New Study Shows Women Do It Better Than MenJack Zenger and Joe Folkman ignited a firestorm of interest and debate with their March Harvard Business Review blog post Are Women Better Leaders than Men? Based on a recent survey of 7,280 leaders the study reinforced some long held beliefs and uncovered a few surprises in the gender debate.

They did confirm that 2/3 of leaders are men, and in higher organizational levels there are even higher numbers of men in charge. And women proved to be better at nurturing competencies such as developing others and building relationships.

But women’s strengths went much further and were broader than the nurturing stereotypes. Zenger and Folkman found, “at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows.”  Women were rated higher in 12 of the 16 competencies derived from 30 years of research and ZengerFolkman’s large survey database.

Their blog post has generated over 200 comments and perspectives on this issue so far. The Washington Post reports on “a whirlwind of response … one of the most read articles on the (HBR) site in the past 30 days.”  Jena McGregor published an interview with Zenger and Folkman last Friday. Here are a few interesting conclusions:

  • Women’s overall higher ratings weren’t just for their “soft skills” such as communications and nurturing. They were also ahead of most men in “taking initiative,” “practicing self-development,” and “driving for results.”
  • Women tend to be more motivated, seek feedback more often, and do a better job of learning from it.
  • Men performed better than women at customer service.
  • Many organizations are sitting on a huge pool of talented women that is being underutilized.
  • Joe Folkman urges us to see beyond this as a gender issue. He explains, “if you really want to be a great leader, be a little paranoid. Ask for feedback. We are very optimistic in the ability for people to develop these skills.”
  • Senior managers rated the women in this study even more positively overall than did peers or direct reports.

Here’s where you can explore more interviews and articles on this and related research:

To all those men in senior executive roles — especially technical organizations — wake up! Jack Zenger noted that “when looking at the percentage of males and females who were rated the highest and the lowest, females have a lower percentage of the worst and a higher percentage of the best.” Why aren’t you using all that strength?