Gender and the Effectiveness of Leadership Training: Results From a Field Experiment

Published date01 December 2021
AuthorSeung-Ho An,Kenneth J. Meier
Date01 December 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(4) 747 –770
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X20932989
Gender and the
Effectiveness of Leadership
Training: Results From a
Field Experiment
Seung-Ho An1 and Kenneth J. Meier2,3,4
This study examines gender differences in leadership behaviors and whether leadership
training would have different effects on leadership behaviors by gender. Using data
from several hundred managers of welfare and financial agencies in Denmark, we first
investigate whether leadership behaviors differ between female and male leaders.
After that, we conducted a year-long field experiment with managers to examine
how female and male leaders respond to leadership training interventions. In general,
female managers improve more from leadership training even though leadership
scores for female leaders were higher before training.
leadership training, gender and leadership, transformational and transactional
leadership, field experiment, public sector leadership
Leaders1 are responsible for a multitude of functions in organizations and effective
leadership skills, therefore, are necessary for them to successfully manage organiza-
tions. Leadership training is a way to improve leadership skills, serving as a venue for
leaders to learn how to create the inducements-contributions balance between the
1University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
2American University, Washington, DC, USA
3Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
4Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands
Corresponding Author:
Seung-Ho An, School of Government and Public Policy, University of Arizona, 315 Social Sciences Bldg,
P.O. Box 210027, Tucson, AZ 85721-0001, USA.
932989ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X20932989Review of Public Personnel AdministrationAn and Meier
748 Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(4)
organization and employees. Public organizations are not an exception when it comes
to training skillful leaders. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management
website, a total of 60 federal agencies provide 244 leadership programs for various
grade levels of employees.2 Though organizations, regardless of sector and industry,
spend a large amount of human and financial resources on training leaders (Seidle
et al., 2016), few studies in public human resource management examine the effective-
ness of leadership training.
For leadership training to be effective, one may need to consider different charac-
teristics of leaders. One noticeable difference among leaders is gender. Diverse theo-
ries from gender role theory to leadership theory indeed suggest that women and men
may exert different behaviors when they serve as organizational leaders (e.g., Eagly,
2013; Eagly et al., 2003; Eagly & Wood, 2016). Women leaders tend to be more demo-
cratic and participatory while male leaders are more independent and assertive (see the
discussion below). The generic management literature and the research in public man-
agement also point to clear gender differences in management styles. An extensive
meta-analysis finds that women managers actually rate higher than men in terms of
both transformational and transactional leadership (Eagly et al., 2003). Studies in pub-
lic management similarly show both value differences between male and female man-
agers and differences in behaviors (Dolan, 2000; Hamidullah et al., 2015; Jacobson
et al., 2010; Meier et al., 2006). The potential differences in leadership styles between
female and male leaders are important when it comes to leadership training; leadership
training may have different effects on male and female leaders in improving their
leadership skills simply because men and women might differ in perceptions of appro-
priate leadership and respond accordingly.
Using data from randomized field experiments on leadership training in Denmark,
this study examines whether leadership training affects female and male leaders differ-
ently. The field experiments involved the random assignment of several hundred Danish
public managers to different forms of leadership training (transformational, transac-
tional, combined transformational and transactional, plus a control group). Before and
after assessments of leadership by both leaders and their employees allow testing our
hypotheses on gender and leadership training. This study also contributes to the litera-
ture examining the relationship in various public organizations (e.g., daycare centers,
public schools, and tax offices) in a country with strong gender equality.3
This study focuses on transformational and transactional leadership styles for the
following reasons. First, transformational leadership styles fit the theoretical literature
arguing that women are more likely to adopt democratic and participatory leadership
styles, thus predicting that transformational leadership training will have a stronger
impact on women and that the more traditional transactional leadership style will be
more influential for men. Second, because women leaders generally score higher on
leadership assessments, training might be subject to diminishing marginal returns; and
the leadership training (both transformational and transactional) might be less effec-
tive for women managers.
In testing these hypotheses, this article proceeds as follows. First, we briefly dis-
cuss the concepts of transformational and transactional leadership and how they can be

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT