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Agentic and Communal Leadership Traits: Redefining the ‘Complete’ Leader

In this episode:

What is leadership? What traits make for a good leader? Leadership is an ever-evolving concept with many current discussions on the topic expanding to include newer, less traditional notions of leadership being explored. Further, employees are demanding more interpersonal skills, accountability, and inclusivity from their leaders today than in past decades—how can leaders adjust their skills and approaches to help their teams thrive in this new environment? 

During this podcast episode hosted by Bryan Benjamin, Executive Director of the Ivey Academy, we welcome Hayden Woodley, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Ivey Business School to discuss Agentic and Communal traits and how leaders can apply aspects of both to motivate employees and create a positive work atmosphere within their organizations. We explore how we understand leadership, shifting social norms around the concept of leadership, the importance of empowering and coaching your employees, and key principles that can help guide our decision-making when in leadership roles. 

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Note: the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this multimedia content do not necessarily represent those of Western University, Ivey Business School, or The Ivey Academy and its affiliates. This content has been made available for informational and educational purposes, and its appearance on the Site does not constitute an endorsement.

Full podcast episode transcription:


SEAN ACKLIN GRANT: Welcome to The Ivey Academy Presents-- Leadership in Practice, where we discuss critical issues in business, unpack new research, and talk to industry leaders about the latest trends. The Ivey Academy and Ivey Business School are located on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lunaapéewak, and Chonnonton nations. This land continues to be home to diverse Indigenous peoples, whom we recognize as contemporary stewards of the land and vital contributors of our society.

What makes a good leader? The concept of leadership is often hard to define. And our expectations of leaders, especially in the workplace, are constantly evolving. If you're a leader at any level, you've likely felt pressure to achieve the perfect mix of interpersonal skills, self-awareness, accountability, and inclusion, as well as delivering results for your organization. How do you as a leader thrive in that environment?

In this episode of Leadership in Practice, we're joined by Hayden Woodley, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at Ivey Business School. We explore the idea of agentic and communal leadership styles and examine how successful leaders find a balance in their own approach between driving for results and encouraging a healthy culture within their teams. This episode is hosted by Brian Benjamin, Executive Director of the Ivey Academy.


BRYAN BENJAMIN: Now more than ever, organizations need good leadership to help guide employees and deliver the results that organizations are going after. But equally more now than ever, employees are also demanding a new approach and mindset from their leaders. So, Hayden, question for you is, how do you define what is good leadership?

HAYDEN WOODLEY: Yeah, I think it's a great question that people constantly try to struggle with understanding. And one of the arguments I would always make about this, since some of the things is we think because something becomes salient now, it hasn't been an ongoing issue. But I think that good leadership stands the test of time.

So the aspects of what we're looking for in a leader and what leads to success are important to understand and at their foundation. And, historically, we look at things, and people might talk about leadership as a certain way. But I find that it's really about the stories of Christopher Columbus or these pioneers, but that doesn't necessarily mean good leadership.

Sometimes we see now people we refer to as leaders don't really care about the people who are following them. And leadership, by definition, requires followership. So holding yourself accountable and not just saying, yeah, whoever follows me follows me, and I don't care.

Really, now you're seeing people drawing attention to the fact that, whoa, whoa, whoa, maybe we've misrepresented what leadership is through our language and through our culture and to miss the fact that, really, leadership is more about, who do we have following us? How are we responsible for them? How do we bring them forward and keep them safe and help them succeed? And that's really what leadership is about and what people are looking for from their leaders.

But we've historically almost idealized leaders, who have this kind of confidence and seem like they tell people what to do, and they know where to go. But sometimes it's because they're blazing their own path. And they don't really care who goes down that path. And we never really draw attention to how many people do that and then end up making a path that nobody wants to follow.

Ironically, in the events of this year, Elon Musk hitting the Guinness Book of Records for the largest loss of amounts of money, whatever it was, like $200 billion, is an example of-- he's a great pioneer, and I respect him for that. The challenge is if you listen to more about his employees and followers and how he treats individuals within his organization, there seems to be murmurs.

I don't know. I'm not an expert on what's going on in his workplace. But does he have the leadership qualities required to have followers and take care of people? So it really is about it's his way or the highway, which isn't really the foundation of good leadership.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: So I'm going to pick up on that because a great example and, I think, an individual that clearly has made a lot of news, especially over the last year or so. And you hit on something that's really interesting, which is what you deliver and what you achieve and how you go about doing that, including the people that you work with and how you treat them.

Can you tell us, in your perspective, some of the traits of a good leader, recognizing there's no one perfect sort of formula? But what are some of the traits that we should be looking for in a good leader?

HAYDEN WOODLEY: I'm hesitant to say what traits might be good or not in a good leader because I find it's very contextual. I use sports analogies a lot, where you see a coach when they recognize a player is really frustrated, and they don't meet them with that frustrated energy. They calm them down, help them understand the moment, and then get them to settle down and keep prepared to re-engage with the team.

Whereas in other moments where the energy of the team might be low and the coach has higher expectations, they will introduce emotions in that moment and add frustration and passion and aggression to fire up their athletes, or, in the organization, their employees, to get them motivated and using emotions to manage those situations. I think in general, emotions are really important because we're all humans.

So as a skill, I can see emotional intelligence is really important. But as a leadership style, a style is the collection of behaviors that a leader does. And so you could be an empowering leader and still use emotions. You could be a transformational leader. You could be servant leadership style, transactional leader.

There's all these different types of styles, and there's many, many styles out there. And I think what we're going to learn going forward is there's a validity to each of these different styles. But I'm not here to tell you which one you have to use, because I think it's important how you create them.

What's interesting is leadership styles tend to be considered a soft leadership skill. And, interestingly-- and I found this fascinating when I learned this-- is a meta-analysis done on training. When you look at hard skills, which are things like, OK, how do I use this computer software, how do I use this platform, whatever these tools are, those I thought would be easier for people to learn because it's like there's one way to do it.

Whereas soft skills, which is emotional intelligence, how you lead, how you go about managing your work environment, things like that, those skills I thought would be much more difficult because they're more ambiguous. How do I do this? How do I make this happen or get to that outcome?

But research actually suggests that-- just really the meta-analysis showed, was that the hard skills are the ones that are difficult to learn because there's only one way to do it. Whereas you can't then apply it to how you go about doing that and resolving that issue.

Whereas the soft skills, you can take the principle of the soft skill and then say, how do I create that? And how do I make that happen? And what does that mean for me? Which I think is drawing attention to the importance in the psychology of it all, which I find so interesting. So it helps show some validity to why I'm here and around. And maybe it'll make my job last a little longer.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: [LAUGHS] I think there's a long runway here. And I appreciate your comments around context because we often hear, especially young aspiring leaders, what's the path I should take? Or how do I learn how to be a great leader?

And, certainly, there are lessons. But there's also, great to hear, many different paths that can get people to outcomes. Something that we've talked about before in previous conversations is that notion of communal versus agentic traits. And maybe I shouldn't even say versus. There's this harmony between the two of them. But I'd love you to share with our audience a little bit more about what we mean and what you mean when you say communal and agentic traits.

HAYDEN WOODLEY: Agentic and communal is something an area of interest. And a colleague and I in the department of psychology have been working on a project on, what do people envision as their ideal leader and their ideal follower? And there's an activity I like to do with my students. And I've done it with undergraduates and even executive MBAs. And I get the same reaction, which I find very, very intriguing.

Often, before the class, I have them write a scenario down of their experience with a leader, like a moment where they experienced really good leadership and really poor leadership and really good followership and really poor followership. And then in class, before we even touch on those, I have a discussion with them about, let's just do a word cloud. Let's enter, anonymously, traits that you think of a good leader, bad leader, things of that sort.

And what you find is that they come up with a lot of these agentic traits. And agentic traits are tend to be in our society referred to as masculine traits-- being confident, being intelligent, being courageous, being brave, driven, these kind of I'm a person acting on my environment. So I have agency or control over acting on my environment. And you see a lot of these traits pop up when we talk about good leaders.

However, when we switch to followers, the language changed these communal traits, where, often, we hear things like, we want them to be supportive. We want them to be helpful. And so these examples of these communal traits of compassion, considerate is what gets associated with followership.

I find really interesting, and hopefully a good aha moment for my students, is I say, here's the word clouds that we've created based on these terms. But let's revisit your stories. And I have them talk about it, but I also have pulled out key moments that I've seen in them.

And a lot of those stories are flipped, where they talk about a good leader, where I went to work. And I was having a rough day. And my boss recognized that and said, hey, why don't you go home early because it looks like you're having some challenges today? You can't focus. Why don't you take care of yourself and come back tomorrow with some renewed energy?

A situation where people are in a set of conflict, some are saying, hey, how can we can resolve this conflict? I want us to all be able to work together and creating this sense of community, which associated with these communal or, quote unquote, "feminine traits in our society." And that's what a lot of the good leadership examples come from.

And then when we talked about good followers, interestingly, they bring up a lot of examples of agency or masculine traits, where they say, I gave someone a task to do. And they took it and ran with it. Or I had responsibility for that. They were brave enough to speak up to support another employee who wasn't getting recognized in the meeting.

So this kind of behavior from followers, I'm not saying that one is better than the other. It's just that sometimes our frame of reference and our social norms of what to expect from leaders or from followers gets heavily driven by this understanding and what we expect then from leaders. So as a society, we say leaders need to have these masculine assertive agentic traits.

But is that really true for leadership? Are we understanding what a leader is and knowing that they need followers, that's a community they're responsible to? So, of course, communal traits are going to be important there.

And as a follower, I say, well, followers are their own community. And, yeah, so communal traits will be important to a certain degree. But, also, they have responsibilities to support the leader and speak up to leader, especially in moments where other people might not feel safe speaking up. So that's going to take bravery and confidence and acting on their environment. So there's a level of agency that's required there too.

So I would argue that some of the discussions and even people talk about agency and communion, they talk about traits as like they're against each other, as like agentic versus communal traits, as you were drawing attention to. But it's, really, you need agentic and communal traits.

In a leadership moment, you're responsible for yourself acting on the environment. And sometimes you need to use your agentic traits. But sometimes you need to use your communal traits and understand have a community that's following you, and you have to support them and give the resources they need.

And we see this now where meta-analytic research has been showing that empowering leadership accounts for variance in job performance and satisfaction and leader-member exchange, which is just trust in your leader, beyond what transformational leadership does and understanding then more broadly then that there's more to the complexity of being a leader. And it doesn't need to be in a competition. It can be an addition.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Oh, it does. And it's so important. We live in a world where you're, often, it's one or the other and black or white or this end or that end of a continuum, where it's understanding both. And they both play a role at different times.

And I love that exercise you do, simply very powerful to get people thinking about the traits that they see. I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier on, which is the notion of some of the things we're talking about today are not necessarily new. They might have a heightened spotlight for various reasons. Has the traits of what makes a good leader changed over time? Or are they different today than they were 50 or 60 or 100 years ago?

HAYDEN WOODLEY: I'm not convinced that they have changed. I just think that our ability to analyze and measure them and validate what the behaviors that are required in a given moment, and that, yes, throughout contexts, the behavior might change to a certain degree as we evolve and the environment changes. But the key principles behind what a leader does and their approach to that probably has been pretty consistent over time. And we just haven't done a very good job of recognizing it. So we've been kind of wearing blinders.

And one of the things that I think is fascinating is that the world has become more global, and business has become more global. And we've been saying that for decades. But only are we really drawing attention to then, well, what similarities and what differences come out of this?

One of the discussions right now is you hear a lot about Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, when you're a leader, how you need to be able to do this and make people feel included, and that you're going to be working with people from diverse backgrounds. And that there's a clear advantage of learning those different and unique perspectives. But the principle of being a leader still stays the same.

As a leader, you want to get people to feel included and to feel involved. And you want their diverse perspectives. And you don't want to get caught up, though, on these surface-level characteristics of age, race, ethnicity, gender. Those aren't really the predictors you should be looking for. What perspective does that person bring to the table because of their unique experiences and perspectives, either from their culture or their upbringing?

And the challenge is even with people trying to apply some of these EDI principles, they're falling behind by then forcing the ideologies on other people and other groups. Going back to the agency and communion for a moment is that there was a paper that just published last year, which is terrifying that 2022 is last year, but it was looking at agency and communion and how it differed between men and women in Germany and men and women in Nigeria.

And they found, for example, that Nigerian women were both more agentic and more communal than German women. So some of these patterns when we think about it being specifically masculine or specifically feminine traits may not be right. And as we get more a broader understanding of cultures and how they influence these traits, we can understand how our conceptions in our society of gender can manifest and influence these.

I think sometimes about the story of my mom when she was in law school. And she talks about she had just had a child. And there were some women within her law program who were telling her she was acting almost too feminine. And she was like, what does that even mean? And I don't even understand what that concept means.

And she talks about how they would-- sometimes there's comments about how as a female lawyer, you should wear a pantsuit. And she's like, no, I'm going to wear a skirt. That's what I want to wear.

But her upbringing was she wasn't born in Canada. And some of the norms that people are trying to push on her she felt were in conflict with her culture because she's like, it doesn't matter who you are. You wear what you want to wear. And understanding that the gender norms and how they manifest were very different in her upbringing than what were being forced on her by entering as she would refer to as the North American or westernized culture.

I do think things are changing. But the principles that we know were adding to the validity of them the more we broaden our understanding. But the foundational components are staying pretty consistent. And I think really effective leaders are ones who adapt and understand the principles and go, OK, this is a different scenario. But the same principles apply.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: I'm actually going to jump on to a few points you made. One was around operating with a bit of blinders. So it's interesting. I think there is a bigger spotlight on expectations now. And so while things maybe haven't changed as much as some people think, the awareness or at least the discussions seem to have picked up.


The employee-- so those that are in roles where they are being led or followers maybe for another way of framing it. How are the expectations of employees shifting? Do you see changes in the expectations of employees today versus maybe even just 5, 10 years ago?

HAYDEN WOODLEY: Yeah, I think as, again, the context is slightly changing, as the environment we live in is changing, I would argue that, historically, things like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which was very important at first and very foundational in psychology, then was pushed away. And people were like, oh, we can't validate it. But now more recent research is suggesting, well, maybe there is some truth to it also. So these things are moving in ebbs and flows.

But when you think about it in the society and the employee, really, it was about basic needs initially of, do I have a roof over my head? Do I have enough money to feed my family? A lot of short-term goals and opportunities.

But I think as a society, as we've advanced and improved in a very positive way, people now have the ability to think more about their life in the long term because we've compiled resources to provide those basic foundations. And you still get-- which I find interesting is people care more about money the younger they are.

So my undergraduate students are like, oh, it's about how much money I make. But then my executive MBAs are like, it's not about the money. It's about the experience and my relationship with my leader or my employees or the contribution or the purpose that is being created.

So you could get those differences just depending on the age group. But you can see the transition that's taking place. And now we have-- I don't like saying generation because then we're lumping in a group of individuals and then making a bit of a stereotype. But sometimes it's just for the ease of communication.

But we have younger generations who now have more access to resources and are able to now prioritize some of the other aspects of being human as in our basic needs of being connected with others, understanding how our impact now impacts others and thinking more long term and understanding sustainability and the aspect of, is this sustainable?

And, historically, some people would think about, well, what am I leaving for my children? But now it's, what about my children's children? What world are we creating for them to live and adapt in? And where is this world heading? So I think the employee now, those are issues that are more salient to them. And as a leader, that might be different than other generations that you may have interacted with.

However, the principle still apply there, where understanding what your employee needs. I don't lead person A the same way I lead person B, because person A might be very motivated by rewards and what they're getting out of a situation and recognition. And person B might be heavily motivated by what they're contributing and what they do and the purpose in their actions.

So as a leader, I need to be able to disentangle those nuances and say person A needs this from me to stay motivated. They need direction. They need rewards contingent on their behavior, where person B needs me to empower them and help them see the purpose in what they do and how it contributes to the organization.

So I see more as leadership in the future being about the adaptability to apply the leadership principles to effectively motivate individuals, because then in respecting their uniqueness, but to see how also make them clear that both of their contributions help achieve some greater goal for the organization. So those things that I'm doing are still linked to the desirable shared outcomes.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: So thank you for those comments. And it's interesting how the expectations are shifting. But in some ways, it's really around people having that longer-term thinking around what could the possibilities be for me as an employee?

So if I am a leader and I've done some work to understand where my strengths are and maybe what are my shortcomings, what might come more naturally or less naturally, if I recognize that I've got a, quote unquote, "habit" that isn't necessarily that productive, so if it's a trait that I need to build more of or if it's a trait I need to shift, any tips on how I can achieve that?

HAYDEN WOODLEY: Yeah, and I go back a little bit to that agency and communion for a second because there was something that you had mentioned earlier about the continuum and then being perceived as opposite ends of a continuum. And it just reminded me of-- there's a review paper done in 2021 by Adele and colleagues touching on this, and that they're basically two separate axes, that there's the x-axis being agency and communion being a y-axis and understanding how you can then create these four quadrants that people can act within.

I believe it's called The Social Evaluation Framework, but don't quote me on that. But it's a very complex structure but very helpful in sorting information, understanding how we act in our environment. And here's where I would say I want to touch on and why I'm bringing that up in this moment is tracking agentic traits and communal traits among men and women in North America. There's a couple reviews on this that have had interesting consequences or findings.

One is that men do agentic traits, and they're still doing agentic traits. This is what they do. And they're not doing communal traits any more or less.

So one was I think in 1997, was one of the reviews of that longitudinal study. I can't remember when the second one was. But I believe it's approximately 10 years later, they did the study again.

Same pattern. Men are doing agentic traits, no change in the communal traits. In the earlier one, what they found was that women do a lot more communal traits. But they were increasingly doing more agentic traits.

One of these to me is a reaction to the environment that they're in, where they're seeing rewards in-- and we'd sometimes talk about, oh, this is an objective measure of performance. Well, that objective measurement be focused more on agentic behaviors. And one thing to touch on-- little tangent-- is performance is behavior. You go witness a performance. It's how they're behaving. Whether you enjoyed it or not is the effectiveness.

Women are doing more and more agentic traits, is what the first review found. And then the second one interestingly found that women were still doing more and more agentic traits. But they're actually starting to pull back and doing fewer communal traits, which tells me that, well, they're responding and reacting to changes in their environment.

But the men are still doing the agentic traits and not doing more communal traits. So this is where I find it interesting because people say, well, this is just who you are as a man or as a woman, that these are the behaviors that you're supposed to do. But then why are we seeing change over time? And why are we seeing change in a normative pattern towards the society or the structure of society of what behaviors are rewarded in the society?

So when research was looking at-- when people look at from various backgrounds and diversity backgrounds-- I'd say surface-level diversity-- when people look at different leaders, they often associate it with being a white male. So why aren't people going to do the behaviors if they think they see themselves as being a leader?

As an aside, there is a meta-analysis in 2014 that looked at leader effectiveness between men and women and found that on the surface, men and women are equally effective at leading, unless you take into consideration who is doing the rating. So men rate themselves as being more effective leaders, whereas women rate themselves as being less effective than men rate themselves.

But if you look at other ratings, which we know are better predictors of actual behavior-- so if I want to get to know my personality, it's better to ask the people around me than myself because I'm biased, and my cognitive biases would interrupt my understanding of it-- that they rate women as being more effective leaders. So I would argue then that women are more effective leaders. But I'm not surprised by understanding that they're doing more agentic and more communal traits, that they're seeing the value and doing both of those to achieve goals, especially in a leadership context.

What I see is that when I'm doing self-reflection, understand what biases I might have, what behaviors I might envision a leader should have versus what does my follower need from me and take into consideration that both agentic and communal traits are going to be helpful in a given moment.

So I would argue that when trying to develop your own leadership skills, it's important to self-reflect and try to remove yourself from the biases that you might be shaping you based off of your society that you're in and what people tell you you should or shouldn't do and get a better understanding of, what does this situation or context need for me as a leader? And how can I apply that?

And some things might not come as natural to you. But our biggest growth comes from stepping outside of our comfort zone. So I think that's great. I think that's exciting.

When I teach, I often talk about-- when I know there's an emotional discussion or a tough topic, I use a stoplight as analogy, which was not my idea. A colleague shared it with me. But when it's a red light phase, people are very closed off, so emotional. And the intensity of the emotion-- I'm not concerned about what emotion it is. But the emotion is so intense that they can't really process information.

But our growth comes from being in that yellow light phase, where we're a little bit uncomfortable with the information or the situation or the environment. And we have to learn something new and improve something or change a habit that we might have. So I see that as if you feel like you're in the yellow phase, you need to go a little slowly. Make sure you're doing things rightly. That's great.

Green means you're comfortable. But that's not necessarily a good thing. It means you're going forward, and this has become a habit for you. And so just getting yourself into that little bit of discomfort but controlled discomfort will be helpful and when developing your own leadership skills.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: That's terrific. And that comment around growth outside of your comfort zone, and so I think there's a takeaway there that all of us can benefit from.


I want to shift the last piece here to organization. Things are changing fast. And so what advice do you have to organizations who are truly looking to build cultures where strong leadership exists, employees can feel free to share what they expect and what they demand? Organizations that are on this journey to create that, what would you say to them?

HAYDEN WOODLEY: Well, I think one of the things is I'm a firm believer in evidence-based decision-making and evidence-based management as a foundation within my field. And I really value it because it's about using the best available information at a given moment to make a decision.

And if organizations want to apply that and what it should lead to-- it's like if you go to the doctor, you want them to diagnose what your injuries-- what available evidence do you have to diagnose this and give me an informed solution or treatment-- is organizations need to incorporate that a little bit to understand that leadership doesn't just stop. And we're constantly gathering more information and evidence about where it works, where certain styles might work, where it doesn't, where it fails, how it grows and develops.

And one thing I think to give Ivey a plug if I can, their leader character model, this interesting area of growing research. And I'm not saying that it's perfect. I think there's lots of opportunity for it to grow.

But it's drawing attention to, in my opinion, the aspect of these foundational moments of the character and the impact you have and how people judge you in character. I think it was Allport who said personality is your behavior devalued, where character is your behavior evaluated. So it's in our society of as a leader how are you being judged really is what leader character is in my understanding of it.

And within that model, it's got agentic traits, communal traits. And they're all equally important. And I think that's a situation where it's a newer approach to understanding leadership. And organizations are missing out if they're not taking on this new information and learning from it.

And one of the things that I really enjoy doing and why-- people sometimes will be like, well, you did psychology. Why are you in a business school? I'm like, well, I did the psychology for the training and expertise because I want to apply it. I want to talk to business leaders. I want to communicate with them and tell them, hey, guess what? I know this cool evidence in research, and it can apply in your organization.

So I think what organizations will benefit from is not closing off those pathways when they send employees to programs or training initiatives with partner organizations, like Ivey. But not to close that off, to maintain those connections, because it's a great source of up-to-date information, lots of stuff that sometimes-- like now, I get a lot of calls and requests to talk about EDI or talking about how to lead teams or lead teams in a virtual environment because organizations think that's so different than what it is before.

But we've been doing research on virtual teams for decades. And the principles now that are applying are not different. The principles are the same. It's just about how you apply it might be a little different.

So I think that's where organizations need to be open to, is not closing off that door. I am regularly quoted for saying that the one best practice is there's no best practice, and that it's important to understand key principles and be able to apply them. And that's where I see the future in all of this, is leaders and organizations, when things change, you change with them. It's adapt or die, in my opinion. But I think that's a good thing. That's an exciting thing and an opportunity.

BRIAN BENJAMIN: Yeah, so I like that a lot. One best practice is there's no best practice. That's a theme through our conversation here. You talked about there's no one perfect set of traits that a leader should aspire to or no one formula an organization should follow.

What I did hear, though, is it's about being aware. It's about continuous investment. And it sounds like organizations that are going to excel are the ones that shine a spotlight, create these opportunities for their leaders, for their employees, and do it on an ongoing basis because things are changing really, really fast here.

Any final comments or thoughts? We covered a whole lot of ground. But I want to make sure if there's anything else that you wanted to share on the topic, you had a platform to do it.

HAYDEN WOODLEY: Well, I just think it's a point of understanding of we are living in a world where we can forget sometimes that our environment and patterns that people have practiced decade after decade versus after hundreds of years back lead us to where we are now. So we need to understand and reflect on how much of that is actually true or how much was that-- just like one person years ago said, we should do this, and then it became a pattern of behavior. And now we're reluctant to second-guess that.

And I think being able to almost question in an almost scientific way of, why do we do this, is this helpful, what is it trying to achieve versus just being like, well, it's a habit. Or we do this, and that's what we've always done, being able to adapt going forward. And I think that's where I see a big growth is.

For example, agentic and communal traits, we've thought as a source of categorizing. You are identifying this gender or of this sex. And so as a result, you do these behaviors, and the other person is supposed to do these behaviors. But is that really the case?

And I think right now, society is actually questioning that a little bit more and saying, maybe we can all do these traits. And I'd be curious to know what we can and can't do. And as a leader, you can hopefully can see the advantage of why you don't want to get caught under one bucket, and that incorporating both is important for your success as a leader.

So sometimes you need to be agentic, and that's great. And sometimes you need to be communal, and that's also great. And one isn't better than the other. And I think organizations need to incorporate that into their evaluation systems.

And that's where we see things like systemic bias happen, is because when we're making criteria, we say, well, this is an objective measure. But it's like, yeah, what foundational principles was that measure created on? And are we then creating barriers that are preventing women from getting into these leadership roles, even though we know meta-analysis shows that they're probably better at leading than men are? And there might be reasons why.

But it doesn't mean men can't be great leaders too. I was just out in Prince Edward Island meeting with an employee who had a situation with a team. And they were struggling in how to get them through a situation where a really traumatic event that had happened for them. And when talking to him, it was just really great to hear him talk about all the behaviors he took to solve this.

And he was like, I need you to help me understand what I did. And then I was like, he was talking about how he was very compassionate with them, patient, wanted to make them stay connected, didn't let them start tearing each other apart. He wasn't, well, you got to be better at this. You got to step up.

He knew that this wasn't a moment where I needed to be agentic. I needed to be communal to keep them connected. And now not only have they've been prospering, they're all moved on to leadership roles themselves within that team. So I think it's a great example of what I'm hoping the take-home message is that I'm trying to share here.

BRIAN BENJAMIN: Well, that's a perfect way to wrap and a really good example. So thank you for taking your time and for sharing your expertise. There's amazing amount of tips. And as always, I learned a whole bunch too.


SEAN ACKLIN GRANT: Thank you for tuning in to Leadership in Practice. We'd like to thank our guest, Hayden Woodley. Leadership in Practice is produced by Melissa Welsh, Joanna Shepherd, and me, Sean Acklin Grant. Editing and audio mix by Carol Eugene Park.

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About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment. 

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  • Hayden Woodley
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