Lessons for Hillary in new management study?

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She wants to be seen as strong.

Annoying fact:

Female managers who are seen as unkind, insensitive and unaware of others’ feelings are judged as worse bosses because of it – yet men who exhibit the same qualities aren’t.

That’s what Kristin Byron, assistant professor of management in the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, found when she set out to see if “being good at spotting emotions meant managers had more satisfied staff.” Her results were published last week in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.

In her study, Byron looked at 44 part-time students who were designated “supervisors” in an MBA course, as well as 78 managers from four companies in the hospitality industry. She also asked these managers’ staff to rate them on supportiveness, persuasiveness and the workers’ own satisfaction.

Her findings:

…female managers who couldn’t read unspoken emotions, such as facial expressions, posture, and tone of voice, were seen as less caring and thus received lower ratings of satisfaction from their staff. But male leaders who were bad at spotting emotions were not subject to the same expectations.

Byron notes,

“It seems female managers may be expected to be sensitive to others’ emotions and to demonstrate this sensitivity by providing emotional support. Because of this, female managers’ job performance is judged on them being understanding, kind, supportive and sensitive,” says Byron. “In contrast, this is not the basis to evaluate the performance of male managers. It is far more important for male managers, and men, in general, to be seen as analytical, logical and good at reasoning than showing care and concern for others.”

I thought of this as I read about Hillary Clinton’s recent responses to attacks by her competition for the Democratic presidential nomination. Observers have described her manner as even-toned, even as the words that come out of her mouth (or her aides’) are less than kind. In other words, I think the candidate, Senator and former First Lady has learned a heck of a lot about how when it comes to being a lady boss, perception is everything.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Take this New York Times profile of her back in 1992, as her husband campaigned for the same job she’s currently seeking:

Mrs. Clinton has stepped into the eye of the stormy debate about the role of women in society and in politics, and about the image of feminism.

Back then, her manner was considered a liability by many:

Republicans now regard the outspoken wife of the Arkansas Governor as one more vulnerability in an already vulnerable Clinton campaign. Even though it is now clear that Nancy Reagan helped run the country, with astrological charts and her own political agenda, and even though it is apparent that Barbara Bush is a significant voice on politics, the Republicans are busy mining fears as old as Adam and Eve about the dangers of an assertive, ambitious woman speaking into the ear of her man.

But the perceived dangers of an assertive, ambitious woman speaking into the ear of her man is nothing compared to that of an assertive, ambitious woman speaking directly to the crowd, no? Apparently not–so long as she doesn’t appear unkind, insensitive and unaware of others’ feelings. That would make her a bad boss and a bad leader.