Different Brains, Different Behaviors: Why Women Lead Differently Than Men

Different Brains, Different Behaviors: Why Women Lead Differently Than Men
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You don't need to be a scientist to recognize that women think, act, and lead differently than men. Yet science can help us understand why this is so.

Decades of research and studies have proven that male and female brains are structured differently. These structural variances are what determines how the two genders think, what they value, and how they communicate. This isn't about one gender being smarter or thinking better than the other--studies show that men and women are evenly matched in their intellectual performance. The issue is that they reach these similar ends through different means.

Understanding the root causes of why women do things differently than men can help us avoid reacting negatively to these differences. When we take the time to see that brain wiring is what determines gender-based leadership styles, we can better appreciate what women bring uniquely to the boardroom, as well as what men bring.

Brain Basics

Prior to the early 1990s, all brains were presumed to be the same. However, using MRI technology that was introduced in the late 1980s, neurobiologists were able to demonstrate and track more than 100 biological differences between the male and female brain.

What has this advanced brain research taught us about how the human brain functions, and ultimately about how men and women make decisions and solve problems? One key point we've learned is that while the brain is divided into left and right hemispheres, most of us are dominant on one side or the other. Some of us are primarily left-brain thinkers, which makes us more analytical, sequential, logical, and detailed. Others show dominance of their right brain, which is described as more creative, nonlinear, intuitive, and holistic.

Can you guess which gender has been shown to have a left-brain orientation versus right? Researchers at Yale determined back in the nineties that men's tendency is to primarily use the left side of their brain, while women generally shift back and forth, drawing on both the left and right sides. In practice, this means that men are more likely to have a fact- and logic-based leadership style, while women are more likely to see the big-picture, have stronger emotions, and rely on their intuition for decision-making.

Let's take a closer look at how men's and women's different brain structures result in different leadership behaviors:

Communication. Each day, women speak up to 8,000 words and use as many as 10,000 gestures. Men use fewer daily words (up to 4,000) and gestures (up to 3,000).

Emotions. Women's brains favor more emotional activity in the mid-brain region, while men show more rational activity in the top of the brain.

Task orientation. Men generally focus on one task and compartmentalize more brain activity, while women gravitate toward multitasking.

Attention to details. Women tend to absorb more information through their senses and store more of it in the brain for other uses than men do. Therefore, women generally have more interest in details and pay more attention to them than men do.

Stress. Men tend to deal with stress much more easily than women, as it's harder for women to shut down their autostress response.

Logic vs. language. Men tend to have better logic skills than women, while women exhibit generally better language skills than men.

What's important to note here is that both women and men have important skill areas in which they naturally excel. Relying primarily on the strength of just one gender as leaders can result in an imbalance of perspectives and ideas. On the other hand, when women and men work side by side on the leadership team and in the boardroom, this diversity of perspectives can lead to more innovative thinking. This better balance, in turn, can result in greater productivity, improved engagement, higher profits, and a sustainable competitive advantage.

In my next post, we'll talk more specifically about how these gender-based brain differences play out in the leadership arena.


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