He Said, She Said: What the Sexes Can Learn from Each Other at Work

Last month I addressed the never-ending debate about whether men or women make better bosses, or whether bad bossery has more to do with leadership skills than chromosomes.

Like me, the employee advocates and management trainers I spoke with felt that assuming one sex makes for better managers is ludicrous.

"The issue that people are missing is that managers, regardless of gender, have to have a certain skill set," said Christopher Flett, author of "What Men Don't Tell Women About Business: Opening Up the Heavily Guarded Alpha Male Playbook."

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"I do think we often confuse a 'good boss' with 'nice person,' said Karen Burns, author of "The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use."

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"A good boss is someone who's predictable, consistent and fair," Burns continued. "It's someone who is clear about what the job entails, supplies you with the resources you need to do it well and gives you helpful feedback. A good boss backs you up and gives you credit when credit is due. You don't have to like your boss, but I guess if the boss is all those things, you couldn't help liking her or him."

Like Flett and Burns, the other experts I spoke with said that trying to feminize men's management styles or make women's managerial tactics more masculine isn't the answer. However, they did agree that there's a lot men and women in the leadership seat can learn from one another. Their best suggestions follow.

Women, Drop the Mother Hen Act

In the workplace, there is such a thing as being too nurturing and too concerned with everyone's feelings and whether you're the kind of person your colleagues would invite to a dinner party. In general, if anyone's guilty of this, it's women.

"When a male manager needs something done, he'll say something like, 'Jones, have this completed and on my desk by the close of business tomorrow,'" said Thomas, a chemist in the cosmetic industry who's been in the workforce three decades and claims he hasn't had a female manager that "didn't end in disaster."

"A female manager in the same situation will say something like, 'Mr. Jones, if you're not too busy, would you mind completing this work as soon as you can? Thanks. I would really appreciate it,'" Thomas continued. "In the female manager's mind, what she just said conveyed exactly the same sense of urgency as the male manager. But that is not what a male worker hears. I hear 'If you're not too busy,' and my mind automatically assigns whatever comes after that a low priority."

Okay, that's just one guy's take. But Flett, founder of Ghost CEO, an international consultancy that's helped more than 3,500 women with their professional development, said that female managers could stand to take a page from their male counterparts in the communication department.

Besides cutting to the chase when doling out orders, Flett said, women would do well to train their eyes on the prize a bit more often.

"Women are so focused on the process," Flett said. "They want to make sure that everyone feels included and that they're getting everyone's feedback."

While there's no denying that a little nurturing goes a long way, Flett argues that too much of it can stand in the way of a woman's career advancement, especially when you consider that men are more goal-driven than concerned about process.

"By the time a woman's got the process right, someone's been promoted ahead of her," he said.

Men, Would It Kill You to Collaborate?

On the flip side, many employees have been known to gripe about the alpha male in the office.

"With male bosses, I see more of an underlying macho, competitive streak that can sometimes cloud judgment," said Charlie, who's worked in publishing for two decades. "Women are less likely to be autocratic. They tend to explain why it is they need something done rather than just demanding it, which only helps me work harder to meet those goals."

Experts agree that men could learn a thing or two from women in the team-building department.

"Work need not be a conflict," said Jan Combopiano, vice president and chief knowledge officer of Catalyst, a non-profit research and advocacy organization for women in the workplace. "There are a lot of theories about how the path to the top is really a tournament -- you have to defeat your rivals. But working well with others -- that lesson you learned in kindergarten -- applies in the boardroom."

Ever concerned with moving forward quickly, men often get edgy when they have to sort through a variety of ideas in a meeting, said Betty Spence, president of the National Association for Female Executives.

Spence's advice to men with ants in their managerial pants?

"Learn to listen more and be open to multiple points of view and the collaborative style," she said.

Flett concurs, advising men to better utilize the individuals on their team.

"A female manager would have inventoried everyone to see what they bring to the table," he said. "But a male manager will miss this key step. Because men are so focused on their goal, they often don't see the assets right in front of them."

Old Stereotypes Don't Have to Die Hard

To some extent, generalizations exist for a reason. I just spent 850 words describing a handful of them. But if we're ever going to move past Fortune 500 boardrooms' being 85 percent populated by men, we need to bury the worst stereotypes and double standards holding back women bosses.

"Women just don't have to be good, they have to be amazing," said Catalyst's Combopiano. "Women have to prove they're ready for leadership, whereas men just have to have potential for leadership."

What's more, she said, women have to be liked in order for their colleagues to support their decisions. Not so for men, who can be as unpleasant as they please and still be effective in the workplace, she explained.

Then there's what Combopiano calls the Goldilocks dilemma (though I prefer to think of it as the Hillary Clinton factor). If women act more masculine in a leadership role, we're considered too hard, Combopiano said. But, she added, if we embrace our feminine side, we're thought too soft.

"People need to learn that leadership is a noun, not a pronoun," Combopiano said. "When you think leader, you should think of an individual, not a man or a woman."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog, Anti9to5Guide.com.