Do Male Leaders Need to Think More Like Women?

The world is getting sick of male – or least “masculine” – leadership, according to a survey of 64,000 people in 13 countries that underpins the new book The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the World. As authors John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio discovered, 66% of adults agreed that “the world would be a better place if men thought more like women” – including 63% of men worldwide and an astounding 79% of Japanese males. Yet men, of course, continue to dominate corporate leadership and power structures.

That disconnect, Gerzema told me during an interview last month at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference, is a potential source of competitive advantage for companies that take heed. “Most companies are still very masculine in their approach – very rigid,” he says. “But feminine values are the operating system of 21st century progress.” So what are ‘feminine values’?

Gerzema and D’Antonio’s study showed a strong public preference for selflessness, empathy, and loyalty in their leaders – traits that respondents identified as feminine. Meanwhile, aggression and independence (which respondents coded as masculine) were leadership turn-offs. “People want leaders that care more about others than themselves,” says Gerzema. “Having leaders who have a lack of capacity to relate to others is such a dangerous thing in today’s social world. You want people who are leading because they want to change something, rather than because they want to ‘be somebody.’”

Embracing feminine values in leadership doesn’t mean being weak, Gerzema notes. He and D’Antonio did in-depth interviews with 80 successful leaders, both male and female, who exhibited a balance of masculine and feminine styles. “They were tough and fierce,” he says. “They don’t say, ‘I’m a feminine leader,’ but their actions showed respect [for others], collaboration, and compromise, and they did it with vision and drive.”

But just as 1980s fashion encouraged women to dress like men, replete with shoulder pads, today’s business environment often rewards masculine thinking. “In the corporate workplace, women are conditioned to think that the way they think isn’t valued as highly,” says Gerzema. “But it’s men that have got to adapt to a world that’s far more feminine, social, and collaborative. Feminine values are a form of innovation. If men start to champion the essential skills we saw the innovators [we interviewed] practice, it’ll drive profits and get better results.”

Do you agree that a dose of feminine values would enhance corporate life – and the bottom line? How is your company adapting?

This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on April 15, 2013.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.