03/13/2008 11:20 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hillary and the Gender Issue

Hillary Clinton's tough comeback campaign refocuses attention on the important issue of women and leadership. Does gender really matter?
Management experts argue that leadership is increasingly a "woman's world." Research shows the increased success of what was once considered a "feminine style". In terms of gender stereotypes, a feminine style is collaborative, participatory, integrative, and aimed at co-opting the behavior of followers. Women intuitively understand the soft power of attraction while men gravitate to the hard power of command.
Women's non-hierarchical style and relational skills fit a leadership need in the new world of knowledge based organizations and groups that men are less well prepared by society to fill, and men need to learn these skills as well as to value them in their women colleagues.
In the past, in terms of gender stereotypes, when women fought their way to the top of organizations, they often had to adopt a "masculine style," violating the broader social norm of female "niceness," and they were often punished for it. In the new view, with the information revolution and democratization demanding more participatory and integrative leadership, the "feminine style" is becoming a path to more effective leadership. A number of studies confirm the increased success of what was once considered a "feminine style of leadership."
Nonetheless, as I argue in my new book The Powers to Lead, it is a mistake to identify the new type of leadership we need in an information age as "a woman's world." Even positive stereotypes are bad for women, men, and effective leadership. We need to see leaders less in heroic terms of command that George W. Bush has touted and more in terms of soft power skills of attracting and inspiring participation throughout an organization, group, nation or network. Questions of appropriate style -- when to use hard and soft power skills -- are equally relevant for men and women, and should not be clouded by traditional gender stereotypes. In some circumstances men will need to act more "like women" and women more "like men." The key choices will depend upon individual skills, not on gender. That is what voters need to look for in the three remaining candidates for president. Whatever the outcome, Hillary Clinton's comeback has raised the right questions.