Why women leaders are accused of over management

by Dec 3, 2015

Women leaders and control

You want to be a good leader, and you know you are. Then what do you do with those surveys that show that most people prefer to be led by a man? Apparently even most top sports women prefer male coaches. Why are women  leaders accused of over management?


Do women leaders over manage?

Perhaps this criticism does not apply to you, and you just know you are the exception and all your staff love you. Or perhaps it’s just that these surveys measure the wrong things, after all with the right questions you can prove anything. But have you stopped to consider there may be a kernel of truth in it and that there is something vital that you need to learn to be a better manager.

I would like to explore that last option. Not because I want to make you feel bad, and tell you women leaders are rubbish managers. You and I know that’s not the case. But because I believe there is something important that women leaders can learn, and that will make you a much better manager of men (and women).

And once you know what it is, and have the courage to try something new, it’s not even that hard to do.

Contact 3Plus for leadership coaching for your women managers

Are women over controlling?

See, men complain that women over manage them, that they are too detail-focussed and too perfectionist. You, however, feel you are hard-working, supportive and caring. So what is going on? What’s happening here is that you think they are like you. [Tweet “But you need to know that men and women are different.”]

[Tweet “There is a key difference in how men and women compete.”] Men compete on being the biggest, the strongest or the best. Women compete too, but they compete on being popular, and being nice. They compete on relationships.

It’s easy to see when you are the strongest or the fastest, so boys can figure out their hierarchy quite quickly. For girls it’s less easy, so they have to check with their friends if they are still liked. This is what girls do when they have ‘friendship booklets’, talk about who is allowed on their birthday party, or when they are complementing a friend on their drawing or a new haircut. They are confirming to each other that they are still friends, and are checking their place in the hierarchy. So girls get used to a constant checking-in and confirmation of relationships.

Most people model the way they manage on what worked for them. [Tweet “Women usually enjoy it when their manager checks in on them regularly.”] It shows them someone is interested in them and their work and it helps them feel valued. So, female managers tend to check-in regularly with their employees. That works well with the women in their team, however it doesn’t have the same effect on men. Men feel checked up on. They feel she doesn’t trust them with the work and they can even lose confidence and start feeling insecure.

Give men space

For men it often works better to allow them more autonomy. Men tend to enjoy being given a challenge, grappling with the issue on their own and then solving it. That gives them a sense of achievement, it helps them feel good about themselves and it gives them something to let others know about, ‘Look at me, I fixed this!’ It’s powerful ammunition to show others that you are the cleverest and the best.

A female manager in one of my Gender Smart Leadership workshops told me, 3 months after, ‘There was one guy in my team, and he just seemed to have control issues. Our relationship wasn’t easy and we always had this tension between us. After the course I met up with him and I said that I thought he needed more autonomy, and told him what I had learned at the course. He confirmed that he craved more space. I was happy to give him that space, but I just wanted to make sure I still had control and knew what was going on. So we agreed on some ways he would keep me in the loop and that’s what we are working with now. So far, it seems to work for both of us!’

Scary In Practice

[Tweet “It’s not easy to change your management style.”] In fact it can feel quite scary. It certainly is for me.

When my son was about 5 years old he was struggling with his first maths homework. He would sit at the kitchen table, stare at the worksheet, then drop his pencil, then announce the sums were just too hard, then the worksheet would slide off the table, and it would easily be 10 minutes before the first sum was done.

I tried everything I found on the web – music, food, rewards, change timing, change location – and encouraged and supported him. Nothing worked. Then I decided to try out the theory from a book I had read on raising boys. It said boys love challenges. So I said, ‘Here’s your worksheet. I bet you can’t get it finished in time, it’s very hard today. You have 2 minutes.’ and turned on a timer. My mother heart clenched together. I felt horrid and cruel. What sort of person does this to their poor, struggling child? But guess what? He loved it. The sheet was done – this is really true – in less than 2 minutes.

So it’s worth trying something new, even if it may feel wrong to you. Be brave and experiment. Allow them to struggle with it for a while, give them space and don’t check in. They will come to you when they need you. It might be the best thing you have ever done!

Go on and do it. And let me know how it worked for you and your team.


Inge Woudstra Subscriber
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