Death knell sounding for macho leadership |
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Death knell sounding for macho leadership

Published on Saturday, 09 Aug 2014
Simeon Mellalieu
Agnes Chan

Today’s leaders should adopt a more feminine approach, according to the latest Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor. 

The survey, which polled more than 6,500 people in 13 countries, found that women perform better than men in five of seven key attributes of effective leadership – and all of the top four – signaling the possible rise of a new feminine model for top-level management.    
Respondents say women are well ahead of men among the crucial traits of effective communication – leading by example; communicating in an open and transparent way; admitting mistakes; bringing out the best in others; and aligning what they say with what they and their organisation does.

“The survey shows that women are better at transparency and working in a more collaborative way to bring out the best in people. These are the things required in the modern environment, and within communities as a whole,” says Simeon Mellalieu, partner and general manager for Hong Kong at Ketchum. “We are not saying that we should get rid of all male leaders and women should rule the world. We want to recognise that in certain aspects of leadership, women are better than men.” 

The importance of these aspects, he adds, evolve around peoples’ perception of values, citing the example of General Motors CEO Mary Barra. “There was a product recall – a situation she inherited – but she is being public about it, she is [being] responsible, she is actually saying sorry. [These] are leadership attributes that modern society values the most.” 

Open, transparent communication is ranked above personal presence and taking decisive action in the survey, with 74 per cent viewing it as critical to effective leadership.  “It is important in building trust within the workforce and building trust with your customer base,” Mellalieu says, adding that good leadership communication will have a direct impact on companies’ creditability, which will affect sales and the bottom line.

A majority of the survey’s respondents (61 per cent) said they have stopped purchasing or buy less from companies that have displayed poor leadership in the past 12 months.  

The rise of leadership “based on transparency, collaboration, genuine dialogue, clear values and alignment of words and deeds” signals the “macho” approach to communication – which can be one-way, domineering or even arrogant – is no longer the most effective, Mellalieu adds. “Management from a distance doesn’t resonate very well with employees and customers. A remote leader is not going to be a popular leader.” 

Agnes Chan, managing partner for Hong Kong and Macau at EY, says that a feminine approach offers several clear benefits. “Today, there exists a very diverse workplace, which stresses heavily on teamwork and collaboration. This is partly due to the rise of generation X and Y, who embrace discussion rather than instruction. Hence, the feminine approach to communication has a big advantage. However, gender is not the only determining factor, but also an individual’s character.” 

She says that while men and women are equally capable as leaders, “when we focus on gender diversity, we can see certain characteristics unique to men or women. Men have a more instructional style of leadership, while women tend to [take] a persuasive and inspirational approach. The difference is authority-oriented versus influence-oriented.  

“For example, I like to have more face-to-face meetings with my colleagues because I can see their emotions and responses directly. In contrast, my male partners might choose to make phone calls to get the work done more quickly,” she says.  

Despite the feminisation of leadership, the survey shows that male leaders are still the gender the world expects to navigate us through the challenges of the next five years. 

In Hong Kong, men are still more dominant in senior roles due to a number of societal issues. 

“[However, the time has never been better for women to rise to the top,” Mellalieu says. “The experience in leadership they actually bring is more valued now.” 

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