The Qualities that Distinguish Women Leaders

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Study shows women leaders are more persuasive, assertive and more willing to take risks than men.

Women leaders tend to be more assertive, persuasive, willing to take risks and have a stronger need to get things done than their male counterparts, according to a new study jointly conducted by Caliper a Princeton-based management consulting firm, which has assessed the potential of more than two million applicants and employees for over 25,000 companies and Aurora, a London-based firm which advances women and delivers a 20,000 member business women's network.

Top female executives were also found to be more empathic, flexible and possessed stronger interpersonal skills than their male counterparts. “These qualities combine to create a leadership style that is inclusive, open, consensus building, collaborative and collegial,” according to Dr. Greenberg.

Sample and Methods

While much research has been published comparing the leadership styles of women and men, this study specifically focused on the personality qualities and motivational factors which serve as the core to the underlying gender differences.

This study included an in-depth personality assessment via the Caliper Profile, a demographic analysis, and interviews with 60 women leaders from some of the top companies in the United Kingdom and the United States, including Accenture, Bank of America, Deloitte & Touche, Deutsche Bank, The Economist Group, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Ernst & Young, IBM , International Paper, Johnson & Johnson, Kohler, Lloyds TSB, Molson Coors and Morgan Stanley. The women came from 19 different business sectors; the highest representation was Finance (26%), followed by 7% each in Computer, Education & Consulting, Health Products & Services and Real Estate.

For comparison purposes, the women leaders in this study were matched to a representative sample of male leaders drawn from Caliper's database, representing similar industries and job titles.

An inclusive leadership style that starts with questions and leads to decisions.

The difference in leadership styles between men and women starts with listening. Not just listening to form your answer, but really listening, learning, reflecting, then implementing a plan that incorporates the best of everyone's ideas.

Because women leaders are more open about sharing information, they will also talk decisions through with many more people than their male counterparts. According to Mara Swan, Chief People Officer, Molson Coors, “There's no question that we ask for more input. I like to think out loud. And I am very stimulated by other people’s thoughts, ideas and perspectives. Then it’s my job to integrate them and come to the best decision.”

As Dr. Greenberg explains, “The truth of the matter is that the top-down, hierarchical approach to leadership doesn't work very well in today’s economy. With information much more easily accessible, leadership depends less upon protecting information and more upon sharing what is known. It's not about who has the most information, but who has the best perspective.”

Women leaders are more persuasive than their male counterparts.

The strong people skills possessed by women leaders enable them to read situations accurately and take in information from all sides. This willingness to see all sides of a situation enhances their persuasive ability. They can zero in on concerns or objections expressed, weigh these, then address and incorporate them into the grander scheme of things as appropriate. These women leaders genuinely understand and care about where others are coming from, allowing them to approach a subject from others’ perspective. The people they lead feel better understood, supported and valued.

“The male leaders we've studied, on the other hand, have a tendency to start from their own point of view,” explains Dr. Greenberg. “And because they are not as flexible or willing to interact with others, the male leaders may tend to force their perspective and convince through the strength of their position…rather than actually persuading.”

Feeling the sting of rejection, learning from adversity and carrying on with an “I'll show you” attitude.

The women in this study expressed a unique approach toward dealing with disappointment, rejection or situations that don't work out their way. Dr. Greenberg explains, “They will feel the sting of being set back. They may even dwell on it, and tend to be a little self-critical. But then because of their assertiveness, they will muster their strength, shake it off, learn what they need to carry on and a voice in the back of their head will say, 'I'll show you.'”

Women leaders are more likely to ignore rules and take risks.

Women leaders scored significantly lower than male leaders in external structure (adhering to established procedures) and cautiousness. They were also significantly higher in their level of urgency and risk taking. And they have very high scores in abstract reasoning.

The women leaders are more likely to push back if they are overly bound by regulations and rules, engage in more risk taking and come up with innovative solutions. They tend to have a greater need to get things done than male leaders and are less likely to hesitate or focus on the small details.

Dr. Greenberg says, “Women leaders are venturesome, less interested in what has been than in what can be. They will run the risk of occasionally being wrong in order to get things done. And with their fine abstract reasoning skills, they will learn from any mistakes and carry on.”

Learning a thing or two from men, but not being like them.

Mara Swan, Chief People Officer, Molson Coors, has noticed that male and female leaders express their differences through language. “I always considered myself a fairly aggressive woman, but early in my career, I would find myself asking for permission, rather than saying, ‘Here is what I need and here is why I need it.’ So, I started to change my language, just slightly, and I was much more successful. The one thing women leaders can learn from men is to say what we need. But so many women don’t like to hear the word no.”

Are women creating a new paradigm of leadership?

The answer may be “yes.”

This study provides preliminary evidence that women bring clear personality and motivational strengths to leadership.

“We're looking at a different paradigm of leadership, and it plays naturally to the strengths of women,” says Regina Sacha, Vice President of Human Resources for FedEx Custom Critical. “The tide has turned. The leadership skills that come naturally to women are now absolutely necessary for companies to continue to thrive. It certainly is the reverse of how it was when I first started out in the workplace. It seems like poetic justice.”

Dr. Greenberg underscores, “The nature of the information economy favors teamwork and requires a leadership style that is more inclusive and accepting, rather than autonomous and controlling. Women leaders have shown us that influence and persuasion have taken the place of giving orders and delegating tasks.”

He adds, “The strong leadership profile exhibited by these women on both sides of the Atlantic points to the future. The female view that we strengthen ourselves by strengthening others is re-defining leadership. These women leaders share a strong profile. They are assertive, persuasive, empathic, willing to take risks, outgoing, flexible and have a need to get things done.”

Dr. Greenberg concludes, “These personality qualities combine to create a leadership profile that is much more conducive to today’s diverse workplace, where information is shared freely, collaboration is vital and teamwork distinguishes the best companies.”

About Caliper

Caliper is a global consulting firm, which has advised more than 25,000 companies on hiring, developing, team building and organizational concerns. Throughout the past four decades, from offices in twelve countries, Caliper has assessed the potential and performance of over two million employees and applicants, Caliper’s consultants provide the insights, expertise and personal approach needed to help organizations achieve their goals.

Phone:     609 524-1200


Address: 506 Carnegie Center Princeton, NJ 08543-2050

This press release was distributed through eMediawire by Human Resources Marketer (HR Marketer: on behalf of the company listed above.


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Melanie Quiambao
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