I’m going to go out on a professional limb here and say that, while the business world is filled with male CEOs, entrepreneurs, and decision makers, women may have the physiological upper hand in natural leadership abilities.
But this isn’t just my opinion. There’s an array of scientific evidence that points toward the neurological characteristics that generally hardwire women to be successful, efficient leaders.
The Science Behind the Claim
Simply put, the female brain works differently than the male brain does. Although it’s smaller, the female brain is more complex, which can impact the way women function in the workplace. This makes women likely to possess natural characteristics of great leaders, including:
- Language skills. Studies have suggested that females have proportionally larger language-associated regions of the brain than men do, which can lead to superior language skills. This includes verbal reasoning and writing abilities, as well as relationship-building skills.
- Emotional skills. Ruben Gur, Ph.D., found that women are generally faster and more accurate at identifying emotions in others, such as encoding facial variations and changing vocal intonations. Findings also suggest that female brains are better equippedto identify and control their own emotions due to their significantly larger orbitofrontal-to-amygdala ratio. This self-awareness can increase a woman’s ability to connect with others, foster rapport and chemistry, and show empathy.
- Conflict-management skills. Females have a larger and faster-maturing prefrontal cortex, which oversees decision-making and emotional information. This difference can help women navigate conflict resolution and compromise. The way women approach conflict is also rooted in hormones — particularly the higher levels of oxytocin present in the female body, which produce a calming and nurturing effect.
- Memory skills. Studies have found that women, on average, retain stronger and more vivid memories of emotional events than men. It’s also been shown that women absorb and encode more information during ongoing events and demonstrate a greater ability to access those memories than their male counterparts.
All of these components add up to an emotional intelligence that is required in great leadership, according to Daniel Goleman of Rutgers University. Goleman found that truly effective leaders don’t necessarily have the best training in the world or an analytical mind; instead, they possess a high degree of emotional intelligence, including self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.
His more recent research found six distinct leadership styles that stem from a foundation of emotional intelligence, each uniquely impacting different aspects of business. The most effective leaders possess and utilize more than one of these leadership styles in a given week, depending on the situation.
Scientific Evidence at Work
It’s been shown that women who start or lead a business not only better the lives of themselves and their families, but they also contribute significantly to their communities and economies. In the U.S., 10.5 million female business leaders contributed $3 trillion to the U.S. economy. In developing nations, women who work put 90 percent of their earnings back into their immediate families and communities, often helping to end the cycle of perpetual poverty.
And for the first time in 13 years, the Global Entrepreneurship Committee showed that women are creating businesses at a greater rate than men in three economies and at an equal rate in four countries.
There are many examples of inspiring women putting the science to work in the world today by founding and growing successful, profitable businesses, such as:
- Wu Yajun, co-founder and chair of the Beijing-based real estate firm, Longfor Properties. Longfor Properties has more than 10,000 employees and has developed over 100 residential and commercial projects in 21 cities since 1993.
- Zhang Xin, co-founder and CEO of SOHO China, a real estate development firm. She and her husband started the company back in 1995 and have built it to become the largest prime office developer in China.
- Judy Faulkner, founder and CEO of Epic Systems, a privately held company that sells electronic health records in the U.S. Faulkner is a self-made billionaire and considered the most powerful woman in private healthcare.
- Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. Blakely invested $5,000 of her savings to develop a flattering shapewear product, which soon became a brand bringing in more than $250 million annually. Blakely owns 100 percent of her company and is the youngest self-made female billionaire to date.
- Weili Dai, president and co-founder of Marvell Technology Group, a major California-based semiconductor company with operations in more than 18 countries. Marvell Technology works with companies including Apple, Samsung, and Google.
The intricacies of the human brain are pretty amazing. Although these complexities give every person — male or female — unique abilities, women’s brains in general are primed to process, encode, and store information, emotions, and social cues, which are essential skills for leading a growing company. In the coming years, I hope to see more women using the talents they were born with and taking the plunge into the business world.
Who is a female leader/boss/entrepreneur you admire, and what characteristics or qualities make her so influential?
The most powerful tool you’ll ever use is storytelling. That’s it. Done. You don’t need to read on.
If you’re still reading, you probably agree and appreciate validation or you disagree and want to find flaws in my reasoning. I’m sure you’ll get plenty of both.
Wikipedia defines storytelling as “the conveying of events in words, and images, often by improvisation or embellishment.” Although it seems intuitive when pointed out, it’s insightful to observe that storytelling happens across cultures. In fact, “humans [inherently] think in narrative structures and most often remember facts in story form.” Have you ever noticed how often and how naturally we use story-like analogies to explain complex situations? Or how people binge-watch their favorite TV shows?
The problem with Wikipedia’s definition of storytelling is that it only states what it is and misses what it does. Stories are used for a variety of purposes. They entertain. They inform. They create bonds. They can be applied for the purposes of good or evil, but they always have a purpose and are most effective when carefully crafted to achieve that purpose.
Stories are incredibly powerful. Every startup that has ever been funded, has received its funding because of a story. Sometimes it’s the story the entrepreneur tells and sometimes it’s the story the investors tell themselves. Either way, an investor who’s willing to commit a significant amount of money to an extremely risky endeavor believes that a series of events that hasn’t happened yet is going to happen, and result in a happy ending.
Stories even have remarkable effects on the course of world-history. In 2008, Barack Obama was elected as president of the United States based on a powerful story that millions of Americans believed in; the idea that the American dream still exists and that no matter who we are, we can achieve it. This story wasn’t accidental and neither was the success of the campaign.
Any time we interact with others, all the complexities of these interactions emerge. Every day, we repeatedly face the need to influence others. We have to convince people to join our team, we have to convince people to use (and pay for) our products/services, we have to convince people at other companies to partner with us.
And the best way to convince people? By telling great stories, of course!
So, how do great stories come into existence? The short answer is that great stories are intentional and carefully crafted. Think of storytelling as an art that can be enhanced by science. Art, or instinct, places constraints on a world of infinite dimension, making it conceptually manageable. Art “solves” the blank canvas. Then, once we have some idea as to what we want to paint, we can leverage science to optimize the layout and colors for maximum effect.
When we take control of our story and design it to deliver information in a convincing and compelling way, we win the hearts and minds of others. And we take a big step toward achieving our grand vision.
All of this is not to say that telling a great story is easy or that success is guaranteed. It actually takes a lot of effort. However, the most incredible thing about storytelling is that it’s a learned skill. Think of it as a super-power you can gain without being bitten by a radioactive spider.
If you want to accomplish great things, start by learning how to tell a great story.