What makes a good boss?

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The Independent Online
MUCH has been made in recent months of how the arrival of a "Caring Nineties" management style has made this a great time to be a woman in business.

Leave aside for a moment that this ignores the fact that many females in the workforce still feel as if they are trying to break into a gentlemen's club when they aspire to more than the typing pool. It still begs the question of what it is - with regards to management - that women are supposed to have that men do not.

It is generally assumed that all those maternal instincts that some feel make women ill-suited to senior jobs do at least come in handy when"softer skills" are required. Communicating, mentoring and "empathising" are generally included in this class - although there have always been male bosses good at showing understanding and able to get a message across. After all, whatever else he may have done, President Ronald Reagan was not known as "The Great Communicator" for nothing, while in the UK, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, wins praise and criticism in almost equal measure as a result of his strengths in this area.

But new research from the Cranfield School of Management should cast still more doubt over the question. The study suggests that the similarities between senior male and female managers far outweigh the differences.

Designed to identify the significant factors affecting leadership, the survey discovered that age, length of time in an organisation, and similarity of outlook were much more influential than gender. The study, Demographics and Leadership Philosophy: Exploring Gender Differences by Professor Andrew Korac-Kakabadse and Andrew Myers, adds that women are no better or worse as managers than men and are as varied in their style, competencies, and capabilities.

The study, based on questioning thousands of private and public sector managers in Britain and overseas, and published in The Journal of Management Development, shows that quality of management, communication, clarity of vision, and ability to relate within the top team and across the organisation, do not differ according to gender.

In fact, the "key influencers" are said to be organisational context and demographics. Older managers who are positive and outward-looking make better leaders, and the more well developed the leader, the more effective he or she is.

One particular finding - which challenges the notion that organisations need energetic, young executives to help them deal with a fast-moving world - is that older, senior managers tend to be more effective leaders.

Such people are generally team players, who embrace a positive attitude to performance and are seen as supportive of colleagues, bosses and subordinates. "They are managers who have, over time, been held to account for their successes and errors and have turned numerous experiences into developmental opportunities."

Moreover, age is felt to be crucial to shaping attitudes and behaviours. Older senior managers will take a balanced view when reaching a decision and are more likely than younger colleagues to evolve positive relationships with people from other departments and from outside. Effectiveness of strategic decision-making and implementation of policy is likely to be enhanced by the presence of older senior managers in the top team, the study concludes.