Leading Employees of Different Genders: The Importance of Gender for the Leadership‒Motivation Relationship

Date01 December 2021
Published date01 December 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(4) 651 –673
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X20925520
Leading Employees of
Different Genders: The
Importance of Gender for
the LeadershipMotivation
Trine H. Fjendbo1
Employee motivation is important for public organizations. However, it might not be the
same kind of leadership that motivates Susan and Steve. This article examines whether the
association between transformational (visionary leadership) and transactional leadership
(verbal and pecuniary rewards) and employee motivation depends on the employee’s
gender and gender-based traits. Based on gender differences in communal and agentic
traits, pecuniary rewards are argued to motivate male/agentic employees more than
female/communal employees. The opposite is argued regarding visionary leadership and
verbal rewards. Analysis of 1,294 Danish high school teachers shows female teachers on
average are more communal and less agentic than their male colleagues. Furthermore,
female teachers, unlike male teachers, are less motivated the more pecuniary rewards
they perceive. However, no other gender differences are significant, lending only partial
support for gender-based differences in the leadershipmotivation relationship.
gender, personality traits, transformational leadership, transactional leadership,
Like all organizations, public organizations depend on good and fitting leadership to help
improve performance and motivation. Goal-oriented leadership (e.g., transformational
1Aarhus University, Denmark
Corresponding Author:
Trine H. Fjendbo, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Bartholins Allé 7, Aarhus 8000,
Email: fjendbo@ps.au.dk
925520ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X20925520Review of Public Personnel AdministrationFjendbo
652 Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(4)
and transactional leadership) has been found to have a positive influence on employee
performance (Avolio et al., 2009; Jacobsen & Andersen, 2015; Wright et al., 2012). Both
transformational and transactional leadership strategies seek to motivate the employee to
work toward organizational goals but do so via different mechanisms. Transformational
leadership tries to align employee’s goals with those of the organization, whereas transac-
tional leadership tries to make it in the employee’s self-interest to work toward the goals.
In that sense, both leadership strategies are meant to increase performance by influencing
employees and their behavior. Nevertheless, we know very little about how employee
characteristics matter for the effectiveness of leadership strategies. While gender has been
shown to matter for employee motivation (Andersen & Kjeldsen, 2013; DeHart-Davis
et al., 2006) as well as job trait preferences (Bigoness, 1988; Gooderham et al., 2004;
Konrad et al., 2000), few studies have focused on whether gender matters for the degree
to which leadership strategies motivate (Pedersen, 2018). Drawing on data from Danish
public high school teachers, this article asks the question of whether employee gender, via
differences in communal and agentic traits, moderates the correlation between goal-ori-
ented leadership strategies and motivation.
This article seeks to contribute in at least three ways. Previous studies have used
communal (e.g., being caring and interpersonal) and agentic (e.g., being ambitious and
competitive) traits1 to argue for gender differences in the use of transformational and
transactional leadership (Bass et al., 1996; Carless, 1998; Eagly et al., 2003; Eagly &
Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001) or argued for gender differences in emotional labor (Guy
& Newman, 2004; Meier et al., 2006). However, many studies of the differences in job
attribute preferences do not include sufficient theoretical arguments as to why gender
matters and should lead to differences; they mostly just examine the differences
(Konrad et al., 2000). The first contribution is, therefore, to further examine the traits
at the base of the argument for why some leadership strategies fit one gender better
than the other—thus, to measure and test the importance of communal and agentic
traits in a leadership context.
The second contribution is to increase the sparse knowledge of whether the employ-
ee’s gender matters to the relationship between transformational and transactional
leadership and motivation. The previous studies connecting transformational and
transactional leadership to different genders have focused on the manager and not the
employee. Other studies have found differences between female and male employee
traits (Nielsen, 2014) that are believed to affect motivation, performance, and possibly
the effectiveness of leadership elements, such as wage systems (DeHart-Davis et al.,
2006; Gneezy et al., 2003; Nielsen, 2014; Ors et al., 2013). It is, thus, a relevant next
step to combine these insights and study whether the fit between goal-oriented leader-
ship components and gender traits affects employee motivation. Motivation is both a
goal in itself and an important step in increasing work outcomes such as performance,
well-being, and commitment and decreasing turnover (e.g., Andersen et al., 2014;
Bellé, 2013; Bright, 2008; Kjeldsen & Andersen, 2013; Vandenabeele, 2009).
Knowledge about how employee characteristics matter to the effectiveness of lead-
ership is extremely relevant for managers interested in increasing motivation through
leadership. The practical implication of gender differences in leadership effectiveness

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