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Women Leadership and Twenty-First Century Challenges


The leadership style of female managers is particularly well suited to meeting the challenges of the twenty-first century.

If we want to address the social, political, and economic challenges of today more effectively, then we need to make choices that support women leaders to lead in ways that are congruent with female values and experience.

Studies by Alice Eagly of Northwestern University show women leadership in the 21st century as more transformational than their male colleagues. Transformational leadership is a style that motivates followers to improve performance. Transformational leaders use emotional support to improve performance based on their followers’ increased emotional commitment. Transformational leaders often give and receive non-verbal cues that allow them to be more effective and charismatic.

Transformational leadership skills have a positive impact on all levels of performance—individual, team, and organizational. In general, transformational leadership has been found to improve followers’ performance. As Aviolo and Bass have pointed out in their groundbreaking books on leadership, there is a growing trend in business towards high involvement work teams, consensus decision making, and empowerment. The transformational style of women in leadership challenges is ideally suited to these newer approaches in business. There is evidence that the transformational style of leadership is particularly well suited to innovation and many of us in the strategy field see innovation as the key to the success of organizations and countries in the 21st century.

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In societies across the globe, men have traditionally dominated in paid employment roles and women have dominated in caretaking roles. As a result, male leadership is more closely associated with agentic behavior (making things happen, independent and assertive behavior) and women leadership is more associated with more communal characteristics (caring, sympathetic, kind, concerned with the greater good).

This gender-based division of leadership is changing at varying rates in different countries, and women are more and more stepping up into leadership roles in the majority of societies of the world—although no society has yet achieved 100% gender equality. We can say, however, that the Scandinavian countries are the most advanced in this regard. Alex Ross, who was the Senior Advisor for Innovation for the Secretary of State recently wrote in The Industries of the Future, “There is no greater indicator of an innovation culture than the empowerment of women.”

The Center for Innovation on Women Leadership (CiWL, ciwleadership.com) at Alliant University, is working with a dual mission to both support women leaders and to create greater legitimacy for models of leadership congruent with women’s values. In subsequent blogs, we can look at other leadership styles prevalent among women leaders, such as authentic leadership and shared or distributed leadership, issues such as ethical decision-making, and women leadership.

Dr. Kelly is a Professor of Strategy and Leadership and Program Director of PhD In Leadership and Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) at the School of Management & Leadership at Alliant International University in San Diego, California.


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