Women Leading Men at Work

How to lead men in a professional setting: I’ll admit I don’t have much to say on this topic. It’s not because I haven’t led men, and it’s not because the topic doesn’t matter. It’s because I don’t think a lot needs to be said. When women lead men in their work, gender doesn’t have to be an issue.

In general, women with leadership gifts know how to lead people. And as you practice your skills and receive training, you grow in those abilities and hone your instincts. If you can successfully lead women, you should be able to successfully lead men. Whether gender becomes an issue is largely up to you.

So how can you keep it from becoming an issue? Cover the basics. If you’re charged with leading men in a professional setting, here are five ways you can apply good leadership principles to leading them:

  • Respect them as people. This is just as important for women you’re leading, but for some women respecting men might be more difficult. Let’s face it: many of us have family-of-origin or other issues that taint our relationships with men. If you try to lead anyone who doesn’t feel your respect, you won’t get his best work and he won’t follow you anywhere he doesn’t have to. Respect that each man you lead is a unique individual, and don’t carry your baggage into your relationships with them.
  • Respect yourself. No one wants to follow a leader who doesn’t respect herself. Men, like women, need to know that their leaders are strong enough to overcome obstacles, fight for them when necessary, and take them where they need to go. And if a man has preconceived negative ideas about women, you’ll only reinforce them if you don’t respect yourself. Two things to avoid: giggling like a little girl (would you want a little girl for your boss?) and trying to be like a man (what’s the point?). Please accept yourself and find joy in being the woman God created you to be. Believe that God has placed you where you are because he wants to use your gifts there. Others will believe it too.
  • Accept your differences, then move on. No two people are alike. When you’re leading men, some of the differences you’ll find are gender-related; most aren’t. When you’re leading women, you’ll find plenty of differences between you. In relationships with men, please don’t make the mistake of assuming that all of your differences are gender-related and you’ll never be able to understand one another. Get to know men as people, just as you get to know the women you lead. Refuse to view them through stereotypes and assumptions. Acknowledge the ways they’re different from you, then move onto working together productively, with each of you employing your unique gifts and personalities.
  • Develop a shared vocabulary. When leading women, you probably already have a shared vocabulary. You probably have some experiences, habits, and preferences in common. You’ll naturally find those points of commonality and build on them. In relating to men, you may have to work harder to find those points of common interest. And you may have to develop them by engaging in some new habits. Pay attention to what’s important to the men you lead. If they like to discuss a certain TV show, try watching it next week. Check out what they’re into: books, cultural events, movies, hobbies, sports. If they like to talk about baseball, talk about baseball. Be careful of being disingenuous, though. I’m not suggesting that you try to be someone you’re not. Simply try to find points of commonality in the things you do like–and that might involve trying something new. Or it might involve developing a very basic new vocabulary. If they like to talk baseball & you just can’t stand it, don’t pretend to be a fan–but it won’t kill you to watch the highlights of the game on the evening news so you can comment on the win or loss the next morning.
  • Focus on your shared mission. Instead of getting lost in the idea that you’re leading someone of the opposite sex, focus on the mission you have in common and how best to work together to accomplish what you’re called to do. If things get weird or frustrating, do what you can to regroup and remind yourself of the tasks at hand. A few accomplishments and shared experiences later, you’re likely to find that gender-based awkwardness is largely a thing of the past.

Basically, in leading men, do what you would do if you were leading women: focus on what’s true and individual about them, and about yourself. Act like someone they should respect and follow, and they probably will. If someone fixates on gender, you have a problem that’s going to inhibit your ability to work productively. Don’t fixate yourself, and do your best to keep from giving men a reason to do so.

Oh, and if a man is having trouble looking to you as his leader, I’ve found that a couple of well-timed displays of outrageous skill on your part can do the trick.

Women, what have the rest of you discovered in leading men? Men (I know some of you are reading this), what have I missed?

This blog post first appeared here on Christianity Today?s GiftedForLeadership.com.


  1. Amy Jackson says:

    This is a great post, Amy! I so appreciate how you begin it: in essence, it’s the same as leading women. That said, you point out helpful tips for navigating differences and remind us not to assume or stereotype. And it’s good to remember that not all our differences are gender-related–people are simply different from one another. From my experiences, I especially agree with the first two points on respect. Men (really, all of us) need others to respect them, so this should definitely be something their leaders do. And, we must respect ourselves if we’re going to ask others to respect us. Show that you’re capable, that you believe in youself and others, and that you care. It goes a long way.

  2. BJ says:

    Amy….good post. I spent all of my career,first as having no women peers, and second having only men managers working for me. 25 years of that I think gives me permission to make this observation. Be confident in yourself is the most important thing you can do.

    After you believe in yourself, just be yourself. I was always considered demanding but fair. Men and women want to be treated with respect and yes as a woman, there are times I would let some sexist remark slide…wasn’t worth my energy
    To educate someone who was clueless. But I never allowed any one to disrespect me or anyone else.

    The big difference I. Found in men and women in the work place that as a woman, you must learn how men love to be part of the team and focus less on how you feel about things.

  3. Brad Bartz says:

    I disagree with this. I have witnessed over many years, women in charge of men and those women ALWAYS acted inconsistent, moody, and brought their gender into the situation. Many good men’s jobs are lost far too often because a woman supervisor falsely accused the male employee of being disresoectful, falsely stating that the male employee said things that was never said, and more. If a supervisor,male OR female cannot lead effectively and be consistent and clear,and struggles with her ability to effectively communicate, she should NOT be in that position. Men are sick and tired of losing jobs to out of control supervisors that make others the scapegoat, and when they FEEL they are not respected 100%, the higher ups even take the female supervisor’s word almost every time if not always. There should ALWAYS be a mediator in the room always.

© 2012 Amy Simpson.