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Levels of Involvement In addition to the specific behaviors mentioned above, we wondered whether the level of involvement influenced how men and women perceived their emotionally intelligent leadership. For students involved in only one organization, significant differences by gender were minimal, though men who were only involved in one organization assessed themselves higher than women in their ability to capitalize on their strengths. For students involved in two student organizations, women scored significantly higher than men on the facet of consciousness of self. For respondents involved in three student organizations, the only significant difference between men and women was related to consciousness of others. Women were significantly more likely than men to consider others’ needs, think about how decisions are received by the group, and try to understand the priorities of others in the group. Finally, for those involved in at least four organizations, there were no significant differences by gender in the three facets.

So What Does All This Mean? As part of our continued research, we surveyed several long-tenured fraternity/sorority professionals regarding their observations of gender differences in emotionally intelligent leadership practices. Below are three anecdotal observations which support our findings: According to Kelly Jo Karnes, Associate Director in the Office of Student Life at the University of Iowa, the emotionally intelligent leadership model “provides new graduate advisors and new professionals with direction and an applicable framework as they begin to advise student leaders and differentiate their approach to working with female and male student leaders.” The authors agree. Based on the findings of this study and others, we find that women tend to have more of an outwardly directed approach to leadership. Our research demonstrates how women report that they put the needs of others in front of their own, focus on listening to others, and think about how others will receive their decisions more so than men. Kyle Pendleton, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Purdue University, noted, “Women, without a doubt, identify and exhibit behaviors consistent with the areas that tend to be more about improving those areas focused on social relationships, while the men want to increase their competencies in the strategic areas that result in having competitive advantage.” Pendleton’s observations underscore our finding that men who are highly involved tend to work on their limitations more than women. In agreement, Anne Arseneau, Associate Director of Student Activities – Leadership and Greek Life at the College of William & Mary observes, “The root model for NPC women’s groups is to function in collaboration and partnership with one another. I think in order to do that effectively, the ‘successful’ leader in a sorority leadership role needs to be aware of how others perceive her and to take into account others views... Because of that, I think our women are ‘practicing’ their group leadership in a more disciplined way, which could lead to more reflection and awareness of how they are being received. By practicing, I think maybe they are more regularly getting feedback when their peers don’t appreciate what they’re doing well given the officer structures they’ve got in place.” 

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Perspectives / Spring 2011

We also found men report a focus on self-improvement and ability to translate identified strengths into demonstrated strengths. According to Pendleton, this research, along with the practical application of the EILS: Inventory (Shankman, Allen, & Facca, 2010) and Student Workbook (Shankman & Allen, 2010), “…has allowed us, when working with the different councils, to better understand the thought processes and styles when different genders share responsibilities for program and event planning. How many times have you seen the Panhellenic officers wanting to involve their entire board in the planning, while the IFC officer finalizes the planning before reporting to the entire officers’ team?” Fitting with Pendleton’s observation, our research shows considering the needs of others seems to be the behavior that most differentiates the genders for the most involved students.

Next Steps This information is valuable for professionals and volunteers working with student leaders. Advisors can work in a more informed way by recognizing that differences exist between women and men in terms of their self-understood strengths and limitations related to emotionally intelligent leadership. As such, how advisors work with and support students in their leadership development should take into account that one size or style of leadership does not equally suit every student, and gender may be a primary factor in why this is true. The finding that women are more outwardly directed in their approach to leadership may come as no surprise; however, some women may not be aware of this difference. Likewise, men may be aware of how to capitalize on their strengths, but do they think about how to be more conscious of others as they serve in formal or informal leadership roles? Advisors can help students increase their self-awareness and better understand how they may approach the activity of leadership differently based on their gender. At the same time, it is important not to fall into the trap of assuming just because a student is a particular gender he/she will lead in a particular way. This research provides one glimpse into how advisors can be more effective when working with students. – Scott J. Allen, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of management at John Carroll University, where he teaches courses in leadership and management skills. He is also the coauthor of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: A Guide for College Students and the corresponding suite of resources (Workbook and Facilitation and Activity Guide). – Marcy Levy Shankman, Ph.D., is principal of MLS Consulting, LLC, which specializes in training and consulting in leadership development and organizational effectiveness. Currently, she is also teaches at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University. She co-authored Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: A Guide for College Students as well as a suite of companion resources. (Article adapted from Shankman, M. L., Haber, P., Facca, T., & Allen, S. J. (2010). “Gender and leadership through the lens of emotionally intelligent leadership.” Leadership Review, 10, 88-103.)

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