Why Do We Ask If Women Can Be Leaders?
By Bob Mason
Do women make good leaders? First, that’s a stupid question. Unfortunately, it still pops up from time to time, even from what I would consider to be normally intelligent people. Of course there are excellent leaders who are women. There are also horrible leaders who are women. The same holds true for male leaders. So why does this subject seem to warrant ever more discussion? Probably because it gets people’s attention and because there still is some bias, real and perceived, on both sides of the issue. So, why do I bother to address the matter? Simply because the question of women in leadership goes to a deeper problem that leaders must be aware of and guard against.
There are more ways to categorize people these days than ever before; and more seem to develop every week. Some people appear to think that being a member of a disadvantaged group is essential to success. Others contend that such membership is the kiss of death. Leaders, whether by choice or fiat, sometimes make personnel decisions based on a person’s membership in one group or another. This is wrong and, as a whole, American management has become more cognizant, and cautious of this tendency. Good leaders have realized that people are people and it’s their skills and abilities that are important. None but the most unenlightened would question a person’s skin color when making hiring or promotion decisions. It’s been a very long time since signs instructing that “Irish need not apply” appeared in store fronts. Yet, for some reason, the question about women and leadership just won’t go away.
Years ago in a college class, we strove to develop an interview and selection process that would comply with every related law, while not allowing any suggestion of discrimination of any kind. Here’s what we came up with. It can’t be done! That’s because, no matter what laws are passed or policies implemented they cannot control a person’s innermost thoughts and biases. Good leaders must recognize those biases (we all have them) and put them aside. Only then can the entire organization function efficiently.
You’re probably saying, “I thought you were talking about women leaders.” I am. One of the best bosses I ever had was a woman who was very smart and energetic. She was also a shapely blond and in those days, there were those who were not shy about expressing their opinion about how she “really” earned promotions. She was the first female boss I’d worked for up to that point and I was a little apprehensive, but I quickly came to admire her for her leadership. She never shied away from being herself, even in the face of the “man’s world” we lived in. For that she earned the respect of everyone who knew her.
There are great woman leaders and terrible woman leaders. The fact they’re women has nothing to do with it. The same is true of any other demographic group you want to name. To ask if they can be good leaders is ludicrous. So, stop asking the wrong question and concentrate on the right question: “Does this particular person have the skills, temperament, and drive to be a leader in this organization?”
Bob Mason is a speaker, trainer, and author of “Planning to Excel: Strategic Planning That Works.” After 30 years of leadership experience he founded RLM Planning and Leadership to transform leadership by developing great leaders. Bob works with organizations that want to excel by training managers to lead and creating great strategic plans to keep leaders focused. See what he can do for you at http://www.planleadexcel.com
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