Andy’s Quick Hits (53): Surprising Results Showing When Women are Perceived as More Effective Leaders than Men

Andy Hab
2 min readJul 28, 2021

I’ve written and spoken extensively on unconscious bias and gender stereotypes — and even though some of these, are, and should be outdated, many still persist.

One of these is that “women are too emotional” for senior leadership positions. I’ve seen many very emotional male leaders in senior leadership positions, and have seen some of the worst emotional decision making in men — that’s another topic for another day.

But this recent paper published came up with some surprise results and conditions in which women can be seen as more effective leaders.

What emotions make leaders seem more effective?

First off, Thomas Sy and Daan Knippenberg of the University of California asked participants what emotions they considered made effective or ineffective leaders. And they identified six emotional schemas in two groups.

Effective leadership was associated with:

  • Cheer
  • Calm
  • Pride

And ineffective leadership was associated with:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Remorse

This in itself is insightful but what was more interesting, from a gender perspective, is that women who expressed the positive leadership emotions were rated as more effective than men. And, yes, men do have more leeway than women in expressing the negative emotions.

This may also be counterintuitive with many women feeling they should be more assertive and have to be tougher than the men in senior leadership positions. This piece of research shows that is not the case (also assertive women are quickly categorised as aggressive in contrast to men).

Another positive effect is that some research also shows that these positive emotions also contribute to the effectiveness of the team and subordinates by creating a positive productive atmosphere.

“The leader’s emotions are contagious, spread throughout the team, and affect effectiveness of the whole group.” — Thomas Sy

So, women, to be seen as more effective leaders focus on expressing positive emotions specifically: cheer, calm, and pride. It won’t harm you men either!

Andy publishes a quick hit every weekday on all things the brain, behaviour, and business. Please follow to receive your daily dose.

Andy is author of leading brains Review a monthly e-magazine on all things the brain, behaviour, and business

Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!