I was recently asked during a press interview to describe the best boss that I had ever worked for.

It wasn’t hard to do, as during my time at Sun Microsystems, when asked to drive a global project for 6 months in the US, I had the opportunity to work for one of the most impressive executives that I have met in the last 45 years.

The fact that she was a woman, and her having moved on to greater roles over the last 20 years despite a serious bout with illness, made me wonder whether women actually make better managers than do men.

Christine Lagarde, French Finance Minister and someone tipped as a potential future Prime Minister, and one of the few really impressive politicians that I have met (see « Vive l’European Parliament » posted 20/09/2010), believes that women make better policians than men « … because they are not slaves to their libidos », which she believes made them « … more able to make more cool-headed judgements ». She told the US Network ABC « This Week » programme on October 11, 2010 that « … men’s sex drive, testosterone and egos impaired their decision making ability ».

Christine Lagarde at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2007. Copyright by World Economic Forum by Remy Steinegger

If this is true, and I have a lot of admiration for Lagarde and not much for most politicians I have met, who did tend to be male, does the same hold true for management roles ? And if it is true, why are there not more women in senior management positions ?

In the Top 300 European companies women make up only about 12% of board members (up from 10% in 2008), although Norway at 38% does skew the results somewhat. The latest Catalyst figures show that women only make up 11% of Fortune 1000 company board members, and that 25% of the Fortune 1000 still have no female board members at all.

3 women managers of successful wine chateaux (close friends of mine)

Professor Khalid Aziz, CEO of Aziz Corporation, a leadership development « maven » believes that women managers have a « … less short term outlook and are more holistic, big picture and reasonable ».

He lists his top-10 reasons why women make better bosses than men :

1.      In a still sexist world, women have to be better than men to succeed.

2.      Women tend to be less « bullet-headed » than men and prefer to understand the big picture before proceeding.

3.      More adaptable to the needs to change

4.      More willing to see other people’s point of view

5.      Less bloody minded in conflict.

6.      More holistic people managers, understanding the different influences on staff.

7.      More willing to admit mistakes.

8.      Better at collaboration.

9.      More open to seeing their own failings.

10.  Better team players.

I once asked a male CEO why there were no women on his board, and he told me that he would love to have some women on the board, but hadn’t been able to find any that were suitable. I therefore asked him what were the backgrounds and qualities that he was looking for in a female board member, and he listed a long string of qualities that most of his current male board members didn’t actually have.

I guess that he just wasn’t really looking hard enough.



  1. martin metcalf says:

    Hi Les,
    My guess is that the answer is yes and no. The problem is that the current numbers are biased. I suspect that if there were as many women managers as men we would see a more even split of great and less- than-ordinary between the sexes. I would predict that the top 20% of male managers tick all the right boxes. The fact is today only the very best women make it to the top and therefore many less-than-ordinary male managers are in post. I don’t think I’ll see an even split in my lifetime. I once worked for a femal manager who had more testosterone than most of the men in her team. I also rank you up there as one of the best. Then again, after spending some time with Victoria………..

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Martin,
      I too believe that we won’t see an even split in my lifetime, despite a number of countries moving to quotas, which I hate, as the rush to meet the quota can make for speedy rather than sound selection. Norway was one of the first to go down this road, and I have met a few board appointees there that made me wonder about its real success in business terms. In the rest of Europe even companies that do have women on the board tend to favour the “softer roles” like HR. A long way to go, but as you say ” … only the very best women make it to the top …”

  2. John Irwin says:

    I agree with your views as to the attributes of women and how those can be valuable and important. It is important though, in understanding some of the challenges, to distinguish between management and directors (and, possibly, senior executive leadership). As directors, women may be effectively considered based on their specific background, wisdom, experience and acumen—and how that meets the Boards needs—-even if that does not reflect specific experience in the busness or activities of the organization. As a manager, it can sometimes be more difficult in certain industries, no matter how bright and deserving, for a woman to obtain the field experience needed to rise in the ranks and take on a headquarters line management role. That, of course, depends on the person and, possibly, the functional area—operations, marketing, HR and so on—where the importance of demonstrated field, regional or subsidiary experience can vary. Quotas are not the solution.

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