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The Rise of Feminine Leadership Communication Styles

August 21, 2014

By: Terri Williams

Women may still be hitting that glass ceiling of equal pay, leadership opportunities, and a host of other categories. Still, they’re rising above in at least one major area that has the potential to be a game-changer: effective leadership and communication.

While many female leaders are encouraged to adopt a masculine leadership approach – which can often be viewed as a cocky and domineering style - the research supports the theory that a nurturing and open leadership technique is more effective among employees and more popular.

According to the 2014 Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor (KLCM), an annual global leadership and communication study.  In 2014, for the first time, the KLCM examined leadership and communication styles and results among genders and found that female leaders scored significantly higher than their male counterparts regarding leadership communication styles.

The study polled 6,509 people in 13 countries spanning five continents regarding their leadership effectiveness, communication effectiveness, and the link between leadership and communication. Female leaders rank higher than male leaders in the top 4 most crucial leadership traits, such as:

  • Communicating in an open and transparent way
  • Leading by example
  • Admitting mistakes
  • Bringing out the best in others

On the fifth trait, handling controversial issues calmly and confidently, male and female leaders are tied.

Respondents also state that personal presence and engagement were important across all communication channels, especially in traditional channels such as TV interviews and in-person speeches.

These findings are significant because the ranks of leadership are still overwhelmingly male, but the domineering, arrogant, command-and-control style often used by male leaders doesn't appear to be working.

For example, only 42 percent of the KLCM respondents believe leaders meet expectations, and only 35 percent rate them as effective communicators. Also, only 33 percent think leaders have clear values, and a dismal 29 percent think leadership is even effective.

In perhaps the most telling statistic, 74 percent of the respondents rank trustworthiness as the top leadership trait. They rank this trait even higher than quality or customer service. But if trustworthiness is so important, and there are such large percentage gaps between expectation and delivery regarding leadership credibility, companies may want to rethink their traditional leadership styles.

For one reason, poor leadership can have negative economic implications. In other words, it can cause companies to lose consumers. For example, the survey reveals:

  • 61 percent of respondents have either completely stopped purchasing or reduced their purchase of a company’s products or services as a result of poor leadership perceptions
  • 52 percent started buying or purchasing more products or services due to the perception of strong leadership
  • Banks and the food and beverage industries were most likely to be negatively affected by perceptions of poor leadership
  • Food and beverage, technology, and retail were also most likely to benefit from perceptions of good leadership

Ketchum’s director of Global Corporate and Public Affairs Practice, Rod Cartwright, notes that the study results don’t mean that men are no longer fit for leadership and that companies should only place women in these positions. However, he says that the study provides important lessons for leaders of both genders.

Senior partner and North American CEO Barri Rafferty agrees and adds, “Our study clearly shows that to inspire trust, leaders of both genders need to avoid a 'macho,' command-and-control approach to leadership communication, which tends to be one-way, domineering and even arrogant.”

Rafferty says that the results signal the birth of a new leadership communication model, including transparency, collaboration, genuine dialogue, clear values, and the alignment of words and deeds. He notes that female leaders follow this approach far more than their male counterparts.

He concludes, “This research finally puts to rest the flawed assumption that women need to act like old school male leaders to make their mark."


Terri Williams

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her business, education, and lifestyle articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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