The Leadership Styles of Women and Men

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Leadership Styles of Women and Men 1
The Leadership Styles
of Women and Men
Alice H. Eagly and Mary C. Johannesen-Schmidt
Department of Psychology
Northwestern University
June 2001
In press,
Journal of Social Issues 6/22/01 version. Please do not copy or cite without authors’ permission.

Leadership Styles of Women and Men 2
As women increasingly enter leadership roles that traditionally were occupied mainly by men,
the possibility that the leadership styles of women and men differ continues to attract attention.
The focus of these debates on sameness versus difference can obscure the array of causal factors
that can produce differences or similarities. Adopting the perspective of social role theory, we
offer a framework that encompasses many of the complexities of the empirical literature on the
leadership styles of women and men. Supplementing Eagly and Johnson’s (1990) review of the
interpersonally oriented, task-oriented, autocratic, and democratic styles of women and men, we
present new data concerning the transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership

Leadership Styles of Women and Men 3
The Leadership Styles of Women and Men
Whether men and women behave differently in leadership roles is a much-debated
question. Although there is general agreement that women face more barriers to becoming leaders
than men do, especially for leader roles that are male-dominated (see Eagly & Karau, 2001), there
is much less agreement about the behavior of women and men once they attain such roles. This
issue is usually discussed in terms of leadership styles, when style is understood as relatively
stable patterns of behavior that are manifested by leaders. Differences in styles can be
consequential because they are one factor that may affect people’s views about whether women
should become leaders and advance to higher positions in organizational hierarchies. To approach
this issue, we first analyze traditional thinking about the leadership styles of women and men.
Then we present our own theoretical framework for understanding these issues and examine and
interpret relevant research findings.
It is not surprising that women are the usual focus of discussions of the impact of gender
on leadership. Because social perceivers generally concentrate on the nonprototypical members
of categories (Miller, Taylor, & Buck, 1991), people direct their attention to the adequacy of
women’s leadership styles. For example, Elaine La Roche commented in reference to her
experience as an executive at Morgan Stanley “that issues of style with respect to women can
unfortunately often be more important than issues of substance” (Thrall, 1996, p. C4). Female
politicians thus worry about “projecting gravitas,” as former U. S. Congressional Representative
Patricia Schroeder noted (Schroeder, 1999, p. A17). In contrast, because men have long held these
roles, they have defined the styles to which people have become accustomed.
Despite this focus on women’s leadership, there is little agreement about how women

Leadership Styles of Women and Men 4
actually lead. These debates reflect the common cultural debate about difference and similarity,
which has been especially important in feminist writings (see Kimball, 1995). Some feminists
thus fear that the perception of sex differences in leadership style or other attributes can provide
a rationale for excluding women from opportunities and especially from male-dominated
leadership roles. Other feminists believe that the perception of sameness would fail to
acknowledge the relational qualities that are a traditional source of female pride and that may
contribute to superior performance by women leaders. In this article, we escape the dichotomy
between difference and similarity by explaining why sex differences in leadership behaviors are
sometimes present, appearing and disappearing with shifts in social contexts.
Contrary to our view that sex differences and similarities vary with social contexts,
experts who have written about this topic have generally maintained that either differences or
similarities prevail. The advocates of difference include several writers of trade books who have
drawn on their personal experience in organizations and informal surveys and interviews of
managers. These writers have claimed that the leadership styles of women and men are different,
mainly along the lines of women being less hierarchical, more cooperative and collaborative, and
more oriented to enhancing others’ self-worth (e.g., Book, 2000; Helgesen, 1990; Rosener, 1995).
In contrast, social scientists have typically either claimed that female and male organizational
leaders do not differ or minimized the importance of those differences that have been observed
(e.g., Powell, 1990). However, careful examination of relevant research has revealed more complex
findings than acknowledged by the advocates of difference or the advocates of similarity. To
consider these issues, we discuss some theoretical principles that underlie male and female
leadership styles and evaluate relevant empirical research.

Leadership Styles of Women and Men 5
Theoretical Rationale for Sex Differences and Similarities in Leadership Style
Analysis of the situation that women and men face as leaders provides a rationale for
expecting differences and similarities. From the perspective of social role theory of sex
differences and similarities (Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000), this analysis begins with the
principle that leadership roles, like other organizational roles, are but one influence on leaders’
behavior. In addition, leaders elicit expectancies based on people’s categorization of them as male
and female. These expectancies constitute gender roles, which are the shared beliefs that apply to
individuals on the basis of their socially identified sex. These roles are assumed to follow from
perceivers’ observations of men and women as concentrated in different social roles in the family
and paid employment.
Aspects of gender roles that are especially relevant to understanding leadership pertain to
agentic and communal attributes (see Eagly et al., 2000). Agentic characteristics, which are
ascribed more strongly to men than women, describe primarily an assertive, controlling, and
confident tendency–for example, aggressive, ambitious, dominant, forceful, independent, daring,
self-confident, and competitive. In employment settings, agentic behaviors might include
speaking assertively, competing for attention, influencing others, initiating activity directed to
assigned tasks, and making problem-focused suggestions
Communal characteristics, which are ascribed more strongly to women than men, describe
primarily a concern with the welfare of other people–for example, affectionate, helpful, kind,
sympathetic, interpersonally sensitive, nurturant, and gentle. In employment settings, communal
behaviors might include speaking tentatively, not drawing attention to oneself, accepting others’
direction, supporting and soothing others, and contributing to the solution of relational and

Leadership Styles of Women and Men 6
interpersonal problems.
Simultaneous Occupancy of Gender Role and Leader Role
Managers and other leaders occupy roles defined by their specific position in a hierarchy
but also simultaneously function under the constraints of their gender roles. Although it would be
consistent with a structural interpretation of organizational behavior (e.g., Kanter, 1977) to
predict that men and women who occupy the same leadership role would behave very similarly,
gender roles ordinarily continue to exert some influence, with the result that female and male
occupants and potential occupants of the same organizational role may behave somewhat
differently. Consistent with this reasoning, Gutek and Morasch (1982) argued that gender roles
spill over to organizations, and Ridgeway (1997, p. 231) maintained that gender provides an
“implicit, background identity” in the workplace.
Despite the likely influence of gender roles on leaders’ behavior, formal leadership (or
managerial) roles should be of primary importance in organizational settings because these roles
lend their occupants legitimate authority and are regulated by relatively clear rules about
appropriate behavior. This idea that the influence of gender roles can be diminished or even
eliminated by other roles was foreshadowed by experimental demonstrations of the lessening or
disappearance of many gender-stereotypic sex differences in laboratory settings when
participants received information that competed with gender-based expectations (see Eagly et al.,
2000; Wagner & Berger, 1997). In contrast, research in natural settings suggests that, although
some gender-stereotypic differences erode under the influence of organizational roles, other
differences do not. Particularly informative is a field study by Moskowitz, Suh, and Desaulniers
(1994) that examined the simultaneous influence of gender roles and organizational roles. This

Leadership Styles of Women and Men 7
study used an experience-sampling method by which participants monitored their interpersonal
behavior in a variety of work settings for 20 days. In general, agentic behavior was controlled by
the relative status of the interaction partners, with participants behaving most agentically with a
supervisee and least agentically with a boss. However, communal behaviors were influenced by
the sex of participants, regardless of participants’ status, with women behaving more
communally than men, especially in interactions with other women.
Although research that considers the joint impact of gender roles and organizational roles
is sparse (see Eagly et al., 2000, for other examples), it suggests some tentative generalizations
about the increased similarity of women and men who are in the same organizational role. It is
thus likely that leadership roles, like other organizational roles, provide norms that regulate the
performance of many tasks, which would therefore be similarly accomplished by male and female
role occupants. For example, a manager is obligated to carry out a range of activities such as
monitoring subordinates’ performance and gathering and disseminating information. Despite
pressures to conform to such norms, managers generally have some leeway to vary the manner in
which they carry out these required activities. Managers may thus be friendly or more remote,
consult few or many colleagues about decisions, and so forth. Organizational behaviors include in
addition a wide range of more informal actions that are not narrowly regulated by organizational
roles (e.g., chatting about sports, commemorating co-workers’ birthdays). It is these elective and
discretionary aspects of organizational behavior that may be most likely to vary according to
As Eagly et al. (2000) argued, this influence of gender roles on organizational behavior
occurs, not only because people react to leaders in terms of gendered expectancies and leaders

Leadership Styles of Women and Men 8
respond in turn, but also because most people have internalized gender roles to some extent
(Wood, Christensen, Hebl, & Rothgerber, 1997). As a consequence of these differing social
identities, women and men have somewhat different expectations for their own behavior in
organizational settings (Ely, 1995). Self-definitions of managers may reflect a blending of their
managerial role and gender role, and, through self-regulatory processes, these composite self-
definitions influence behavior. Such a blending was suggested by a meta-analysis of findings
obtained on a measure of “motivation to manage,” which assesses the desire to satisfy the
requirements of the managerial role that has traditionally existed in hierarchic organizational
contexts, particularly within business firms (Miner, 1993). Across 51 data sets (Eagly, Karau,
Miner, & Johnson, 1994), men scored slightly higher than women on this measure, especially on
subscales that assessed the desire to manifest competitive and assertive qualities in managing.
Such qualities are strongly masculine in connotation and, as we explain in the next subsection,
may especially elicit negative evaluations when enacted by women.
Congruence of Leader Roles and Gender Roles
Female leaders’ efforts to accommodate their behavior to the sometimes conflicting
demands of the female gender role and their leader role can foster leadership styles that differ
from those of men. Gender roles thus have different implications for the behavior of female and
male leaders, not only because the female and male roles have different content, but also because
there is often inconsistency between the predominantly communal qualities that perceivers
associate with women and the predominantly agentic qualities that they believe are required to
succeed as a leader. People thus tend to have similar beliefs about leaders and men but dissimilar
beliefs about leaders and women, as Schein (this issue) has demonstrated. Nonetheless, the degree

Leadership Styles of Women and Men 9
of perceived incongruity between a leader role and the female gender role would depend on many
factors, including the exact definition of the leader role, the activation of the female gender role in
a particular situation, and individuals’ personal approval of traditional definitions of gender roles
(see Heilman, this issue).
As Eagly and Karau (2001) argued, perceived incongruity between the female gender role
and typical leader roles tends to create prejudice toward female leaders and potential leaders that
takes two forms: (a) less favorable evaluation of women’s (than men’s) potential for leadership
because leadership ability is more stereotypic of men than women and (b) less favorable
evaluation of the actual leadership behavior of women than men because agentic behavior is
perceived as less desirable in women than men. The first type of prejudice stems from the
descriptive norms of gender roles–that is, the activation of descriptive beliefs about women’s
characteristics and the consequent ascription of female-stereotypic qualities to them, which are
unlike the qualities expected and desired in leaders. The second type of prejudice stems from the
injunctive (or prescriptive) norms of gender roles–that is, the activation of beliefs about how
women ought to behave. If female leaders violate these prescriptive beliefs by fulfilling the
agentic requirements of leader roles and failing to exhibit the communal, supportive behaviors that
are preferred in women, they can be negatively evaluated for these violations, even while they
may also receive some positive evaluation for their fulfillment of the leader role.
The role congruity analysis thus suggests that female leaders’ choices are constrained by
threats from two directions: Conforming to their gender role can produce a failure to meet the
requirements of their leader role, and conforming to their leader role can produce a failure to meet
the requirements of their gender role. Particularly consequential for leadership style would be the

Leadership Styles of Women and Men 10
second form of prejudice–that is, the negative reactions that women may experience when they
behave in a clearly agentic style, especially if that style entails exerting control and dominance
over others.
In summary, the social role argument that leadership roles constrain behavior so that sex
differences are minimal among occupants of the same leadership role must be tempered by several
more complex considerations. Not only may gender roles spill over to organizational settings, but
also leaders’ gender identities may constrain their behaviors in a direction consistent with their
own gender role. Also, the female gender role is more likely to be incongruent with leader roles
than the male gender role is, producing a greater potential for prejudice against female leaders.
Such prejudice could produce negative sanctions that affect leaders’ behavior.
Types of Leadership Style
The impact of gender on leadership style should emerge especially clearly on measures of
style that reflect the agentic norms associated with the male gender role and the communal norms
associated with the female gender role. Using such an approach, the classic work on leadership
defined styles that are primarily agentic or primarily communal (see Bass, 1990; Cann &
Siegfried, 1990). Most common was a distinction between two approaches to leadership: task-
oriented style, defined as a concern with accomplishing assigned tasks by organizing task-relevant
activities, and interpersonally oriented style, defined as a concern with maintaining interpersonal
relationships by tending to others’ morale and welfare. This distinction was introduced by Bales
(1950) and developed further in the Ohio State studies on leadership (e.g., Hemphill & Coons,
1957). In this research, task-oriented style, labeled initiation of structure, included behavior such
as encouraging subordinates to follow rules and procedures, maintaining high standards for