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27 Feb 2014

Men, Women and the Power Difference

PowerDespite laws and education to the contrary, men and women bring different but complementary talents to the workplace. They also bring different biases and perspectives such as those toward power.

Noah Goldstein (University of California, Los Angeles) and Nicholas Hays (New York University) conducted two experiments investigating what is called “illusory power transference.” Just as restaurants’ ambiances can influence our food tastes or trees influence our thoughts at business retreats, people influence our perceptions of ourselves without actively doing anything to do so.

In this case, Goldstein and Hays found that men, when associating with powerful people, felt more powerful after the association (“The Powerful Effect (on Men) of Thinking about the Powerful” [Harvard Business Review, May 2013 edition]). They “were more optimistic, confident and risk seeking, even though they could not leverage that person’s power.” For instance, they bet 40% more money in the experiment than other men who did not have an association with a powerful person. Women did not experience this effect primarily because “women are less motivated to characterize themselves as powerful.”

Power often serves as a security emotional trigger, meaning exposure to powerful messages, things and people will likely trigger men’s emotions causing them to alter their behavior. Since women also have security needs, we would need to find other feelings such as those of safety and comfort to trigger it.

Yet, despite marketing and retailing differently to men and women, we lead and manage as though they’re one gender, usually male. We completely ignore simple, but very important, attitudinal differences such as those toward power. Pragmatically, we don’t alter our communications, conversations, phrasing or word choice. As a result, we might feel more objective, but objectivity doesn’t ensure effectiveness when dealing with humans.

2 Responses

  1. Thank Mike!

    This is one, if not, THE best post on gender differences. Fortunately or unfortunately, dependent upon your view — this has been gaining momentum lately as if it is something new.

    Yet, your perspective is unique — the difference between how the genders view power.

    I really REALLY enjoyed this – thank YOU!


    1. Mike Lehr

      Thank you, Jeannette. I appreciate your enthusiastic endorsement of this post. I have been thinking about writing a series of posts on this, and I believe you’ve pushed me over the edge! If this subject really is a passion of yours which it sounds like it is, you might want to seriously consider the book I wrote: The Feminine Influence in Business (http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Feminine_Influence_In_Business.html?id=IZml8Ma_zfYC). I try to show other kinds of power that aren’t readily visible, tangible and quantifiable, but yet are still very important. I also believe that not only do genders view power differently, but they have different powers to use.

      Let’s face it though. The power women have isn’t very well documented and organized as a management concept for business. Men have basically created and developed management theory, thought and practices. It is only natural that they will orient those things around men’s vision of power and their natural abilities. I do believe the time will come when a woman will step forth and present an alternative business management theory that will help us all integrate the many powers we all have into a more complete leadership and management model.

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