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27 Feb 2014

Relating To Powerful People, The Gender Difference

Despite laws and education to the contrary, generally speaking, men and women bring different talents to the workplace. They bring different biases and views too. These include relating to powerful people.

Research Behind Genders Relating To Powerful People

Noah Goldstein (University of California, Los Angeles) and Nicholas Hays (New York University) did two experiments looking at 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.

In relating to powerful people, men and women differ.

Powerful people tend to have less of a powerful impact on women than on men.

In this case, Goldstein and Hays found that men, when relating to powerful people, felt more powerful after the interaction (“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. They said it was because “women are less motivated to characterize themselves as powerful.”

The Nature Of Power When Relating To Powerful People

Power often serves as a security emotional trigger. That means exposure to powerful messages, things and people will more likely trigger men’s need for security than women’s need. Since women also have security needs, perhaps historically and socially they’ve found other ways to satisfy this need.

For instance, feeling safe, comfortable and in control address the need for security too. Thus, exposure to messages, things and people satisfying these feelings might carry more sway over women than feeling powerful does.

The Problem Of One Size Fits Both Genders In Management

Yet, despite marketing differently to men and women, managing remains one size fits both. Moreover, it’s usually to fit males, literally. Heck, police uniforms don’t fit women. They’re made for men. If this happens in a physical sense, it happens in mental and emotional ones in management too.

In practical terms, this appears in communications, conversations, phrasing and word choice. The hearing the word “power” and relating to powerful people affect men and women differently. Yes, they don’t affect all men or all women the same.

In other words, when people say, “I treat all people the same,” they are very likely saying they treat them all as men. As a result, we might feel more objective. Yet, objectivity also means that we aren’t dealing with the unique aspects of each human.

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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