0
Professional News
Women's Psychological Traits Pave Creative Leadership Path
Psychiatric News
Volume 44 Number 6 page 12-31

Women hold all sorts of positions of power these days. For example, Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Angela Merkel is chancellor of Germany, and as of January Carol Bartz is chief executive officer (CEO) of Yahoo!, a Fortune 500 company.

What makes such women tick? What psychological traits or behaviors contribute to their professional success or for others hinder their achievements?FIG1

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Prudence Gourguechon, M.D.: "I have found an authoritative voice [as APsaA president], but it is also strange and eerie and a way of speaking and acting that I had never used before." 

Credit: Joan Arehart-Treichel

Several psychoanalysts tackled these questions at the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) meeting in New York City in January at the session "When Women Lead: Power and Authority in the Organization." They were Prudence Gourguechon, M.D., a Chicago analyst and president of APsaA; Laura Huggler, Ph.D., a West Bloomfield, Mich., analyst who consults to companies and has worked with a number of women CEOs; and Kenneth Settel, M.D., a Brookline, Mass., analyst.

Some women in leadership positions seem to naturally have what it takes to be successful, a January 16 New York Times article about Bartz suggested. The article described Bartz as "combative, decisive, and very much in command" and as a person who displays "a mix of candor and toughness." Whether Bartz is really a "natural" or whether she had to work on her leadership style to become so successful is not clear from this article.

What is clear, however, is that other women have to make some effort to become successful leaders, just as some men do. Gourguechon cited herself as an example. During the six months that she has been president of APsaA, Gourguechon said, she has "found an authoritative voice, but it is also strange and eerie and a way of speaking and acting that I had never used before."FIG2

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Laura Huggler, Ph.D., a Michigan psychoanalyst, is a consultant to various companies and has worked with a number of female CEOs. 

Credit: Joan Arehart-Treichel

To illustrate the point further, Huggler described the case of a woman who was a CEO of a nonprofit organization.

The CEO, "Sarah," had a number of positive qualities—"she was warm and engaging, she had an astute political sense, and she was great at fundraising." However, when she was absent from her office, her "staff was on the edge of mutiny," and there was a lot of in-house fighting. Moreover, there was "Beth," Sarah's second-in-command. Beth was rigid and authoritative; she thought that only she knew what was best for the operation. A "competitive struggle" ensued between the two women. Beth grew bolder and bolder; Sarah capitulated to her demands. Only after extensive psychotherapy did Sarah come to realize that she unconsciously identified her dictatorial, intimidating subordinate Beth with her own dictatorial, intimidating mother, and only then was she able to take steps to fire Beth.

But how aggressive must women be to lead effectively? There doesn't seem to be an easy answer to this question, Settel noted. Women leaders need to be tough enough to confront people and to make hard decisions, yet when they exhibit such stalwartness, they may be criticized for being brash or showboating. Gourguechon agreed: as a woman in power, it may be hard to" strike the right note" as far as aggression is concerned.

But are women in leadership positions at a disadvantage because, according to popular belief, they are innately less forceful than men are? Gourguechon doesn't think so. She believes that women are at least as combative as men are. However, the way that women express their combativeness tends to differ from the way men express theirs, she observed. Men tend to display theirs through fighting, whereas women are apt to display theirs through envy or hostility.

How about maternal instincts? Do they have any place in female leadership? Sometimes, Gourguechon contended. For example, when women leaders take a less authoritative and more nurturing approach with their staff, it can be a positive move. Also, Gourguechon said she views her presidency of APsaA" as if I have a big household to run" and believes that such a stance is an attribute for the job.

However, a maternal instinct that women in power need to subdue, Gourguechon cautioned, is the impulse to always respond to the needs of others. In other words, they need to grow out of the Girl Friday role, where they are everybody's favorite person for getting the work done, and to learn how to delegate responsibility. ▪

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Prudence Gourguechon, M.D.: "I have found an authoritative voice [as APsaA president], but it is also strange and eerie and a way of speaking and acting that I had never used before." 

Credit: Joan Arehart-Treichel

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Laura Huggler, Ph.D., a Michigan psychoanalyst, is a consultant to various companies and has worked with a number of female CEOs. 

Credit: Joan Arehart-Treichel

Interactive Graphics

Video

NOTE:
Citing articles are presented as examples only. In non-demo SCM6 implementation, integration with CrossRef’s "Cited By" API will populate this tab (http://www.crossref.org/citedby.html).
Related Articles
Articles