Why Women Are Better Leaders

Speaking at a private event on leadership, former U.S. president Barack Obama said, “I’m absolutely confident that for two years if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything... living standards and outcomes."[1]

Obama’s statement may not be that farfetched because leadership researchers have decades of data from actual leaders to support this.

Very interesting results were discovered during two studies that examined gender differences in leadership effectiveness based on data from thousands of leaders.[2],[3] These studies, where data was summarized across 99 samples of leadership studies, found that when looking at data from all sources (a combination of self and other ratings), it seems that that there were no gender differences in leadership effectiveness.

However, they discovered that when it comes to self-rated leadership effectiveness, male managers tend to give themselves higher leadership effectiveness ratings than female managers do. Meanwhile, if we only look at ratings from other sources (i.e., supervisors and subordinates), female managers receive higher leadership effectiveness ratings than their male counterparts. 

So why women are better leaders?

Leadership is one’s ability to influence others to achieve common goals. To accomplish this, a leader needs to possess skills that can effectively communicate goals, motivate others, help others improve, give support when needed and ensure the well-being of their subordinates.

Survey results from both supervisors and subordinates showed that people believe female leaders are better at both communicating with others and showing consideration.[4]

In a study that examined gender and leadership styles, researchers found that, compared to male leaders, female leaders use more transformational leadership (inspiring, caring and encouraging) and also engage in more of the contingent reward behaviors (this for that in a consistent manner). Meanwhile, male leaders tend to adopt manage by exception style (only intervene when problems become severe) along with the lassiez-faire leadership style (absent when needed).[5]

What does this mean?

Compared to male leaders, female leaders are more likely to attend to followers’ personal needs, be open to new ideas and others’ opinions, and reward the satisfactory performance of followers in a consistent manner. On the other hand, male leaders are statistically more likely to only stress meeting the standards, wait until problems become severe before attending to them, and/or withdraw or be absent during critical junctures.

Furthermore, studies show females are less narcissistic than males.[6] Thus, female leaders tend to adopt democratic or participative style and a less autocratic or directive style than men.[7] This study also points out that the traditional gender stereotype that female leaders tend to focus more on interpersonal aspects — as opposed to task-oriented aspects of leadership — does not hold up in the analyses.

Simply put, female leaders don’t emphasize completion of tasks less and more on interpersonal relationships than their male counterparts do.

If females are such great leaders, why there are still less female leaders across all levels and in all fields?

In one study conducted by the author of this article, female leaders were found to have the tendency to underestimate their leadership abilities in many areas.[8] Therefore, it is possible that they are less confident when it comes to asking for a raise or a promotion. Other social and cultural factors can also lead to such an outcome. But they are rather complicated and we can discuss them another day. Be sure to stay tuned to Lead Read Today for that update.

In the meantime, if you are interested, you may find this white paper on factors that affect female career success helpful.


[1] Asher, S. (December 16, 2019). Barack Obama: Women are better leaders than men. BBC News. 

[2] Paustian-Underdahl, S. C., Walker, L. S., & Woehr, D. J. (2014). Gender and perceptions of leadership effectiveness: A meta-analysis of contextual moderators. Journal of applied psychology, 99, 1129-1147.

[3] Eagly, A.H., Karau, S.J., & Makhijani, M.G. (1995). Gender and the effectiveness of leaders: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 125-145.

[4] Vecchio, R. P., & Anderson, R. J. (2009). Agreement in self–others' ratings of leader effectiveness: The role of demographics and personality. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 17, 165−179.

[5] Eagly, A.H., Johannesen-Schmidt, M.C., & Engen, M.L. (2003). Transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles: A meta-analysis comparing women and men. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 569-591.

[6] Grijalva, E., Newman, D. A., Tay, L., Donnellan, M. B., Harms, P. D., Robins, R. W., & Yan, T. (2015). Gender differences in narcissism: A meta-analytic review. Psychological bulletin, 141, 261-310.

[7] Eagly, Eagly A.H., & Johnson, B. (1990). Gender and leadership style: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 233-256.

[8] Li, M. (February 26, 2019). On leader’s self-awareness. Lead Read Today, [Research White Paper].



Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.