Leadership

Barack Obama says women make better leaders—and data shows he’s right

Former U.S. President Barack Obama answers questions at the Gates Foundation Inaugural Goalkeepers event on September 20, 2017 in New York City.
Yana Paskova | Getty Images
Former U.S. President Barack Obama answers questions at the Gates Foundation Inaugural Goalkeepers event on September 20, 2017 in New York City.

A recent Gallup Poll found that when it comes to bosses, Americans no longer prefer a man over a woman. As women continue striving for representation as leaders, former U.S. President Barack Obama recently shared a message heard around the world: More women need to be put in positions of power "because men seem to be having some problems these days," he said at an invitation-only event in Paris Saturday, AFP reports.

"Not to generalize but women seem to have a better capacity than men do, partly because of their socialization," Obama said.

Keeping in tradition with past presidents who travel abroad once their terms are up, Obama spearheaded a five-day, three-country tour, which ended in France. Obama's response was prompted by a question about leadership qualities for the future at an event organized by "Les Napoleons," a network of communications professionals.

Obama's remarks come during a time when countless women across various industries, including tech, finance, media and politics, have made serious allegations against men in power over sexual harassment and discrimination.

Although Obama didn't mention any particular male leaders who are currently having problems, he did speak of "the importance of more focus on putting women in power, because men seem to be having some problems these days."

It turns out that Obama isn't alone in thinking this way. A recent study of 51,418 leaders in the U.S. and internationally finds women are considered more effective than male leaders.

In an update to leadership development firm Zenger Folkman's 2012 survey data published in the Harvard Business Review, company president Joe Folkman provided CNBC Make It the results of the company's latest survey.

Folkman is a psychometrician, or a psychologist with a specialty in computer science and statistics, who designed a tool to measure leadership effectiveness. The firm notes that although more women have been entering the U.S. workforce and contributing growth to the nation's GDP, women remain an untapped resource.

Folkman's research found that female leaders rank the highest in their ability to take initiative and drive results. In total, women scored higher than men in 13 out of the 16 leadership competencies Folkman's research measure for, tying only for their tendency to be innovative.

As highly regarded as women may be, they still deal with comparably lower confidence in their skills and abilities.

"Are women naturally less confident? Probably not. But if in a situation where people are doubting you or questioning your abilities, that would even make me less confident," Folkman says. "I think it's more about the company culture that creates that lack of confidence."

If women feel stress or lack of confidence at their jobs, it's likely less about their technical abilities and more about company culture.

"In organizations where women don't feel like second-class citizens and they don't feel abused, they actually feel empowered. They feel like they're taken seriously and like they have a future there," Folkman says.

During Obama's talk in Paris, he added that he appreciated people who question themselves and those around them using questions such as:

  • How can I make the people around me better?
  • How do I empower them?
  • How do I build a team where everyone is pulling together to get something done?

"A great leader can connect with people, and we find that as leaders progress in an organization, their ability to empathize and understand people is absolutely critical for a senior executive," Folkman says. "If a leader doesn't do that, they don't get the kind of engagement and commitment from employees."

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