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Wanted: New models of leadership...

Do we have a different leadership model?

Apparently some 70,000 articles have been written about the human brain and the differences between men and women. The conclusion? Well, we essentially have the same brain. There is some difference, definitely, but not as much as the 3% variation from our chimpanzee cousins. And that 3% clearly provides a whopping difference, doesn't it? But I wonder whether, in lumping men and women together, we run the risk of attributing the current parlous state of balance in leadership to conditioning, assertiveness, and capability, and not to an essential truth: women add something mission critical to the leadership table, and our presence might just be one of the most significant contributions to securing the planet that we have access to. So, here's the apparent difference in our brain's predispositions, slight as it is:

  1. Men are slightly more predisposed to be aggressive

  2. Women are slightly more predisposed to be compassionate

(Not a real show stopper is it?) There is a great TED talk by neuroscientist Daphna Joel, in which she summarizes this nicely. These slight differences don't seem like much, and we can all rush to defend our men like happy sheep at feeding time to say, “but I know wonderful men and awful women who lead.” That line drives me a bit spare because the thinking often stops at that point. It's like saying, “but I know iPads that break down all the time.” You may, but your personal experience does not supersede the research on the reliability of that particular piece of technology. Same is true for women as leaders. Here's what the research (undertaken by the likes of McKinsey & Co, DDI, & Zenger & Folkman, to name just a few) states: Women are:

  • More inclusive

  • More collaborative

  • More aware of how people feel

  • Integrity rich with money

  • Inclusive in planning

  • Have a legacy mindset

I've interviewed a fair few (male) leaders on the attributes they like in women at the executive and/or board table, and they routinely say things like:

  • We kind of behave better when women are around, and are less personally competitive

  • We are more inclusive in the way we work

  • Women make sure we think through the implications our decisions will have in regards to others

  • They kind of make it feel nicer, kinder

So, though they may be tiny variations that exist in brain functioning between men and women, they matter HUGELY. Think about what's missing in our world. Think about why we should bother promoting women: not because it's fair (which it is) but because the world needs their leadership right now. Like, really urgently.

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