The Gender of Leadership

by Amr Ismail


At the heart of leadership development today are massive, controversial, argumentative, and dividing issues pertaining to the attributes and styles of leadership. These issues touch the core of relationships governing teams, work groups, hierarchies, and gender gaps. The jury is still out, and discussions are fired up all over the place.

In my line of work, and on a personal note in my approach to leadership development as a coach, mentor, speaker, adviser, or in a casual discussion, I often confront real conflict of views. Unconscious bias, cultural norms and stereotypes are playing on all sides of the table.

Discussing empathy, emotional intelligence, agreeable styles, or caring in a leadership development context is far from settled, hence available research and statistics assigned to workplace leadership development.

MIT promoted style of leadership for example is one where leaders tend to be less showy, not much regard or admiration for the corner office, or for politics; emotional intelligence is not their thing, and they can have great tolerance for inclusion.

Two weeks ago, on January 16th, this TV interview posed more questions about leadership issues and gender gaps. It is not the most friendly discussion, but it is open, with sharp views, and takes aim at realities and perceptions of gender leadership.

The interviewee is Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. His main areas of study are in abnormal, social, and personality psychology, with a particular interest in the assessment and improvement of personality and performance.

Dr. Peterson was nominated for five consecutive years as one of Ontario’s Best University Lecturers. He is one of only three profs rated as “life changing” in the University of Toronto’s underground student handbook of course ratings. His psychological tests have identified thousands of promising entrepreneurs on six different continents. His University of Toronto lectures on psychology and myth were turned into a 13-part series on TV. He has been associated with Malcolm Gladwell, Norman Doidge, Gregg Hurwitz and Jim Balsillie.

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When coaching leadership, a reference to unconscious bias and an assessment to inclusion must be made through the right measures. If need be, implementing specific strategies to improve inclusive cultures helps moving forward to solve this challenge.

The path of leadership inside an organization speaks about the organization’s culture, and its inclusive policies. In people development we work with the strategy, vision, and the culture norms of the company, yet we can’t discount the culture norms outside the company, in society, where culture norms may override or define the norms of a company culture. Here is where it gets tricky, and emotions run high.

Pay is not an area I am directly involved in, but I believe in equal pay for the same job, done by a man or a woman, young or old. As for upward mobility, the path to the top is a rugged terrain for both men and women, a war zone that takes the kind of commitment which may not suit everyone – man or woman.

And the discussion continues…