Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Quote of the Day

From an article entitled "Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?," at the Harvard Business Review Blog Network:

"The truth of the matter is that pretty much anywhere in the world men tend to think that they that are much smarter than women. Yet arrogance and overconfidence are inversely related to leadership talent — the ability to build and maintain high-performing teams, and to inspire followers to set aside their selfish agendas in order to work for the common interest of the group. Indeed, whether in sports, politics or business, the best leaders are usually humble — and whether through nature or nurture, humility is a much more common feature in women than men. For example, women outperform men on emotional intelligence, which is a strong driver of modest behaviors. Furthermore,a quantitative review of gender differences in personality involving more than 23,000 participants in 26 cultures indicated that women are more sensitive, considerate, and humble than men, which is arguably one of the least counter-intuitive findings in the social sciences. An even clearer picture emerges when one examines the dark side of personality: for instance, our normative data, which includes thousands of managers from across all industry sectors and 40 countries, shows that men are consistently more arrogant, manipulative and risk-prone than women."

The article is discussing statistical trends and so, it often bears reminding, the findings don't apply to all men or all women. Women can be bad leaders or good leaders, and men can be bad leaders or good leaders. At the individual level, I've had experiences with all of these.

It's an interesting read, though, especially in light of how, in both secular and religious aspects of the US, leadership is coded as a masculine/manly endeavor. Men, many religions tell us, are the purported "spiritual leaders" of their homes and, on a larger scale, also of religious institutions. Many (most?) religions are, in fact, structured so that men don't have to compete against women for leadership positions at all. Leadership is, in a very literal sense and for no legitimate reason, equated with manhood. Men are also purported natural leaders of business, the state, sports teams, and - really- groups of all kinds.

I appreciate the article even as it's somewhat frustrating to read because, really, what are women tangibly supposed to do with this information? Circulate it widely and reap the resulting mansplainy, asshole hyper-defensive comments and accusations of man-hating? I mean, the whole phenomenon of mansplaining itself seems to exist precisely because of the same group-level observations from this article, right?

Overconfidence + Illusory Superiority = lots of men thinking they have lots to teach the ladies.

Yet at the same time, it's validating. I know what my life experience is, and this article resonates with many of my experiences in the working world of seeing incompetent men regularly promoted and lauded over more qualified and more competent women. (And oh how I would love to write that memoir!) Indeed, Cordelia Fine has noted the phenomenon of the glass escalator, whereby men in feminine-coded occupations often advance, and advance in leadership positions, much more quickly and easily than women.

 Narratives regularly tell women that if we are to be Good Leaders Like How Men Are, that we must emulate men and their conventional traits of so-called leadership. Yet, as the author of the cited article suggests, maybe it's time we trash, rather than adopt, "dysfunctional leadership traits" like hubris, self-centeredness, and overconfidence.

Accordingly, it also seems necessary for people to remain vigilant about their own implicit biases and, perhaps, uncritical assumptions about what traits are good for different leadership positions. Of course, many people are highly invested and reap large rewards for doing otherwise.

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