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Androgynous Leadership

What's Most Important to You?

If you had to vote for your next supervisor, which of these four candidates would you like as your next boss? These are their names and traits:









In other words,

  1. Riley is competitive and assertive

  2. Pat is competitive and sympathetic

  3. Kerry is compassionate and assertive

  4. Alex is compassionate and sympathetic

I would pick Kerry.

Before I explain why I asked, I have another question.


Had you heard the word androgynous? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines androgynous as “Having both male and female characteristics or qualities,” or as “Suitable for both men and women.” I don’t want to start thinking of my chocolate ice cream as androgynous (because it’s suitable for everybody!), so we’ll stick with the first definition (although the names I picked for the managers are androgynous, which in this case is synonymous with unisex.)

Based on the first definition, two of the managers described above are androgynous because they have one characteristic considered masculine and another one considered feminine. They are Kerry and Pat. Kerry is compassionate (feminine) and assertive (masculine), and Pat is competitive (masculine) and sympathetic (feminine).









The other two managers are not androgynous: Riley has two masculine characteristics, and Alex’s two traits are feminine.

If you are like most people, chances are you picked any manager except the one with the two feminine traits (Alex), because you find their traits more desirable in a manager [i].

Now, make no mistake: I did not say that some qualities are feminine or masculine. I said that's how they are considered by most people. People tend to assign a gender to qualities, based on stereotypes, which is one of the reasons why it's harder for women to break the glass ceiling. (We also tend to assign gender to colors, which is why I colored the feminine traits in pink and the masculine ones in blue. Not that I believe colors are gendered, but I'm making this article easier for readers (with common stereotypes).

What Lessons Can Women Learn From This Research?

The research quoted here highlights the benefits to women of developing (and displaying) some traits stereotypically considered masculine in order to be seen as more managerial (while at the same time remaining likable).

Femininity per se does not seem to be considered as desirable in a manager[ii]. Keep in mind that femininity in this context does not mean wearing makeup or high heels—it’s used to mean traits that many (including me) would consider gender neutral, such as being understanding or loyal.

Not All Masculine Traits Are Desirable

Be cautious. As you can imagine, not all traits are considered equally likable. In a recent study, researchers compiled a list of 555 traits and ranked them.

Aren't you curious to know which were most and the least desirable traits associated with each gender?

Here's your answer:




Ambitious, individualistic

Aggressive, forceful


Understanding, loyal

Shy, gullible

Is There a Lesson for Men Too?

Of course! Not only can male readers benefit from knowing the masculine traits most and least desirable, but they can also benefit by knowing that

  • The most likable (or charismatic) people balance behaviors that display competence (stereotypically considered masculine) with behaviors that display warmth (stereotypically viewed as feminine)

  • Traits are not gendered. The best leaders, of any gender, display traits that reflect agency (stereotypically considered masculine) and traits that reflect they are communal/nurturing (stereotypically considered feminine).

I'll elaborate on both topics in future posts.


Which traits do you already possess?

Do they correspond to the stereotypes of your gender?


[i] Arkkelin, D. (1985). The "Good Manager": Sex-Typed, Androgynous, or Likable? Sex Roles, Vol. 12, Nos. 11/12.

[ii] Ibid.

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