FIGURE 9.1 Different patterns of male and female connectivity between (on left) and within (on right) brain hemispheres
SOURCE: Verma, University of Pennsylvania (2013)
Women’s Brains vs Men’s Brains – Leadership Implications?
My partner and I talk about gender differences on the regular. He’s a man, I’m a woman. So, when he comes across an article that validates one of our points, he shares it (I love him for this!) with me.
One such discussion recently was about the leadership qualities of men, and my summation was transactional, sequential, one step at a time, linear, analysis. Whereas women tend to be relational leaders, looking to solve for issues in a holistic way, gathering details as they relate to the people AND the problem, then synthesize and generalize something that fits the group.
We also have a long-standing discussion on how I tend to do a few things at the same time, whereas he will do one thing at a time. I like to think in terms of how do these things all connect, whereas he thinks in terms of hierarchy and how things are structured, typically in a linear way.
So, when he was reading this book on psychological safety in organizations and actually actually stumbled on some scientific proof of this, he couldn’t wait to share it. I find it fascinating that we were both right on this, as much as I don’t want to believe I am raising my sons to be gender bias, their brain is telling me what I already know. Whether I like it or not, they are. Of course, there is a range of “male-ness and female-ness” on the spectrum of how each of us think and process. But, generally speaking, the stereotype is a real thing!
“The University of Philadelphia released the composite results of the brain scans of a thousand boys and girls, men and women. What they showed for the first time in great detail was how very differently male and female brains function (see eg BBC News, 2013). The way energy flows along and creates pathways between and within the two halves of the brain is remarkably gender specific.
The female brain composite showed rich interconnections between the two halves of the brain, as if the whole of the brain was busy talking to and engaging itself. The male brain, on the other hand, showed relatively little connection between the hemispheres but a great deal of activity within each half (Figure 9.1).”
“As Trimble (2012) suggests, it seems as if the male brain is organized to be pointing and propositional, while the female brain is organized to be integrating. The male brain likes problems. With a problem available a man can take action. The female brain likes solutions. When solutions are known a woman can get on with being.” Excerpt taken from The Fear-free Organization by Paul Brown, Joan Kingsley, Sue Paterson, 2015
How does this affect our leadership styles? The beauty of being in a partnership with my husband is that we do complement each other in our style of leading. I notice this with our sons and our new puppy. I will tend to lay on the floor when the puppy is crying in his crate, and try to understand what he needs, make sure he is ok, console him (integrate). My husband will come in and command him to go into the crate and go to sleep (problem solver). Neither is right or wrong, but the combination of both approaches does work and within about 5 minutes the puppy is fast asleep.
What I enjoy about working with a female leader, is that we have moments together, we can form a friendship, it feels like we belong to something bigger, a common goal that we are aiming for together. Along the way, a relationship forms and we build each other up while building a strong foundation of trust in service of our goals and objectives. This type of leadership doesn’t really occur as naturally to men. They tend to come in, be directive, give orders and expect success. Both work in different ways.
When it comes to leadership styles, which one do you prefer? Or which one do you lean on? Are there some areas that you can flex in your own style that would bring about different results? And at the end of the day, how are you feeling about the leader you are following and the leadership you are demonstrating? Whether you’re a boss, a mom, a sister, or 100% in charge of your own life, are you being intentional about your leadership style? And are you looking to solve a problem or create a solution?