Leading Like a Girl: For Men Only?

Recently, the financial gurus at Motley Fool ran a provocative piece on financial prowess. Their prime assertion: Warren Buffet invests like a girl. Indeed, author LouAnn DiCosmo attributes Buffet's monumental success to his gender-bending ability, doing what women investors have long been shown to do: trade less often, conduct more research, and not limit their investment decisions to numbers alone.

If Buffet's feminine investment strategies have been key to his financial achievements, they mirror what happens when women take the lead in the corporate sector: Catalyst has found that companies with greater numbers of women directors outperformed their peers by 53 percent in return on equity, by 42 percent in return on sales, and by 66 percent in return on invested capital. Astounding what women bring to the table, isn't it?

Leading like a girl isn't only good for business; as the democratic race for the presidential nomination has shown, it's good for practicing politicos as well -- at least if you're a man. The 2008 campaign has been an interesting experiment in gender roles, as Barack Obama's leadership style, oft-touted as feminine, has been largely instrumental in shaping his popularity.

Yet while men seem to be incorporating the best of what women already know and do, women themselves are still feeling the pressure to deny traits associated with their gender to get ahead. From the New York Times to Salon, it has been widely noted that Obama has embraced his feminine side to great effect. Clinton, meanwhile, has often been forced to eschew the same in order to prove that she really is "man enough" for the job -- a stylistic approach, some would argue, that has worked to her detriment.

The lesson? Boys can be boys -- and now they can be girls, too. But attach those en vogue traits to the body of an actual woman and suddenly the dynamic changes. Clinton's dilemma is particularly important to consider because, to some extent, it is the dilemma of all women in leadership. Men can now add the feminine virtues of inclusivity, sensitivity, and an eye towards thinking outside the box, and be lionized for it. Women, however, rarely are given such latitude. They must first prove they are lions -- or risk being tossed aside, and into the den.

Of course, it is a real testament to the women's movement that the embrace of feminine traits is now being espoused by enlightened men -- and that they are being celebrated for it. But what about the women? Under what circumstances can women finally claim these attributes for themselves and not be punished for them?

I am on a crusade to have women risk revealing their authentic selves. As a group who bring important attributes to leadership, who can also be tough and in control, women's leadership, having been honed at the foot on the table, has lessons and positive possibilities for us all. We have made it safe for men to play like the girls. Now is the time to claim our own ability to do the same.