. They know how to switch hats, to put their follower hat on, in order to get a better outcome. Leaders who can’t switch hats, who always have got to be in charge, oftentimes lead pretty dysfunctional organizations.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 31, 2014 12:13 PM Aliphatic Aliphatic  says:
...this one is prone to error (statistically significant error). In my 34+ years in the industry, I've seen male and female team and company leadership. I've seen good and bad on both sides. It all comes down to personality traits, charisma, and trust. If you trust your leadership and if they demonstrate vision, competence and fairness, it is easy to follow them. If not, not. Overall, I've seen a tiny advantage to the male side over the female side, but I suspect that's merely an artifact of society's past bias in favor of male leaders and the greater number of male leaders, rather than any real quality of leadership or gender. Leadership, like all such endeavors, is a human-powered activity. In the end, if you have the native talent and skills to be a great leader, you can be - male or female. Reply
Apr 2, 2014 11:17 AM JosephConrad JosephConrad  says: in response to Aliphatic
Women are certainly more collaborative, amenable, supportive of each other and team members in task performance. They seek onl as much 'control' in project leadership positions as its required to ensure cosrt/effective task and project completion. Men tend to be driven by the forces that founded this nation: Racisim, Arrogance, Greed, Egotism & Self-aggrandizement. Tha is not to say all men, white men or all women. It is to say men manifest the "Five Destoryers" more often and more readily than women. Indeed, it is White Male American Wealthy & govt. leadership currently laying waste to and plundering the Wealth of 49 of Africa's 54 nations! NOT WOMEN save Hillary! Reply
Dec 19, 2014 4:31 PM deep think deep think  says:
It doesn't take long for anyone who reads any blogs that compares women to men to realize that women are always going to come out on top. You'l find studies claiming women have certain enate qualities that make them better leaders,better truck drivers,better plumbers,better welder,better construction workers,better combat soldiers, better fighter pilots,better spies, better snipers, better reporters. I even found studies that claimed women make better policemen,better detectives,better lawyers,better procescutors, better judges,and reports that the more women on a jury the more likely a just virdict will be found. That prety much means women are susperior in ever catergory of our judicasay sytem! So our intire judicasy system should be female. The more you inform male promoters that females are susperior the less likely women will be promoted for no one promotes any one susperior to themselves to leeaderrship. So keep it up ladies and your promoters and you will stay behind. Reply
Aug 30, 2015 6:11 PM David AuCoin David AuCoin  says:
"Being a male isn’t a black mark, a scarlet letter saying you’re going to be ineffective as a leader. And being a female is no guarantee that you will be effective. But, generally speaking, gender does matter, in terms of your ability to build a team. Well if gender does matter than being male is a black mark or scarlet letter. "I was there when women were brought in, in 1980. I went back to the Academy several times to coach and teach there. I was working in the psychology department, and we were doing all kinds of research on male vs. female leadership effectiveness." Why are they doing all this research on male verses female in leadership. Its ok to do research on what makes effective leaders but I suspect something sinister is at foot when they start comparing males to females. Reply

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