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For many years, there have been broad, cultural biases against women and stereotypes die slowly. People have long believed that many women elect not to aspire to the highest ranks of the organisation and take themselves out of the running. Lots of research has shown that unconscious bias places a significant role in hiring and promotion decisions, which also contributes to the lower number of women in key positions. But what about women who are currently in leadership positions?
Women in senior leadership positions
The appropriate leadership styles in times of crisis: a study of women in senior leadership positions in corporate South Africa
Winsome Mashele and Imhotep Paul Alagidede Wits Business School, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Purpose – As women increasingly take on leadership roles during these turbulent times, the differences in their leadership styles in comparison to males in similar positions will continue to attract attention as it has in the past. The aim of this article is to explore appropriate leadership styles that women in senior leadership positions facing the glass cliff have at their disposal.
Design/methodology/approach – This research method was qualitative. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews from a total of 17 participants incorporate South Africa; purposive and snowball sampling was used to select women in senior leadership positions.
Findings – Participants expressed overwhelming support for a transformational leadership style due to its characteristics; however, women leaders believe a style or combination of styles are used based on the situation at hand.
Research limitations/implications – Using only qualitative research has limited the scope and applicability of this study signiﬁcantly.
Practical implications – The representation of women in senior leadership positions has increased over the years more especially in organisations where there is crisis, attention now is the difference in kind of leadership styles they use.
Originality/value – Very few research studies have gone in-depth into the effectiveness of the leadership styles that were used by women in corporate South Africa. The study, therefore, presents a major implication indicating that to show positive results, women need to be able to identify an appropriate leadership style based on carefully reviewing their speciﬁc organisational situation.
Keywords: Women, Transformational, Transactional, Leadership styles, Glass cliff, Laissez-faire
Paper type: Research paper
When a crisis strikes, many leaders might assume that they should demonstrate to their stakeholders that everything is under control. Such challenges can either make or break a leader. Leadership is a complex phenomenon that is constantly being deﬁned and redeﬁned. There is lack of consensus on the operational description of leadership (Reed et al., 2019). According to Ejimabo (2015), leaders are individuals who direct others and followers will be less committed to the team if the leader doubts their decisions. Effective leaders are required to acknowledge their mistakes and take the necessary steps to either repair, correct or amend the situation. From this point of view, leadership has nothing to do with titles. Just because you have a C-level title does not automatically make you a leader. Leaders can be in the workplace, neighbourhood or even in the family setup, all without having a title. A comprehensive deﬁnition of leadership is that of a process in which an individual inﬂuence of group of people to achieve a common goal (Northouse, 2004). Many writers emphasise leadership as having a signiﬁcant effect on overall organisational innovation as well as employees’ creativity in the workplace (Qi et al.,2019). Indeed, by encouraging employee creativity, leadership can develop organisational innovation overall. Crises can emerge in many different forms, and they often strike without warning.
South Africa’s economic outlook has improved, and the country is recovering from the difﬁculty of 2015 and 2016 which marked the end of the super commodity cycle and severe drought. But South Africa remains constrained by its low growth potential. Shung-King et al. (2018) asserts that South Africa needs to build on its comparative advantages, that of an industrial skilled economy, to develop new domestic and international markets through higher productivity and innovation. The importance of strong and transformative leadership is recognised as essential to the building of resilient and responsive corporate systems. In this regard, signiﬁcant efforts must be made towards mainstreaming a gender perspective in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, narrowing persisting gender gaps, strengthening support to our institutional mechanisms for women’s empowerment and gender equality in the country (Mcdonagh, 2010).
According to Shung-King et al. (2018), in South Africa, pre-democracy repressive race- based policies, coupled with strong patriarchy, led to black women, being “left behind” in terms of career development and progression into senior health leadership positions. As leadership essentially live in people, social identities are among the multiple inﬂuences that impact on leadership behaviours and experiences within the corporate sector. According to the report published (United Nations Social and Economic Council, 2016), the gendered nature of corporate industry, with a variety of professions strongly dominated by either males or females, is one such inﬂuence over the shape and form of leadership. There is also little research to understand the inﬂuence of gender on corporate system in leadership. As human resource development in the South African corporate sector is deeply rooted in a race-based, gendered and professionally hierarchical political and economic history (McDonagh, 2010).
The purpose of this paper is to investigate under what circumstances men and women differ. To fulﬁl this aim it is important to understand the gender, gender role, gender differences, similarities and perceptions in relation to leadership styles.
This study posits that women leaders in corporate South Africa should be able to ﬁnd suitable and appropriate leadership styles that ﬁt whatever organisational crisis/situation they ﬁnd themselves in, and the leadership characteristics that best match these situations. The study narrowed down to three main leadership styles based on its ﬁndings: transformational leadership style, transactional leadership styles and the Laissez-faire (LF) charismatic leadership type.
2.1 Crisis and leadership
Crisis leadership is a very important part of leading in today’s world. Every organisation goes through some form of crisis on a day-to-day basis. It is important to understand that one disaster and even one crisis can lead to additional crises. This is true in the case of tsunami leading to a nuclear reactor meltdown, and it is also true of a corporate crisis that is mismanaged that leads to an even larger crisis. There is more value in the planning for a crisis than in a prescriptive response that can be prepared for a speciﬁc crisis, as we never know precisely what might occur. During time of crises,based on the current literature, the leaders ﬁnd themselves holding many roles in the pressure of time and resources constraints; therefore, leaders are required to have a very complex leadership skill (Bolden, 2011). Lacerda (2019) claim that leaders who could predict and create future view of the organisation are effective during ﬁnancial crisis. Visionary leaders draw the big picture and create hope. Other study shows that leader’s ability in building strong relationship during crisis is critical (Öz.,sahin et al., 2011). Zehir and Narcıkara’s (2016) study about authentic leadership effectiveness during crises argues that it fosters employee’s self-efﬁcacy by providing them conﬁdence and trust. Furthermore, authentic leadership also create hope and optimism and strengthen resilience. Leaders who can manage their emotions are also effective during crises (Madera and Smith, 2009).
Leaders with conﬁdence are deﬁned as leaders who have strong belief in their capabilities to be successful, as well as self-perceptions of competence in their knowledge, skills and abilities (Lacerda, 2019). The conﬁdent leaders are more visible to the team member in unfavourable situation. Study has shown that leaders who can show high self- esteem and conﬁdence are able to make a risky and controversial decision. Effective leadership during crises is not only ones who have knowledge and capabilities but also ones who are conﬁdent and believe in themselves in leading and making decisions (Hadley et al., 2009).
More recently, discussion has turned to the relatively subtle form of gender discrimination experienced by women who have managed to break the glass ceiling. The glass cliff phenomenon refers to women in leadership positions to be riskier and more precarious than those of men – like wearing glass slippers on a surface that is slippery (Bruckmüller and Ryan, 2014). It appears that people who have a senior job not normally associated with their gender are placed under scrutiny, more likely to be judged, seen as less competent and less deserving. In such settings, women in senior leadership positions appear to be more prone to the glass cliff effect than men (Ryan and Haslam, 2007).
2.2 Leadership styles: Gender diﬀerences
A common thread among participants in response to what they perceived to be their individual leadership style was that they were “collaborators, consensus builders, and encouraged teamwork”. This assumed that gender role is an important personality trait that inﬂuences leadership styles; thus, they have related masculinity with task-oriented leadership styles and femininity with relationship-oriented leadership styles. Sarhan et al. (2015) suggest that the masculinity/femininity dimension affects the meaning of work in people’s lives. While men still dominate in leadership positions, there is research suggesting that when women do occupy leadership positions, and they display different leadership styles. Belasen (2012) believes that as the number of women in leadership roles increases, it is important to understand the relationship between gender and leadership style. Debates about the leadership styles of women and men can be traced back to the 1990s, because of new research attempting to identify the leadership styles that are especially attuned to contemporary organisational conditions (Solomon and Steyn, 2017).
As little is known about the leadership styles of women in senior roles during crises, the Full Range Leadership model presents one method of understanding it. It includes the components of transformational leadership, transactional leadership and LF leadership behaviours. This model is also indicative of leader effectiveness because a person predominantly demonstrating a LF leadership style is generally rated as less effective (Bass and Riggio, 2006). Figure 1 represents Bernard Bass’s Revised Full Range Leadership Model focussing on the behaviour of leaders towards the workforce in different work situations, includes these two styles but also incorporates an avoidant LF style as well.
Transformational and transactional leadership were ﬁrst discussed by Burns (1978), and a few years later Bass (1985) extended Burns’s(1978) theory. Bass (1985) introduced the term trans-formational leadership and combined it with transactional leadership and LF leadership.
According to Nguyen et al. (2019), transformational leadership consists of four components, individualised consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and idealised inﬂuence. Transactional leadership, also known as managerial leadership, focusses on a speciﬁc task and is based on the performance results (Kleefstra, 2019), includes three components: contingent reward and management-by-exception – active and management by exception –passive. In contrast to transformational and transactional leadership, Burns (1978) deﬁned leaders who do not take charge of their leadership as passive or LF leaders. LF leadership is a style in which leaders are hands-off and allow group members to make the decisions, suitable for organisations that have long-term employees. It is, however, not suitable for environments that require direction, quick feedback and praise (Uhl-Bienand Marion, 2009).
The new emphasis is on leadership that is transformational in the sense that it is future-oriented rather than present-oriented and that strengthens organisations by inspiring followers’ commitment and creativity. Transformational leadership transcends all other organisational attributes, it is a process that informs a diversity embracing culture and appropriate policies and structures (Northhouse, 2001). Leadership that is transformational and future-oriented was prioritised in strengthening organisations by inspiring followers’ commitment and creativity. In a review of the extant literature on female leadership, Solomon and Steyn (2017) concluded that among women leaders there tended to be a more transformational leadership style as compared to men.
Moreover, female leaders seem to be preferring a transformational leadership style (Solomon and Steyn, 2017). According to think crisis–think female concept, an organisation in a state of decline represents a situation, in which the leadership characteristics viewed as required for success are female-oriented rather than male- oriented (Ryan and Haslam, 2005). One of the spontaneous explanations provided by participants in the qualitative study conducted by Ryan et al. (2007) referred to the belief that women possess abilities that are especially useful for leadership positions during times of crisis. For example, participants mentioned that communication skills and the ability to motivate others are qualities held by women that would be beneﬁcial in such circumstances.
A stereotypical belief is that “women display a more transformational and contingent reward behaviour, and fewer management-by-exceptions and Laissez-faire behaviour than men” (Vinkerburg et al., 2011). Bass et al. (2003) argue that a leader may use different styles at different times based on the situation at any given time. Pounder and Coleman (2002) note that the literature conﬁrms that female leaders tend to be more transformational than male leaders. Generally, women ﬁt into a “feminine model of leadership built around cooperation, collaboration, lower control for the leader and problem-solving based on intuition and rationality”, according to Jogulu and Wood (2006). Dwiedienawati et al. (2021) argue that the most effective leadership style in time of crises is transformational leadership because it is quick to respond to change. On the other hand, transactional leadership is focussed on exchanges, rewards and promises of rewards for performance between leader and followers. Additionally, Alban-Metcalfe and Alimo-Metcalfe (2007) have identiﬁed similar issues and that transformational leadership is criticised for lacking morality and ethics. From the study conducted by Eagly et al. (2003), research on gender and leadership suggests that transformational leadership is more congenial to female leaders. And we argue that such leadership behaviours constitute a prototype of ideal leaders.
However, Muller-Kahle and Schiehll (2013) argue that female CEOs do not possess as much structural power as male CEOs when ﬁlling adual CEO/Chair role in the organisation. They posit that women are more likely to be given the less powerful role of CEO and President, instead of dual CEO and Chair roles. Nonetheless, it is important to note that “female CEOs are more likely to gain structural power if they are entrepreneurs, work in large companies, or possess an elite education” (Muller-Kahle and Schiehll, 2013). Moreover, this can conclude that women’s classical leadership styles are inclined to be more transformational than those of men and thus more focussed on aspects of leadership that anticipate effectiveness.
This current research study used a qualitative explanation of an interpretivist–constructive paradigm with the focus of the study being the lived experiences of selected women leaders in corporate South Africa. The reason for using the qualitative approach is based on that revised literature has revealed a slight rise in the voices of women leaders themselves. It is noteworthy that previous research used quantitative research methods, particularly research, to study such things as women’s experiences in leadership positions. From this perspective, a qualitative research approach was embraced to investigate the appropriate leadership style of women leaders in corporate South Africa to avoid falling off the glass cliff, and to date little research has been conducted. Furthermore, the qualitative research approach is helpful when discovering a case and understanding individuals’ personal and leadership experiences to attempt a detailed explanation of the speciﬁc phenomenon (Bluhm et al., 2011). Semi structured, open, qualitative interviews were conducted with 17 women in senior leadership positions (C-suite) in corporate South Africa, who were purposively selected as participants using the snowball method. All interviews were documented using pseudonyms. This approach allowed the researchers to recruit the most appropriate sample to answer the research question (Tashakkori and Teddlie, 2003). For the purpose of this study, 17 women leaders were purposively sampled, notably, executives (10), senior leadership (5) and Board and non-board members (2). Table 1 presents the sample matrix.
Before choosing a methodology, researchers need to know and declare their research paradigm; together with the purpose of the study, as it inﬂuences the choice of methodology researchers use to ﬁnd answers to the central research questions. Ontologically, the interpretivist paradigm helps to illuminate the relationship between paradigm and choice of methodology (Kivunja and Kuyini, 2017). In the process of trying to understand the relevant leadership style of women in senior leadership positions in organisations during times of distress, we chose the interpretivist paradigm, as it assumes there is no single reality.
Epistemologically, interpretivists allow for the interpretation of the participants’ perceptions of their own realities. In this case, an interpretivist epistemology would be ideal because it undergirds the fact that meaning, or knowledge is not there to be discovered but is individually or socially constructed.
The protocol began by asking participants in their view:
The protocol included additional probes to understand if women and men use different styles of leadership and if a particular style is more suitable and effective during times of crisis.
Interviews were transcribed within seven days of being recorded and emailed to the participants to conﬁrm their authenticity. Initially, each case was analysed individually by looking for prominent themes, then applied to a multi-case design approach to identify common sets of patterns across the sample of 17 participants. To begin the process of comparing the themes and categories between and among cases, this process was made easier and quicker by using a qualitative analysis software, ATLAS.ti to merge the participants’ individual document coding reports into one document and the process of reﬁning sub-categories and individual codes. During the process, some of the subcategories and codes were either merged or deleted where there was not enough relevance and a ﬁnal list of codes was formed.
The results focus on identifying the leaderships styles of the 17 women leaders during times of crisis by presenting seven prominent themes that emerged from the coding process:
4.1 Leadership skills: assertiveness
From the ﬁndings, it was noted that the women in the study preferred a more participative, empathetic, caring and empowering leadership style. Assertiveness is one of the prominent skills that a leader should possess, especially in a corporate setting where their leadership style is projected towards their peers and subordinates. Assertiveness in this case refers to the fact that women in a leadership position should still be able to show that she has a ﬁrm hand on the operations within the company and that the “mother” or “woman-ness” in this regard will not be projected too strongly which could possibly allow subordinates and peers to not take the leader (being of a female gender) seriously. For example, Fusi gives a good example of how she asserts herself as a female executive:
"In terms of the leadership style, I think it depends on the situation and the role you are playing in an organisation. Operations environment is still male dominated. Even if you are a nurturer in some cases I need to put my foot down to be heard."
The participants of this study agree that the preferred leadership style for women in leadership roles during a crisis period is a democratic, accessible and a consultative team- based style, which is consistent with ﬁndings in other studies where women described their leadership style as more transformational than transactional.
4.2 Leadership skill: conﬁdence
One of the most prominent skills that participants indicated as required is conﬁdence. Conﬁdence is a key element that allowed these women leaders to climb the corporate ladder, as it allowed them to take on certain tasks that other women would not have otherwise been “conﬁdent” enough to take on. It is due to this high level of conﬁdence that these women can make major decisions for a major corporate company and provide constructive input. Due to the nature of the corporate industry that originated as a male based ecology, it is still the standard that women must prove themselves to be on the same level as men, regardless of the signiﬁcance of their contributions to the company.
Many divulged how their conﬁdence allowed them to seek and accept feedback and criticism. To reiterate, Hosana’s light-hearted comment says it all:
"Being conﬁdent, as I deal with ﬁgures and presentation of the ﬁnancial results and all. I ﬁnd it necessary to work on my conﬁdence, if I don’t believe in myself who else is going to believe in what I am presenting? I started talking positivity to myself, attending motivational speaking seminars as well as investing in leadership programmes."
While all the women felt that they did not need to change themselves as women to lead, they acknowledged the need to have conﬁdence, to be tougher and more assertive and to learn to be calm under pressure.
“Also, the board or your EXCO becomes extremely critical, if you don’t get the support you quickly look like a lone-ranger. You will not be able to handle the situation by yourself.” Bonang Mama.
Nicola shares that women are always taking on challenging and risky roles despite the societal perception that women are more capable in the home environment and not in the workplace. In her words:
"Women are not scared of challenges, positions that are easy do not excite them. Additionally, women take risky positions to prove a point that they are capable though society believes that women belongs in the kitchen as they are very fragile. And they put more eﬀort to make sure they are successful, if they fail, they are judged very harshly."
4.3 Leadership skills: innovative thinking
This theme refers to the woman in leadership being quite innovative in the leadership role. This is of great importance, especially in times of crisis where the individual will require the capability to develop newly formed ideas and approaches to sustain the company in their endeavours:
“Innovation is not a choice and creativity have also been found to be dominant traits in women leaders and are qualities they also encourage in their teams. It is interesting to note that innovation plays a crucial role during crisis. I do it all the time. The need to innovate appears to be more decisive in crisis times” Thobile.
Participants feel very strongly that leaders who are innovative and creative survive during times of crisis. It is important to value employees by communicating and updating them on progress made and on new developments in the organisation.
4.4 Leadership skills: prioritisation
This theme addresses how participants manage their workload and ability to do so in an effective manner by using their time effectively and efﬁciently. Participants indicated that when they prioritise important work, it is reﬂective of their skill capacity and contributions in support of the organisation’s continued growth and progress. Viewed from a different perspective, if an individual is able to prioritise their workload with increased efﬁciency, they will potentially have more time to spend on their personal life and have more time to reﬂect on certain decisions to be made:
“Because strategy is direction. So, if you poorly execute a strategy it can also go spectacularly wrong. Look at Teresa May, who wrecked her strategy to win over Brexit. If you carry through a bad strategy you are taking people to the doldrums with you. So, strategy is tough in the sense that you are always thinking about the other people” Damase.
The extract above emphasises the importance of understanding the value of prioritising, in terms of strategic planning, when carrying out responsibilities as a leader. She concludes her narrative by using the example that the reason for the failure of Teresa May’s strategy was based on the error made in not identifying what needed to be prioritised the most. There is however no conclusive evidence based on research clearly showing that leaders fail due to a lack of prioritisation. When a leader lacks a sense of direction, the team is most likely not going to have a sense of focus and this leads to unproductivity.
Helena notes that:
"Prioritising is very important for me and I identiﬁed a gap in my personality to do so. When you don’t prioritise it normally holds your talent back. I learned to give myself time to understand the most important thing to be working on at any given time. When it is done well, I see it creating space and allows me to be creative and be eﬀective."
4.5 Leadership skills: empathetic approach
This theme addresses the ability to be empathetic towards peers and subordinates. It is important for subordinates to see that the leader understands the situation and context of the issue at hand. Chrissie sees empathy as a critical leadership skill, and she says:
"One of the critical skills in my journey and I felt it is important to grasp is empathy. I believe it is an important leadership skill. The ability to put myself in other’s shoes and understand their perspectives is critical to my long-term success as a leader. Empathy allows me to be more open and create a space for listening rather than only me who is always talking. Empathy allows me to take a few moments before writing an email, sending out a newsﬂash or even giving my team critical feedback."
In the extract above, the participant’s response displays intentional objective to build the characteristic of being empathetic. Further analysis of her response draws attention to the emotional component and value placed on feeling compassion for another person:
“I believe that women leaders understand that making the work environment feel safe is critical to success and that empathy can inﬂuence their negotiation style as well. It works very well when engaging with labour colleagues.” Kgari.
4.6 Leadership skills: eﬀective communication
Effective communication skills support values such as trust, transparency, loyalty and builds a cohesive corporate community collectively working towards achieving the same goals. Leaders can communicate more effectively and openly with their peers and subordinates. This can have a huge ripple effect on the synergy of the organisation. Martha notes that:
“Information, in most cases in terms of crisis most people are too paralyzed they start forgetting the simplest thing, which is to communicate how bad the situation is. Depending on your style some people are afraid to tell the truth especially if you’re bossy. More than often, my team would call me “bossy”.
Martha draws our attention to the negative results that a lack of communication can produce. This communication must go both ways, from the leaders to their subordinates and from the subordinates to the leader. When a woman in a leadership position asserts her authority and delegates as her position necessitates, she is regarded as being “bossy” and denigrated for carrying out her responsibilities in the same way as her male counterparts have always done. Bossiness and female leadership are not mutually exclusive and need to be separated and not highlighted as an exclusive and negative female leadership trait. Helena speaking from her own context and experience believes that:
"Previous research has portrayed women as better communicators than men which is one of the personality traits for transformational leadership style."
The participants’ general position regarding this issue is that to communicate; a leader needs to have a wide range of communication skills and resources, to enable him or her to effectively connect with people and to be able to resolve problems and tackle challenges.
4.7 Transformational leadership in females
This theme contextualises the qualities of transformational leadership in females, highlighting the assumptions that women are perceived to have a certain leadership style that seems to be different from the traditional or rather transactional leadership style. It is perceived that companies prefer to appoint women during a crisis, as their leadership style is a better approach and the company is better positioned to deal with various forms of challenges from a different perspective. The transformational leadership style favoured by female executives appears to have beneﬁtted companies that need to achieve certain short- term goals, or that require interventions to make changes during a crisis.
Martha believes that the style is collaborative and inspirational. Seeking advice is crucial when experiencing a crisis. However, women understand the value of continuity and are more willing to make transitions as smooth as possible. Women will receive advice from their subordinates, their approach is signiﬁcantly different from that of men in this context.
Damase highlights this trait as being important for a leader in the statement below:
"In homes, I mean who runs homes? Whenever there is a divorce, who collapses? It is very rarely you ﬁnd that it is a woman. So, I think organisations are beginning to realise that. So, it is not [.. .], let’s not look only at the negative side that we are given the tough jobs. There is a positive side that some people go out of their way to look for women. They get out of their way to look for women, because they know women will make a diﬀerence."
Damase’s statement above provides a context to address the challenge around the way women’s authorities are often undermined in a leadership position. Dignity and respect are key drivers in this role. Malawe, however, believes there is no leadership style designated for women. In her view, women adapt different leadership styles to suit different situations. Katso’s view is different from Damase’s, Malawe’s and Martha’s views. She believes women need to deﬁne their own leadership style, being competent in each of the different models is advisable. One cannot only adapt the transformational leadership style, as it is likely that you may drop the ball on the way if you are not ﬂexible in your approach. It was generally agreed by participants that female leaders have qualities that are more transformational.
McMahon observed that there are women who want to be treated differently because of their gender, which she found to be problematic, she noted:
"Don’t use gender as an excuse, I ﬁnd it very irritating. Work hard, persevere, and do not take things personally. There is nothing wrong to say I do not have the answer now I will get back to you. There are good stories from a lot of women."
Existing research often suggests that on the rise of women to leadership positions in corporate environment, the term glass cliff describes patterns in the advancement of women and minorities to positions of leadership where there is a disproportionate chance of their failure (Ryan and Haslam, 2005). A recent review of glass cliff effects from 74 independent studies afﬁrmed that these conditions arise in a large variety of domains, including politics (Morgenroth et al., 2020). This research deepens the understanding on the relevant leadership styles and skills women leaders uses during times of crisis.
Closely tied to the participants’ perception of leadership was their own leadership style. A common thread among participants’ in response to what they perceived to be their individual leadership style was that they were “collaborators, consensus builders, and encouraged teamwork”. Describing where they thought their personal leadership style ﬁtted in, Nicci was adamant that as a leader her style was to act conﬁdent and make decisions without fear.
Malawe recognised that different situations required different leadership styles. She felt that her ability to resolve each situation as it arises allowed her to respond to the needs of her followers at the time. Malawe stated “I quickly assess what is needed, how to go for it, and get it done”. On the question regarding an appropriate leadership style for women leaders, the participants agreed that men are agentic in the way they lead, and women are communal. Mpola was adamant that men are rigid, prescriptive, authoritarian and transactional. Women are listeners, act and follow-up. Nicci was reluctant to describe the relevant leadership style during crises, however, eventually stated that “women are more empathetic leaders and group oriented”. Fusi noted that the primary difference between the male and female leadership styles is that “women spend more time collaborating, building consensus and allowing all to contribute, as compared to men who are generally more task oriented and less people oriented”.
The study showed that women are more disposed to, and favour the transformational leadership style, as well as more collaborative styles because that is how they have been socialised and nurtured. Additionally, most of the participants portrayed a deep sense of awareness on their roles and responsibilities were in correlation to the key components of the “authentic leadership” style as theorised by Wong and Cummings (2009). This varies across industries and is subject to the situation at hand, and there is nothing that is cast in stone.
Moreover, the stances adopted by the participants are also aligned with Yukl’s (2006) assumptions that integrate three crucial elements of effective leadership: task-oriented, relation-oriented and change-oriented behaviours. Similar assumptions are shared by Arnold et al. (2017) who found through their investigations, a multiplicity of factors inﬂuencing leadership and a link among leaders’ personalities, context and situation in shaping styles. A key ﬁnding of the theme investigated shows that there are other reasons preventing women leaders from breaking through the glass ceiling and causing them to fall off the glass cliff.
Additionally, a lot of time was invested in the coding stage, with the result of a conclusively emerging theme that identiﬁed role players required in the strategies for women to succeed in senior leadership roles. Participants’ view was an intersection of different role players at different levels important for successful strategies for winning in senior roles. This resulted in the identiﬁcation of ﬁve main elements, namely, leadership/ board support, mentoring, personal development, research/expanding knowledge, networking/support structures. Bonang Mama asserted that for women leaders, empathy, vulnerability, transparency and hope are crucial to navigate through difﬁcult times.
The results of this research have implications for the role of gender in leadership style in a corporate environment. These women, who were largely able to deﬁne their own organisational role, gravitated towards a leadership style (transformational) that does not conﬂict with gender roles. This is consistent with research that suggests that certain gender role-speciﬁc traits remain despite organisational role (Eagly and Sczesny, 2019). However, it is also possible that these leaders were reﬂecting general trends towards a more transformational style, considered to be more effective in the current culture (Bass and Riggio, 2006).
5.1 Theoretical contributions
Previous research has presented arguments based on women’s decisions to accept senior leadership positions even when the organisation is experiencing times of difﬁculty (Adams et al., 2009). As reported by Laud andJohnson (2013) when taking all evidence from the existing research into consideration, the decisions were deduced as being inﬂuenced by the lack of women in executive leadership roles due to an innate bias against women as leaders. This study contributes to academic research, from the context of the limited literature regarding which leadership styles motivate women leaders. One major theoretical contribution of this study is a proof of the applicability of the full range leadership theory by Bass (1985) in corporate South Africa work setting. It conﬁrms the extension of the theory’s universality. This study may serve as an original contribution to body of knowledge, providing a solid foundation that can be expanded through further research. Leaders are pulse of any organisation; therefore, any organisation’s performance and sustainability are tied directly to its leader and employees’ performance (Masa’deh et al.,2016).
The main organisational contribution of the study is directed at human capital departments that are interested in developing employee performance. Given the importance of the combination of the transformational and transactional leadership styles to employee performance during crisis, these companies ought to pay attention to improving on approaches to leadership. More speciﬁcally, leadership training is a possibility for developing positive leadership behaviours. Bass (1985) also presented a training manual that can be used by organisations as a tool for developing transformational leadership (Chammas and Hernandez, 2019) based on their necessities.
5.2 Practical implications
To assist women to become more successful in senior leadership roles, activities should be developed and implemented in examining how various policies, procedures and norms may limit the success of women. The ﬁrst implication focusses on the fact that corporations should engage in critical reﬂection about issues of inclusion and expand the opportunities for diverse leadership styles and for women at all levels. The second implication concerns leadership and mentoring programs. It seems appropriate for human resource professionals and organisations to consider increasing both the formal and informal socialisation opportunities for women to meet potential mentors on an informal basis.
Additionally, given that most corporate companies in South Africa have carried out several gender equality initiatives, decision-makers should be cognisant of potential consequences of gendered policies that they offer to women in times of distress. This study reveals that transformational leadership helps in establishing a value system along with providing the employees an opportunity to develop their skills and abilities. It is important for a leadership style to offer opportunities to employees, a sense of belonging along with allowing them to participate in the decision-making. In this context, it is recommended that organisations should focus on a style or combination of styles used based on the situation at hand.
6. Limitations and future recommendations
This study has provided deep insights into the effectiveness the appropriate women leadership styles on leading organisations during crises. This study is not without its limitations; it has used qualitative research only. This has signiﬁcantly reduced the scope and applicability of the study. Therefore, it is recommended that future research studies should focus on using other relevant research methods, along with quantitative methods, for investigating the appropriate women leadership style during times of crisis.
Future research could include larger samples and incorporate a variety of methods to improve data representativity. The ﬁndings of this study will be beneﬁcial for the ﬁeld of culture studies for instance culture diversiﬁcation and its relationship with leadership styles. Further research is needed on how women lead, why they lead in particular ways and the effectiveness of different leadership styles in corporate setting.
In conclusion, the transformational leadership style is highly effective approach in crises situations. Transformational leaders could inspire followers to look beyond considerations of narrow self-interest and to work together for the interest of all. Those with a more transactional style are less likely to accomplish this. However, a transformational style of leadership is hard to maintain over the long-term in times of relative normality. Therefore, it would be beneﬁcial for women leaders to consolidate both the transformational and transactional leadership styles to achieve desired goals rather than using only one style, as that will be limiting.
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