The numbers of women leaders are
not rising despite the growing calls to eliminate gender discrimination in the
There are just six female CEOs of
the FTSE 100 companies and at the start of the year The Equality Trust revealed
that they earn 54% of their male counterparts.
Some years ago, Sheryl Sandberg
published her book Lean In, in which she argued that women should show more
drive and determination, put themselves forward for daunting tasks, and
showcase the same level of confidence conveyed by male leaders.
But either aspiring women leaders
have been ignoring Sandberg’s advice or, if they have followed it, it has not
resulted in promotion.
The “lean in” advice may even be
wrong according to personality scientist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an
international authority on psychological profiling, talent management and
leadership development who argues that it could actually be counter-productive.
It is more likely, he says, that
if women mimic the accepted male behaviours of self-promotion, showing ambition
and so on, it could actually lead them to mimic the dysfunctional behaviours
that are shown by many toxic leaders.
Regular readers may know I have
tackled the subject of the “dark triad” of corporate leadership behaviours in
previous blogs, identifying the traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism and
psychopathy shown by many such leaders.
In fact, the problem, says
Chamorro-Premuzic, is that while gender discrimination plays a part in
potential women leaders being overlooked, the primary reason why so many
incompetent leaders are appointed is because there is a general difficulty in
identifying and selecting competent leaders.
He identifies several reasons for
Firstly, he argues “there is not
much overlap between people’s self-perceived and actual talents for
leadership”. Often, he says, the most incompetent leaders suffer from “extreme
deficit of self-awareness”. This could also be applied to many politicians.
Secondly, he says, narcissists
and psychopaths often lean in. This leads to excessive risk-taking, which may
be counter-productive for a business’ stability and growth. Therefore, if
leaders are selected on ability to showcase aggressive behaviours we are likely
to select a disproportionate number of candidates with antisocial tendencies.
However, the biggest problem with
the lean in argument, he says, is that we have double standards when evaluating
women and men, leading to women typically being rejected and disliked for being
intimidating bulldozers or simply for not being “feminine” enough.
Instead, his advice is that in
order to pick the best potential leaders, of either gender, we should be
looking for such qualities such as integrity, emotional intelligence and
Moderate ambition therefore may
be a better indicator of leadership potential and aspiring women leaders’
greatest advantage because it means “having the drive and ability to lead
without wanting to become the centre of the universe … perhaps because that
place is usually reserved for narcissistic men.” Boris beware!