Leadership

Workers would pay to have a boss with these 10 traits, new research finds

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on "The Office."
NBCUniversal | Getty Images
Steve Carell as Michael Scott on "The Office."

You might think you want a cheerful boss who is cooperative and values community. But in reality, you probably don't.

New research from New York University finds that both men and women see stereotypically male traits such as assertiveness and competitiveness as must-haves'for successful leaders.

Meanwhile, stereotypically female traits such as patience and sensitivity were considered as non-essential or just nice to have.

Researchers argue that preference for these certain types of leadership traits could explain why there are fewer women in positions of power.

In the findings, published in the journal "Frontiers in Psychology," researchers ran two studies to understand how men and women perceive what makes a great leader by focusing on attributes often associated with certain genders.

For the first study, 273 men and women were given a budgets of "leader dollars" to purchase traits to create their ideal leader. The two charts below list the stereotypical traits, both positive and negative, associated with men and women.

(The research did not consider whether the participants saw the traits as stereotypically masculine or feminine, relying instead on previous research establishing that such stereotypes exist.)

Positive traits stereotypical to male and female leaders

Men
Women
Capable Good-natured
Competent Sincere
Confident Tolerant
Common sense Happy
Intelligent Trustworthy
Ambitious Cooperative
Assertive Patient
Competitive Polite
Decisive Sensitive
Self-reliant Cheerful
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The more leader dollars the participants had, the more likely they were to value traits such as tolerance and sensitivity — but only when more masculine traits like assertiveness were already met.

If leader dollars ran short, both men and women saw community and sincerity as luxuries, spending their money instead on traits such as decisiveness and ambition.

Negative traits associated with male and female leaders

Men
Women
Arrogant Emotional
Controlling Naive
Rebellious Shy
Cynical Weak
Stubborn Yielding
NYU via CNBC Make It

Participants could also use their "leader dollars" to indicate how much they would pay for their ideal boss to not have certain negative traits.

The result: more people used their leader dollars eliminate negative traits such as arrogance stereotypically associated with men. Leader dollars only went toward stereotypically feminine traits until typically masculine traits had been accounted for.

In the second study, participants were asked to imagine themselves as either bosses or assistants and identify the traits they'd need to succeed. Both men and women saw traits like assertiveness as more important for leaders and agreeableness more essential for assistants.

The study's results highlight the fact that successful leaders are seen by men and women to need traditionally masculine traits. Women especially might feel that feminine traits put them at a disadvantage, says lead researcher Andrea Vial, a postdoctoral research associate at New York University.

The research could also explain why gender diversity has been so difficult to achieve. Says Vial, "Our results suggest that the concentration of men in top decision-making roles such as corporate boards and chief executive offices may be self-sustaining because men in particular tend to devalue more communal styles of leadership — and men are typically the gatekeepers to top organizational positions of prestige and authority."

Researchers did not establish whether an ideal leader was a man or woman in the given context. It's possible, the researchers say, that participants' biases might have led them to automatically envision a male leader.

Still, the research has a surprising bright side: women may be more supportive than men of leaders who exhibit more stereotypically feminine leadership styles.

This could be transformative as some have predicted that traits such as communalty could define leadership in the 21st century, giving women an important advantage. "Our research suggests women might be more willing than men to embrace this trend," says Vial.

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