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Patricia McGinnis
Public Affairs leader

Patricia McGinnis

Former President and CEO of The Council for Excellence in Government, McGinnis teaches leadership at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute and advises the White House on leadership programs for presidential appointees.

Generation Not Gender

Now that you mention it, almost all of the titans of Wall Street, as well as corporate CEOs, members of the Fed, and other government overseers of financial institutions are men. Hmmm...an interesting pattern. But do I think that gender is a major factor in terrible state of our economy and banking system? Not exactly.

I think leadership style and culture are much more important than gender, and the generational differences will probably be more significant than the Y chromosone in the future.

Agressive, machiavellian leadership that is focused on top-down transactions and the use of information, rewards or sanctions to produce the desired result is often associated with "masculine" leaders. Think masters of the universe or barbarians at the gate. More collaborative styles of listening, consulting, analyzing and acting in ways that balance benefits, consequences and relationships with a sense of context and nuance are often described as "feminine."

Today, in a world of flattened communications, many interrelated players and moving parts, this "feminine" style of participatory leadership is usually more effective. It is practiced by men and women, strategically combining collaborative approaches with top down direction, when appropriate.

For example, President Obama seems to have a more collaborative, nuanced leadership style than his democratic opponent Hillary Clinton or his predecessor, George W. Bush. Fixing the economy is not going to happen with a purely aggressive, top-down approach. Persuasive communications and cooperation will have to be combined with some tough enforcement of reasonable constraints in the context of the uber important perception of consumers and entrepreneurs.

Collaboration may come more naturally to women in our culture, especially among baby boomers. It also comes more naturally to Generation Y than older hierarchical types. And the up and comers are not tainted by old stereotypes, which brings to mind a family story.

When she was five, my now 23 year old daughter brought the family dinner conversation to an abrupt silence, when she spoke up and asked, "Mommy, can men ever be the boss?" I was amazed and delighted -- and speechless for a minute. My husband and son were also taken aback, perhaps for somewhat different reasons. But for her generation (and my son's -- also Gen Y), leadership is not about men or women -- it's about values, commitment, keeping many balls in the air, networking, communicating , listening, and doing what needs to be done in the context of what's happening around you.

It is possible that if women were in charge of Wall Street, the decisions would have been more balanced, but as the next generation takes the helm of these and other institutions, hopefully it won't matter.

By Patricia McGinnis

 |  March 10, 2009; 11:01 AM ET
Category:  Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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