Leadership of the sexes – book review

Leadership and the SexesI am always looking for new ways to improve my ability to communicate professionally and personally. I’ve read many books on Leadership but when Tom Peters recommended Leadership and the Sexes** by Michael Gurian and Barbara Annis I immediately added it to the list. We all know men and women communicate differently. But how many of us realized that these differences are linked to chemical differences in the brain? The promises to equip you with the new tools based on science to both manage teams as well as market products and services more effectively. It promises to help both men and women understand and gain respect for the other.

Michael Gurian also wrote The Wonder of Girls, a book that’s helped me in understanding how my daughter relates in the world. He’s spent a career trying to understand gender differences and helping companies understand how these differences impact them. Barbara started studying these differences out of her personal experiences where she felt she had to become more like a man to rise up the corporate ladder – and wasn’t satisfied with the notion that women had to give up who they were to succeed.

This book details the very real differences in how men and women lead and perform at work – based on brain science. For example, women tend to need to talk things out – not seeking solutions so much as an ear to listen. Men often try to fix things immediately – causing frustration when a woman just wants to be heard. Women tend to be natural multi-taskers while men like to focus on one task and compartmentalize things more. Men are also much more competitive, interrupting often to assert their knowledge and position – growing out of their initial role as hunters. But these are generalities and there are always exceptions. Gurian and Annis emphasize repeatedly that there are those with a “third-brain” which is a combination of the two. They also provide a quick survey in the back for you to find out what kind of brain you have.

Some key differences between our brains:

  • women have 15 to 20 percent higher blood flow in their brain enabling different parts of their brain to work together differently than a man’s brain.
  • men’s brains shut off several times daily whereas women’s do not contributing to different ways of conversing, listening, and working. These rest states often give women the impression that men aren’t listening.
  • a woman’s brain uses different parts of their brain to process information at different times than a man’s, which is why each focuses on different tasks, things and solutions.
  • women tend to talk more than men because their hippocampus – major memory center – is more active and has a stronger linkage between memory and word centers.
  • men’s occipital and parietal lobes* are less active, affecting how men handle conflict and negotiation; the authors detail how women and men negotiate differently – making it important to have both genders work together on high-stakes negotiations.
  • women are more able to connect what they hear, read and see into written words

*The occipital lobe is the area at the back of the brain that processes visual information; in simplistic terms, the parietal lobe processes sensory and spatial information.

More a practical guide than salacious journey on gender, the book begins with a primer on gender science – which I found to be the most fascinating part, then moves onto what they call GenderTools (and used in their gender-based training programs). With each chapter, they provide you with exercises, checklists and strategies for applying these tools in your company. These five GenderTools are:

  • Improving Negotiation Skills with both Genders;
  • Running Gender-balanced meetings;
  • Improving communication skills with women and men;
  • Improving conflict resolution skills with men and women;
  • Focusing on mentoring and coaching.

The third and final part details specific applications of the tools with chapters devoted to helping both men and women. Perhaps because they provide a better laboratory for studying the impact of improving gender intelligence, large corporations are the success stories sprinkled throughout the book. At IBM, gender analysis was one of the tools CEO Lou Gerstner used to turn IBM around – reducing turnover among women, and increasing productivity. They attribute this as a key factor to the growth in IBM’s small and medium-size business sales and marketing unit from $10 Million to $100 Million in five years. Deloitte and Touche was another success story – saving millions lost when the women they recruited and trained moved to competitors out of a lack of opportunity to rise up the ladder. But the tools are no less applicable to those at smaller companies; it just might be more difficult to see large, direct effects on profitability. More likely you’ll achieve higher job satisfaction and reduced turnover.

Leadership and the Sexes is one of those books you’ll want to reference from time to time. There is no fluff here and it can be a dry read at times – challenging for those easily distracted. It’s nothing like Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. But every chapter delivers insights you can use today. With thorough research, documentation and examples, Gurian and Annis make a strong case for why improving gender intelligence matters. Notes and resources provided at the back for each chapter show just how much research went into the book – and gives readers craving more plenty to chew on.

The authors emphasize that neither gender is more intelligent or better than the other. But biological differences strongly influence how each approaches work, communication and conflict. What’s important is balancing and harnessing these differences to build stronger, more sustainable businesses.

My measure of any book’s success is whether I gain at least one new idea that improves my ability to understand and communicate and it delivers. While I’ve always been aware of how men and women communicate differently, I found the book to be a great primer in understanding why. To get the most out of this book, you need to discuss these tools and try the exercises with your team. The important take-away from the book is how leaders can combine innate differences like men’s competitive drive and women’s ability to build relationships to gain a competitive advantage. Particularly useful in our hyper-competitive digital age.

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