Yes, women make better leaders

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(MoneyWatch) In decades of analyzing exceptional leadership, John Zenger and Joseph Folkman have identified 16 traits required for success. These include integrity, initiative, self-development, problem solving and a drive for results. Zenger and Folkman have made their names and their business by designing powerful tools to test for these qualities and to develop them in high potential executives. That's given them the data to analyze where the qualities are most likely to be found. With regards to the differences in effectiveness between male and female leaders, the results were striking: Women outscore men in leadership effectiveness.

Dr. Jack Zenger argues that this is due primarily to a change in leadership styles. Moving from a command-and-control style of leadership to a more collaborative model plays, he argues, to women's strengths. Women are better listeners, better at building relationships and more collaborative and that, he argues, makes them better adapted to the demands of modern leadership. For that reason, Zenger concludes, there is no good reason not to promote women.

Asked to explain, therefore, why women haven't fared better in the corporate hierarchy, he's at somewhat of a loss. Thirty six percent of men say they want to be CEO, where only 18 percent of women say they do. Women have two jobs -- the notorious second shift at home -- while men, well, don't do quite so much. And Zenger thinks also that boards simply lack confidence in women. Few have ever seen a female CEO and don't recognize that, as Zenger says, women perform better. His message to corporate boards around the world is: Don't worry. Not only can women cope; they'll do better.

None of this is really new. But Zenger/Folkman's diagnostic tools are widely used and respected. They are driven by statistics, not an agenda. And one can't help but feel that even Zenger is a little surprised by his own findings. So the data is useful and important. The explanation of the data, however, leaves room for reflection. The last time I spoke at a corporate event on this topic, the senior partner of the firm sat through a number of presentations. At the end of the day, he came up to thank me but seemed full of frustration. "The problem is," he sighed, "we just can't get the women to change." On Zenger/Folkman's data, he should not want to.

  • Margaret Heffernan On Twitter»

    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.

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