When it comes to managing, new research shows that women at the top have a different approach, realizing that being a boss means more than just being bossy.
In an article in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, Judy B. Rosener, professor of management at the University of California's Graduate School of Management in Irvine, says that the old way of doing business, done mostly by men, is called "transactional" leadership. Under this approach, a manager has exchanges with subordinates and rewards or punishes them depending on their behavior. Sometimes they give raises, sometimes promotions, sometimes reprimands.
Some women, especially those that broke into the first wave of female top management ranks, got good at this management technique, also called the command-and- control style. They realized it was easier to use their power and authority to get results than to develop relationships and mutual respect in their dealings with subordinates.
The new approach, which many female managers seem more prone to take, is called "transformational" leadership. It means relying on "personal characteristics like charisma, interpersonal skills, hard work, or personal contacts," the article says.
Rosener theorizes that the difference between the sexes has to do with the way women were socialized, at least until the 1960s. Different career opportunities and different societal expectations laid the groundwork for a generation of managers who suddenly have traits that add up to the management style of choice at some companies.
Rosener calls it "interactive" leadership because there is an effort to encourage participation, share power and information, enhance the self-worth of other people and get people excited about their work. The idea is to get subordinates to transform their own self-interest into the broader goals that a work team or the company might have.
Though these traits are not exclusive to women, Rosener says her research shows that "second-generation managerial women are drawing on what is unique to their socialization as women and creating a different path to the top."
In certain types of organizations -- those that thrive on change or are growing quickly -- women are succeeding because of, not in spite of, traits that in the past have been considered feminine and unleaderlike.
"It's real good news," says Rosener. "We're not saying that women are better or we should replace the command-and-control style. We just want to expand leadership styles." She emphasized that linking interactive leadership to being female is a mistake because some men do use this style.
Rosener bases her findings on a study of 355 high-achieving women in a variety of businesses, academe and government who are compared with 108 men in similar situations.
Unlike other studies done on men and women in corporations, there were more similarities than differences in the group she looked at, except when it came to their leadership style. Both earned about about the same pay, had about the same amount of conflict between their work and personal lives, and were on average 51 years old.
The big difference was that women tended to take a softer approach that encouraged employee participation and men opted for a more command-and-control techniques -- "Do as I say, or else."
The women employed a variety of techniques to "enhance other people's sense of self-worth and to energize followers." One female manager encourages participation by using what she calls a "bridge club" where she informally gathers people (hence, a bridge) whom she needs information from but has no control over. They come because they feel their opinions are valued.
Debi Coleman, vice president of information systems and technology at Apple Computer Inc., uses "open strategy sessions," a series of meetings over several days with a group larger than just key executives, to come up with and choose strategies.
Rosener acknowledges that all these approaches carry risks for the manager. Allowing more people to help stir the pot can lead to criticism of the manager, turf battles, a loss of control, a big expenditure of time and frustration on the part of employees when their ideas are rejected.
Rosener realizes that saying women are good at the softer side of management arouses great passions in people. She and the Harvard Business Review have gotten letters saying she is absolutely right in her observations. "I also have gotten letters from men saying this is just crap," she says.
Whatever your beliefs, Rosener's advice is that managers should assess their leadership style and look for a fit with the right firm. If you're a command-and-control type, a career at a Big Eight accounting firm might work, she says -- even if you're a woman. If you like to interact, you have to find an industry that is accepting of that style and values it.