Today, people who join organisations seek engaging leadership. They demand that their leaders be competent, personable and charismatic. They want to be inspired.

But additionally, they want to be part of something significant, an endeavour greater than they could achieve by themselves. These demands place significant responsibility on their leaders.

Do women have different expectations of leadership than men? What do women perceive as successful leadership?

A sound flow of information and knowledge are essential for leaders to maintain their position and to sustain their teams.

Unfortunately, in the traditional approach, the leader’s behaviour is governed by fear of wayward behaviour of employees that may damage the company or undermine the leader. Consequently, there is a lack of trust and respect.

Communication is purely transactional. There is little true leadership operating in this model — it is a pure management approach designed to control the employees.

Being authentic is an essential leadership characteristic. Unfortunately, women in leadership positions for the first time may model behaviours that are not naturally their own. They tend to imitate other leaders, often men whom they perceive as strong and decisive and, consequently, they lack authenticity.

Being real as a leader is essential if the leader is to gain respect and influence.

Building communities

Conversely, leadership should be about community building. If leadership is about influence, then leaders must engage with their teams as a community that shares knowledge and information because to influence others, the leader needs to share information and knowledge to engage and inspire action.

Authentic leaders respect employees’ rights to information and knowledge. They build communities that appoint knowledge gathering as a community responsibility, which leads to greater productivity.

When women lead

Women tend to be more supportive of leadership styles that build and encourage community, cooperation and collaboration.

In a 2007 McKinsey study, it was identified that companies with three or more women in senior management roles performed better than companies that had no women in these functions.

Companies with women in senior roles outperformed their sectors in terms of return on equity, operating result and stock price growth. Women who use community-building leadership styles tend to prize the development of cooperation and collaboration ahead of short-term gains.

Therefore, it can be said that female leaders who build community tend to have sustainable achievements over time.

Although women may tend to favour community-building leadership approaches, it does not explain why their teams tend to be high performing and have sustainable achievements over time.

Cooperative effort

The secret is not so much the leader as the behaviours of the employees. A community by its nature shares and cooperates. Certain conditions are set in action when individuals choose to cooperate rather than compete.

Pruitt and Kimmel (1977), writing a paper on experimental gaming, identified that when a goal of mutual cooperation exists and there is a clear expectation that people will cooperate, cooperation is successful.

Essentially, cooperation occurs because people can justify to themselves that cooperation is a good thing and the likelihood of anyone taking a free ride is low.

Consequently, leaders who encourage cooperative effort in their teams are likely to establish the foundational conditions necessary for work community cooperation to occur.

Research has demonstrated the advantages of cooperative behaviour among co-workers, particularly in the advancement of knowledge and learning.

Learning in teams improves information retention as the interaction between co-workers regarding the application of the information creates more associations with current knowledge than can be done alone.

These associations between pieces of information are an important part of the memory creation process.

Additionally, learning cooperatively improves self-confidence as the learning participants recognise and reward each other during the process of discussing the information and its applications.

Finally, cooperative learners build higher-level thinking skills as they discuss and apply the information.

Leaders who encourage community building among their employees and foster cooperative practices are teaching their employees crucial skills in how to work together productively and how to learn faster and more effectively.