Captivate everyone you meet

Be the most memorable person in the room
with our latest book

Buy Now

Get FREE tools to increase your social influence

Battle of the Sexes: Male Vs. Female Leadership


Do men and women lead differently?

While they share the same responsibilities in any given leadership role, researchers have found that in all the areas that really set leaders apart like how helpful, supportive and personally engaged they are, male and female leaders typically vary.

The result? Men and women tend to have two distinctly different leadership styles that shape how they run their teams.

Let’s begin with ladies first.

male vs. female leadership

Females Are Transformational Leaders

Several studies show that women tend to use what’s called the transformational leadership style. This is a style where “leaders and their followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.”

Picture the leader who, instead of sitting in her office all day, frequently visits her team members while they’re working to offer guidance and encouragement. For most females, leadership isn’t just about accomplishing goals; they want to transform their followers into better people.

male vs. female leadership

Here are some key tactics of transformational leaders:

  • They seek to be a role model who inspires their subordinates
  • They invests a lot of time in coaching their team members and care about their personal development
  • They emphasize teamwork and authentic communication as a key to success

Whether you’re a man or a woman, here are some things you can do to become a more transformational leader:

  • Spend more time engaging with your team members on a personal level
  • Look for ways to inspire your team members to be more motivated in accomplishing your goals

Males are Transactional Leaders

Males on the other hand tend to favor the transactional leadership style. This is more of the old school leadership style where leaders are dominant figures with strict expectations and should not be questioned.

To understand transactional leadership, picture the boss who sits in his office giving orders and receiving progress updates from his employees, but rarely engages with them on a personal level. They’re all about the results.

male vs. female leadership

Key tactics of transactional leaders include:

  • They often remain uninvolved to let their teams focus on their work
  • They wait until problems become severe before they step in take charge of the situation
  • They usually only engage with subordinates to give orders and hold them accountable for making mistakes and/or failing to meet expectations

Here’s how to be a more transactional leader:

  • Give subordinates the freedom to solve problems independently
  • Provide clear directions so team members know how to meet your expectations

Why Do Males and Females Lead Differently?

Both leadership styles have benefits and limitations depending on the environment, however, the effectiveness of each strategy isn’t necessarily what drives people to choose them. Research shows there are physiological differences between males and females that explain why females are more transformational while males are more transactional.

Let’s dig into the science.

Neuroscientists have discovered that women have higher oxytocin levels than men. Oxytocin is nicknamed “the cuddle hormone” because it makes you feel connected to people. Because of this, women instinctively care more about their subordinates’ well-being and have a stronger desire to connect with them on a personal level. This is why women, more so than men, view leadership as an opportunity to grow their subordinates as individuals instead of just giving directions to reach goals.

Women’s brains are also better at verbally explaining their emotions. You notice how women feel the need to share their feelings with you and expect you to share your feelings in return–this is why. In the workplace this shows when female leaders ask how you’re feeling about a project instead asking for a progress update.

It should come as no surprise that men are the opposite. They are neurologically wired to focus more on rewards which is why they prefer the performance-oriented transactional leadership style. To them, results are everything.

Men also naturally fear vulnerability. Being emotionally vulnerable triggers the release of the stress hormone, cortisol, so many men avoid addressing emotions because it stresses them out. They’d much rather focus on the logical problem-solving that accompanies the transactional leadership style.

Social expectations also play a role in male vs. female leadership styles.

Researchers have found that while males only need to display strength to be respected, women need to show strength and sensitivity. This lends itself well to the transformational leadership style because it allows them to set high expectations while personally helping the members of their teams.

Males on the other hand, tend to receive worse evaluations when they are emotional which reinforces their inclination to be stricter, more hands-off transactional leaders.

So Who Wins?

High-five to the females! The transformational leadership style has been shown to be more effective in the people-centered work environments that are becoming more popular today. Their natural inclination to support their subordinates’ personal growth and to emphasize open communication allows them to create comfortable work environments and inspire exceptional results.

But, transactional leadership isn’t entirely bad. The benefit of it is subordinates have more autonomy which works for quiet, logical people who want to do their jobs without dealing with a leader who frequently interrupts them or forces them to work with others.

The key to being a successful leader is meeting the needs of your subordinates whether that’s giving them encouragement or the independence to work alone.

Join the Science of People party!

Sign-up below to get our FREE monthly insights:





When you sign-up to Science of People Insights, something magical happens. Let us explain:

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a published author and behavioral investigator. She is a Huffington Post columnist and her courses and research has been featured on CNN, Forbes, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. As a published Penguin author, Vanessa regularly speaks and appears in the media to talk about her research. She is a sought after consultant and speaker.


As Seen On:

Get the FREE Resources: