April 15, 2024

1 min reading time

How to Challenge Leadership Stereotypes in Your Organisation

Are you frustrated by the lack of diverse leadership in your organisation or industry? Do you see talented individuals overlooked because they do not fit the mould of what a leader is "supposed" to look like? Perhaps it is time to take action and challenge the leadership stereotypes that are holding your organisation back.


In this article, we will explore the effects of stereotypes on leadership quality and suggest one important route to create a more inclusive and effective leadership culture. Do not let outdated stereotypes limit your organisation's potential by overlooking talent. Join us as we challenge these biases and unlock the full potential of all leaders.

What is a stereotype?

A set idea that people have about what someone or something is like, especially an idea that is wrong.

Cambridge English Dictionary


A stereotype denotes a belief, (often widely oversimplified) about a certain type of individual, a group of individuals, or roles that people fit into. Whether we want to admit it, or even realise it, we have conjured stereotypes as an unconscious bias for all types of people and roles. For example, many would think of a teacher as kind, caring, and that they only work when the children are around so they have a lot of free time. We are not necessarily wrong about them commonly being kind and caring, but not that they have a lot of spare time and little pressure in their job, which can lead to us undervaluing their role.


A stereotype can cause us to box people in and to potentially cultivate a limited expectation of what their behaviour will be, based on that preconceived judgement. We then either miss any behaviour that falls outside our judgement ‘box’. Or we are confused by what we perceive as irregular behaviour because it does not fit our judgement.


Whilst this can sometimes be helpful, for example, some stereotypes enable us to relate to a role that's not yours, however for the most part, it is damaging. In regards to leadership stereotypes, we are often surprised, or even unnerved, if someone opposes a stereotypical profile. We can miss opportunities if we underestimate a person's capabilities, which may even prevent us from making beneficial recruitment and promotion choices.


Common stereotypes in the workplace

There are several common stereotypes in the workplace that can impact leadership development.


Some of the most prevalent are:

  • possessing – or not – perceived industry or organisational ‘successful’ traits
  • age
  • gender
  • cultural background

For example, older workers may be seen as less innovative or adaptable, while younger workers may be viewed as inexperienced and untrustworthy. Gender biases can stereotype women as less assertive or less capable than men, while men can be seen as too assertive or lacking the empathetic skills for certain tasks.


Negative self-beliefs about leadership that emerge due to stereotypes

Have any of these statements ever gone through your mind?


  • “I’m not like any of our existing leaders”
  • "I'm not very confident"
  • "I'm not qualified"
  • "I'm not old enough"
  • “I’m too old”
  • "I've never been recognised before"
  • "Others around me are better"
  • "I've messed up too many times"
  • "I'm just not a leader"

These are quite common thoughts and feelings amongst those who have a stereotypical view of what a leader looks like. It is what people tell themselves when they have been conditioned to expect a certain leadership style, which then causes them to feel like an imposter and doubt their ability to lead.


If you are a leader within your organisation, and or a HR professional looking to develop leaders within your organisation, it is important you find ways to communicate a broad spectrum of what leadership can look like so that you do not limit the talent pool within our leadership structure.


Challenging the leadership stereotype by focusing on leadership behavioural preferences

One way to challenge leadership stereotypes is by focusing on leadership strengths across different behavioural profiles.


Psychometric behavioural profiling can be a powerful tool for identifying and developing leadership skills and breadth of leadership talent within your organisation. By assessing an individual's behavioural style, preferences, and tendencies, these tools can provide insights into how each individual person can lead most effectively. Leaders who are self-aware and have a clear understanding of their strengths and limitations are better equipped to lead their teams and achieve their goals.


Consider this tool if you want to challenge existing leadership stereotypes within your own organisation or industry and identify leadership qualities within your workforce that may not fit traditional leadership ‘types’. 


Below is diagram that illustrates some of the leadership strengths that behavioural preferences from across the spectrum possess. The wheel represents the whole population, so we all fall somewhere on this wheel, as our preferred way of operating. Another important concept that this wheel also represents, is that we can all move around the wheel and learn to flex the behaviours that may not be so natural to us. We can learn to lead in every situation.


C-me colour wheel of leadership contributions:


leadership behaviours 


If you would like to find out more about behavioural preference profiling, see our article: Why we focus on behaviour over personality. 


Key take-away

Every behavioural preference can be an effective leader.


Does the 'perfect' leader exist?

In short – no! Hopefully, this is a relief. Every leader has strengths and weaknesses, and it is essential to identify and leverage those strengths and also understand how to mitigate weaknesses (we will always have weaknesses of some kind) in order to be an effective leader. By focusing on leadership behavioural preferences, it is possible to overcome negative self-beliefs and challenge leadership stereotypes by exemplifying leadership that looks different.


What makes a great leader?

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there are several key qualities that many great leaders possess – which all amount to them being effective leaders. Here are 5 qualities great leaders possess:


  1. Vision: The ability to see the big picture and communicate a compelling vision for the future.
  2. Developed communication: Great communication skills are essential for any leader.
  3. Empathy: The ability to understand and connect with others on an emotional level is a key trait of successful leaders.
  4. Adaptability: Great leaders are adaptable and can adjust to changing circumstances.
  5. Courage: Courageous leaders are not afraid to take risks and make difficult decisions, learn and grow.


What are your leadership strengths?

Take a look at the C-me colour wheel above; do you identify with any of these behavioural preferences?


You might also find it helpful to reflect upon some of these questions – select the questions that you find most helpful:


  • Have you had leadership experiences that were particularly successful?
  • Have you had leadership experiences that were not very successful, what can you learn from them?
  • What comes naturally to you when leading others?
  • What did you/do you enjoy most about leading?
  • What leadership qualities do you admire in others?
  • What leadership qualities do you find less effective in others?
  • What kind of leader do you aspire to be?
  • What leadership qualities do you wish others would recognise in you?
  • What do others identify as your strengths, which you could use in leadership?
  • What are your natural tendencies and how could these be used to lead others?


Whatever leadership rhetoric we believe and wherever we fall in the nature vs nurture debate for leadership talent, most importantly leadership is fundamentally a choice.


A choice, to take responsibility in leading ourselves well; ensuring we remain emotionally healthy, humble and hungry in order that we keep on growing.


Understanding people will help us to have a positive impact on them, which is ultimately what leadership is all about.


Growing as a leader involves going on a journey; a journey that will be different for every person.


Challenging leadership stereotypes within our own organisation and industry will serve future leaders to come, making room for powerful leadership talent that may have gone unrecognised in the past.

Key questions to reflect upon of your organisation

Are there common leadership preference types within your organisation? What preferences are missing in your organisation? Is there anyone in your organisation who possesses these missing preferences who could be developed in leadership?


How C-me supports growing leaders

The C-me platform is designed to utilise the genius of behavioural preference testing to build happier, more successful teams and organisations. The platform has been designed to support healthy leadership growth through:

  • Identifying leadership strengths and areas for development within all of your staff.
  • Revealing leadership biases within your teams and across your organisation.
  • Offering Leadership and Management Development workshop content to use in your own leadership programs, teaching your leaders how to identify the preferences and strengths of others in order to lead and manage others more effectively.


To find out how we can help you identify and develop your leaders and future leaders book a demo with one of our team.


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