Women and men view leadership differently

Working women

November 11, 1991|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- In the early 1970s, Carole Leland was the head of a social sciences department at a New York City community college.

"I was asked to develop a new curriculum that would be responsive to African-American and Puerto Rican students," said Leland, senior program associate for the Center for Creative Leadership's La Jolla, Calif., branch. "I had a group of young, talented and creative Ph.D.s to work with. Using their talent, supporting their work, giving them the needed time and space, we developed a new, effective curriculum that still is in use today.

"I never could have done it alone."

Leland is describing leadership and her way of looking at it. Women, she believes, have a different view of leadership from men, who generally work along more authoritarian lines.

"A man may have done it the same way, if men were free to and if they had been rewarded for empowering others as I have been," said Leland, who runs workshops for executive women at the center, a non-profit education institution specializing in research and training based in Greensboro, N.C. "Women should be valued and respected for what they bring to the workplace rather than constantly being criticized for what they do not."

The management consultant doesn't believe all women are perfect leaders, however. "Many women, in the face of discrimination, have learned to do the things men have learned to do -- and they've survived by exercising control," Leland said. "Authoritarian leadership, in the long term, is less effective and tends to demoralize others. It's a narrow perspective of what leadership is all about."

But leadership traits such as being "inclusive and non-hierarchical" are more likely to be found among women, says Leland, who has a bachelor's degree in English from Syracuse University, a master's in education from Harvard University and a doctorate in sociology and education from Stanford University.

Leland's concern about the glass ceiling of discrimination that blocks women and minorities from top executive positions has intensified her interest in how women lead. She is co-author with Helen S. Astin, psychologist and professor of higher education at the University of California at Los Angeles, of the new book "Women of Influence, Women of Vision: A Cross-Generational Study of Leaders and Social Change" (Jossey-Bass, $25.95).

For their book, the authors interviewed 77 high-ranking women in academia who also are active on behalf of women. They chose educators "because historically, that's where the opportunities for leaderships have been." The women studied range in age from their early 30s to their late 70s. Leland stresses that "what we found is applicable to whatever fields women are in today -- especially the leaders' ability to listen to and empower others."

Laura Bornholdt, special assistant to the president of the University of Chicago and director of university-school relations, was the first woman to be vice president at Lilly Endowment Inc. and at the Danforth Foundation. The university executive is one of the subjects of "Women of Influence, Women of Vision."

Formerly dean of Wellesley College and Sarah Lawrence Colleges, Bornholdt, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Smith College with a doctorate in history from Yale University, says, "There are some differences in the kinds of questions women leaders raise, and in foundation work it's helpful to have both points of view. Foundations call for both teamwork and individual exploration."

At the foundations, Bornholdt funded many programs that empowered women, among them a fellowship for students who had to drop out of college when they got married.

Women at the top, the executive says, "work harder than men because by and large they have to. They are capable of doing routine work without losing their imagination and capacity for more imaginative work. I think men grind themselves into a dull job or get out of it while women surmount dull jobs better than men . . . "

When it comes to obtaining leadership, however, "women have some 'natural' handicaps, such as children, which means you're more likely to ask for time off, or, if you're in academia, to delay publication," Bornholdt said. "But a good many women succeed in going beyond these problems, and I believe we soon will see some progress."

However, it's an unclear and rough road to executive suites, said Pauline B. Bart, professor of sociology in the department of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Some women take men as their models because they want to be rapidly upwardly mobile and are foolish enough to think it will work for them," said Bart. "Others take women as role models. They're more cooperative, nurturing and inclusive and less power-obsessed -- and they may or may not get ahead. Both types of women are randomly rewarded and systemically punished (by their supervisors)."

However, Bart emphasizes that it may be too early to evaluate women's leadership styles because of discrimination.

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