Women in Leadership

By Cindy Adams

Today’s business environment is good for women and is proving to be good for organizations bolstering gender diversity and inclusion in their top ranks. Recent research based on the Leadership Circle Profile, a 360-degree leadership assessment tool demonstrates that currently, women leaders are significantly outperforming men leaders in almost every leadership competency category.

Some Background about the Leadership Circle Profile

The Leadership Circle Profile is the only 360-degree assessment that measures both competency and underlying assumptions, and it does so in two primary leadership domains: Creative Competencies and Reactive Tendencies.

Creative Competencies measure what contributes to a leader’s current effectiveness and scalability. They measure how a leader achieves results, brings out the best in others, leads with vision, enhances their own development, acts with integrity, and improves organizational systems. High scores in the Creative dimensions correlate to high levels of leadership effectiveness, and subsequently high levels of business performance.

On the other hand, Reactive tendencies measure self-limiting assumptions and behaviors that translate to less-effective leadership, especially at scale. The Reactive tendencies emphasize caution over creating results, self-protection over productive engagement, aggression over building alignment, and control over collaboration. High scores in the Reactive dimensions correlate to low Creative Competency scores, and low levels of leadership effectiveness overall.

The Data Doesn’t Lie

In our research of 300 senior leaders from 237 companies in 29 industries and six countries, we found that female leaders are making a notable contribution to leadership in their organizations. They came in as the majority in the High-Creative group (54 percent), this High-Creative group correlates to greater leadership effectiveness and represent a significantly smaller percentage of the High-Reactive group (just 22 percent).

This data is even more striking considering that, in our overall sample, women made up just 38 percent of all leaders evaluated. When we studied our entire norm base, women are rated 15 to 20 percentile points higher in overall Creative Leadership Competencies than men.

The Collective Leadership Imperative

Women being underrepresented in our database, is not surprising. They are also underrepresented in senior leadership ranks, especially in the very top leadership roles in organizations.

Women continue to face a myriad of unique challenges and biases in the workplace that prove tough to shake loose, even 50 plus years since the “women’s movement.” There are numerous studies indicating the reasons why and outlining what should be done; the bottom line always leans towards bias; beliefs and structures that pervade many of our “organizational ways of being and doing.” What we can plainly illustrate from our research, is that this bias (in many cases, that sneaky “implicit bias” that goes unchecked and unrecognized) in the workplace, in the hiring ranks, in the water cooler, is stagnating organizational potential and the collective leadership advantage essential to thrive in today’s complex global environment.

Meanwhile, women leaders continue to excel and are rising in numbers and rank (albeit not at the speed needed). Our qualitative research shows that colleagues see high ranking women leaders as decidedly respected and among the best leaders with which they have worked. All leaders face unique obstacles early on in leadership and must learn early to rid themselves of ineffective leadership styles and interactions. Women may be judged more harshly early on and this obstacle may be helping them to overcome reactive tendencies sooner than men. Women tend to be criticized early for things like being too intense, not having enough business background, making excuses or being controlling in any form. Negating these reactive tendencies early is one of the things that allows gifts in leadership competencies to shine through without a canceling effect.

So, What Does This Mean?

Organizations, of necessity, are leaning into performing with agility, managing complexity, supporting conditions for employee participation & engagement, and doing so with less hierarchy and bureaucracy – this turns out to be an environment where female leaders shine. Bob Anderson and Bill Adams’ new book, Scaling Leadership, provides data suggesting that even what we would deem as traditional female traits like empathy and caring (previously held as out of bounds in the workplace) when harnessed together with achieving leadership competencies, makes them significantly more effective leaders. This begs the question: How can we more rigorously take advantage of the leadership that women are bringing and what will this require of us here?

What Can You Do About It?

If you’re not forging a path in your company to make leadership more inclusive or leveraging the full power and potential of women in leadership, then you’re not doing all you can for the success of your organization.

Scaling Leadership, the newest book, written by, Bob Anderson and Bill Adams, distills the kind of leadership that is capable of scale in today’s world.

We hope you’ll take the time to read Scaling Leadership and share it with those who can help make a difference in organizations around the world.



Cindy Adams is the Chief Operating Officer of the Leadership Circle and Full Circle Group NA and the Senior Vice President of Operational Development and People.  Cindy has dedicated her practice to helping leaders achieve outcomes that matter, make a distinct difference, and create sustainable results – both professionally and personally. In her role, Cindy combines her finely-honed understanding of leadership development, organizational behavior and change, adult stage development, and organizational systems to guide leaders, their teams, and their organizations to achieve desired and required results.



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Cindy Adams

Author Cindy Adams

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