Op-ed: Leadership Isn’t Gendered

When you think of the top five leaders off the top of your head, who do you think of? Someone may name Hitler and Stalin as leaders who demonstrated the will of an iron fist. Someone else may name Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel as a testament to the greatness of female leadership. One could name Susan B. Anthony and Greta Thunberg as leaders of social change. Another person could name Henry Ford and Steve Jobs as revolutionaries who changed the way we live today. The point here is that leadership isn’t clearly defined in the question. Are we talking about political leaders who can lead their country to greatness or ruin? Industry leaders who revolutionize the world through new technology? Leaders in policy who push for new ideas through protests and sit-ins? Leadership is defined differently for different industries and careers. For some, you are required to be more empathetic and caring in order to achieve success, while some require an iron fist to make important decisions without sparing anyone’s feelings. While there are key qualities to every leader, saying that someone can not be a good leader simply because of their gender is barbaric and just untrue.

There are 16 specific qualities associated with successful leadership – intelligence and action-oriented judgement, eagerness to accept responsibility, task competence, understanding followers and their needs, people skills, ambition, capacity to motivate people, courage, perseverance, trust worthiness, decisiveness, self-confidence, assertiveness, adaptability, emotional stability, and creativity – and there are many great leaders, male and female, who exhibit these traits. These traits are not sex-specific, meaning anyone regardless of sex can have these attributes. Of the leaders named earlier, how many exhibit these traits? Hitler certainly had the intelligence and an extreme capacity to motivate, as he manipulated people with his speeches and confidence. Susan B. Anthony had ambition and perseverance, as she used almost the entire end of her life to campaign for the rights of women. Steve Jobs certainly had the creativity and decisiveness needed to create products and run a company. These people were from all different time periods and backgrounds and had different strengths in different areas. These were different leaders who needed different qualities to be as successful as they were because of just how different their jobs were.

While reform leaders and political candidates aren’t that different, politics and business are. The iron fist needed to run a business is much less acceptable when running a country. Understanding the needs of your people and reacting to those needs accordingly is much different than understanding the needs of a company. Politics, to a degree, requires empathy. Any type of lawmaker needs to be able to put themselves in the shoes of their constituents. Say that you are a Representative for your state, you have an opportunity to propose a bill to raise taxes to improve infrastructure, like roads and highways, but it would mean raising taxes for your constituents, most of whom are lower to middle class. Would you do it? Decisions like these require both emotion and logic; for politics you can’t just turn it off. Business is different. It’s competitive and constantly changing, it’s a job that requires less emotion and more logic and strategy. 1 in every 5 business leaders are psychopaths, meaning they lack the ability to feel complex emotions like empathy and love, and men are more likely to be psychopaths or exhibit psychopathic traits or behaviors than women. The reason why men are so successful in business is because there’s a large number of male CEOs who lack the ability to feel bad about decisions that affect others negatively. Business, unlike politics, requires a lack of empathy and a reliance on logic and knowledge for success. With this in mind, does this make one sex superior leaders? In one word, no. Women and men both have qualities fit to be leaders, however different kinds. As we look around at our world today we do not see many female CEOs, and it’s just because we aren’t wired that way. Women are pronounced in leadership roles in education, medical care, and even certain parts of politics. Things like business and industry do require a certain edge that, psychologically speaking, most women lack. This isn’t to say there aren’t outliers, Mary T. Barra is the CEO of General Motors and Ginni Rommety is the CEO of IBM. These are strong and powerful women who run companies men would kill to be running. So why do people still insist that women can’t be leaders?

In an article published in The Parrot earlier this month, the question of why leadership  is associated with masculinity was posed. Well. Why is leadership associated with masculinity? The short answer: it’s not. The connotation and definition of leadership depends on the person, their experiences, and how they perceive the world around them. So to that author and to many others, maybe leadership is synonymous with masculinity, but for many others, leadership is just a word. It means someone who is strong-willed and empathetic and able to make the tough calls. For some, leadership means their mother or their older brother, and for others it’s President Barack Obama. There are key qualities of leadership, and wherever people see them depends on who they are. However, this does not mean that there shouldn’t be more women in traditionally male leadership roles like in business and running the country. More women need to be like Mary T. Barra and Ginni Rommety and start running companies that men could only imagine running. We need more women like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Elizabeth Warren who aren’t afraid to step on toes to help their people out. Women need to be like Greta Thunberg and Rosa Parks who stayed cool in the face of adversity and did not let other people tell them what to do. We need more women who are able to stand up and say that what they think is what they think, and just because they’re the outlier doesn’t mean they’ll back down.

A thing like sex shouldn’t have an effect on how female leaders are perceived in 2020, but unsurprisingly it still is. People need to wake up and realize that it isn’t 1950 anymore, and a woman isn’t going to shut up and make you a sandwich just because you tell her to. Like I said it’s 2020, and women don’t belong in the kitchen – they belong in the White House.