Who leads better - women or men?

18 May, 2020
Jarrod Haar_Landscape

There has been a lot of talk recently comparing the positive leadership styles of female leaders and male leaders - for example, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership style versus US President Donald Trump’s. When it comes to good leadership, does gender make a difference? Does it matter if you are a male employee working for a female leader?

New research conducted by AUT Professor Jarrod Haar (and Dr David Brougham at Massey University) provides answers and insights to these questions.

As part of an ongoing research project (not specifically related to COVID-19), Professor Haar sampled 625 New Zealand employees (those in paid work). Just over half of respondents (57.1%) were female and just over half of respondents (52.6%) identified their leaders as male. The average age of the employees was 40 years and they worked on average 36-40 hours/week.

We found that a good leader (defined as a boss who shows care and expresses genuine concern for workers) is beneficial to employees. Those employees who experienced good leadership at work had greater sense of wellbeing including higher life satisfaction and fewer feelings of job stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression.

Having a good leader who is female? That further reduced employees’ experiences of anxiety, depression, and job burnout compared to those who are led by a male. Notably, these effects hold for female and male employees.

The survey provides clear evidence that during the COVID-19 lockdown period, having a good leader is beneficial for your wellbeing; it is ‘extra beneficial’ if that leader is a woman. The results likely reflect that female leaders may have a different approach to leadership, with a tendency to be more focused on relationships, and more sensitive, attuned, and responsive to their staff. Thus, good leaders who are female are better able to allay their employees’ concerns and frustrations with work. The result? Employees have a greater sense of wellbeing which, in turn, helps make them more productive.

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