Why Women Entrepreneurs Make Good Leaders

For every Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, there are at least three or more male entrepreneurs you can rattle off without a moment’s thought. For instance, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson come to mind almost effortlessly.

However, this doesn’t mean that men make the best entrepreneurial leaders – in fact, a new study on learning seems to imply that women can be just as good, and in some cases, better. To see why read on.

The Study

Recently Springboard and Korn Ferry, two firms that support women in business, sponsored a study aimed at measuring a person’s ability to navigate new situations and apply what they’ve learned in new and different ways. According to researchers, these “agile learning” skills are highly predictive of leadership success in business.

The study measured emotional intelligence, tolerance for ambiguity, and curiosity.

The subjects consisted of:

  • Women entrepreneurs who ran their own businesses
  • Male executives in senior management positions in the corporate sector
  • Female executives in senior management positions in the corporate sector

The results, as we’ll share here, were more than compelling.

Women Entrepreneurs Score Higher

In the emotional intelligence category, scores were roughly the same among all subjects. However, female entrepreneurs scored significantly higher than male and female executives in their ability to tolerate ambiguity. They also dominated in the curiosity category.

Dana Landis, Korn Ferry’s vice president of talent, science and analytics explains why an ability to tolerate ambiguity can lead to entrepreneurial success. 

“Some people thrive in those circumstances and enjoy figuring out what it’s all about,” she said. “Others seize up or go back to known patterns when things are unclear or changing quickly.” 

According to Landis, curiosity – one’s attraction to solving complex problems – is also an abundant trait in effective agile learners. 

“People who are drawn to those scenarios tend to thrive in leadership,” said Landis. “Those who don’t, or those who treat every problem the same way, tend to falter.”

In short, women entrepreneurs possess more of the traits that make them successful leaders. Which, when you consider it, explains why they strike out on their own in the first place.

The Downside

Oddly enough, the traits that make women entrepreneurs good leaders are the same ones that prevent many of them from excelling as corporate executives. Not because they don’t have the abilities to succeed or lack of learning skills, but because they find the environment too rigid and stifling.

Amy Millman co-founder of Springboard elaborates. “People say women leave big corporations because they just can’t hack it,” she says. “We find women leave because they aren’t allowed to innovate.”


In a world where more and more individuals are forging their own way in business, strong leadership skills are a must. If you’re a woman with an entrepreneurial bent, odds are you may be an effective agile learner with more than a passing chance at success.

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