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.