The 7 Characteristics That Give Women a Distinct Advantage

After many years of serving in various leadership positions and with both women and men reporting to me, and even more years observing other leaders, I firmly believe that women, by a fairly wide margin, can often make better leaders than men. This holds true in both the business world AND the nonprofit world.

I base this line of reasoning on my years in sales, management and serving as a CEO in the business world and in various nonprofit volunteer and board service capacities. Women business owners were usually more deliberate and fact-based in their decision making, and always wanted validation of points I made in my sales “pitches”. While always professional, they really worked me hard and made me earn (or re-earn) the sale every year. I came to like that because it kept me at the top of my sales and service game. I had to be sharp and deliver the goods or I was out the door. 

In the nonprofit world, I find women leaders generally excel in several areas critical to authentic leadership. This does not mean men are poor leaders—not at all. I just believe as a group, women “get it” in ways men sometimes don’t. 

There are 7 powerful characteristics I see most often, in successful women leaders — especially in the nonprofit realm.

  1. Passion— My own personal experience tells me that women are more willing to show their passion far more than we men are. While we men may make the case for support through data and facts, women leaders combine stories with the data more effectively than we do. This is a key advantage when making public presentations to organizations or when discussing an agency’s mission one-on-one. This can be extremely helpful, when making a “big ask”.
  2. Collaboration —I find women are more open to working together with others to get the best outcome. We men can be territorial and less wiling to let go of control.
  3. Coachability —I believe women highly value and are more open to coaching than we men. When women are lost, they ask directions; when men are lost…see my point?
  4. Continuously Learning —Women strike me as more open to learning new skills, challenging the status quo and questioning the sacred cows every organization has. They are not afraid to ask questions when they want to understand something better. We men…less so.
  5. Transparency—Women are more transparent and quicker to admit they don’t understand something whereas we men tend to try and finesse our way through things.
  6. Detail Oriented—While being overly detail-oriented can be a detriment to a leader, women seem to be able to smell a rat when things don’t seem quite right about a proposal, a program, etc.
  7. Team Players—Along with transparency and collaboration, women seem more willing to work with others rather than going it alone, including sharing the kudos for successes.

This is not to say that men can’t or don’t make successful nonprofit leaders — I know many that are truly effective in their roles. They just bring an alternate perspective and attitude, and tend to approach things in different way.

I believe if any leader wants to improve his or her leadership, they need to look where leadership is thriving, study it, and effectively identify what can learned from it. No matter their gender, I am convinced if you want to become a better leader, you need to excel at the seven mentioned characteristics.

So what do you think? Do women leaders have an advantage over men in the nonprofit space? Do you notice the seven characteristics more in women or men? How would you evaluate your own leadership based on these seven? 

If you want to learn more about your nonprofit Leadership Style, check out this article or visit the Leadership Styles Quiz.