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Marty Linsky

Marty Linsky

Co-founder of the leadership-focused consulting firm, Cambridge Leadership Associates, Marty Linsky teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, co-authors the advice column, Leadership House Call and blogs at Linsky on Leadership .

Imagining "Ellen" Greenspan

If Alan Greenspan had been Ellen Greenspan and Richard Fuld had been Rachel Fuld, we would not be in this big a mess. There is little doubt that with more women in top positions in Wall Street and government, the economic crisis would have been less severe.

Of course, no one knows the answer for sure. And the women who to come to power in male-dominated organizations often get there because they can play well by the men's rules.

But the research is unequivocal: Men taking increasingly unreasonable risks created the house of cards which is now crumbling around us.and women take fewer and less dangerous risks than men. Heterogeneous groups out-perform homogeneous groups. Corporations are more likely to have conflict-of-interest guidelines and codes of conduct if they have decent representation of women on their Boards of Directors.

But the most fundamental reality goes back to our days as hunters and gatherers. Men are hard wired to go out and find food and protect the family from the bad guys. Women are nurturers, hard wired to care for friends and family, to cross hierarchical boundaries, and to perform well when communication, innovation, collaboration and teamwork are necessary. It is no surprise that a disproportionate share of the corporate whistle-blowers are women.

Women often embody a different leadership practice to the table, with a longer term perspective and a greater sensitivity to more enduring values.

Interestingly enough, a good reason to be optimistic about the Obama presidency is that he brings many of those qualities to the White House, those qualities we typically and stereotypically associate with women. In the most important respects, we may have our first female president after all.

By Marty Linsky

 |  March 9, 2009; 4:22 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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Linsky's argument is based on a well-worn and accepted cliche of gender roles. It fits in with existing belief structures, of course, but doesn't constitute "fundamental reality" any more than do high heeled shoes. As the Post and other news outlets have shown over the past several months, women are increasingly hard wired to bring home the bacon. To suggest, in so many words, that the gentle sex is simply too nurturing to make dangerous mistakes relies on cultural ideals of female behavior rather than facts.

It is convenient to use gender conventions to make claims of female moral superiority, but unfortunately rather Victorian. Let's not blame this crisis on the innate brutality of men: it was an entirely avoidable catastrophe inspired by poor decisions, not an inevitable result of biology.

Posted by: arden1 | March 9, 2009 10:46 AM
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