Each day, we are presented with new opportunities to lead. Whether it’s on a new project at work, our family’s morning routine at home, or during our foursome’s weekend round, we don’t have to be a CEO to flex our leadership muscles.

But what makes a good leader? KPMG is working to figure that out. As part of the annual KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit, KPMG surveyed 550 past and present attendees to learn about the leadership styles these women used to propel themselves toward the C-suite.



Though things have gotten inarguably better for women in the workplace over the last few decades, the fact is, the majority of executive positions are still held by men, and the percentage of women in top positions of S&P 500 companies sits just below 20%. The women surveyed believe this is due to preconceived notions about women in leadership positions.

According to the survey, executive women feel like they must out-perform their co-workers–especially their male peers–in order to be regarded in the same light. They worry about being perceived as too emotional, too bossy, too demanding, too controlling–or simultaneously not enough! Because women find their male co-workers praised for the same attributes they feel scrutinized for, this can often make women their own worst enemies when it comes to being confident in their leadership styles as they spend a lot of mental energy second-guessing how their decisions will be seen rather than focusing on the end results.

Fifty-eight percent of the surveyed women admitted to changing their leadership styles to move up the corporate ladder.

The participants’ inherent leadership styles overwhelmingly leaned toward a leadership style KPMG calls “Authentic Leadership”, which is characterized by genuine relationships between teammates, decisions made equally on logical facts and gut feelings, and values-based management. But when asked which leadership style is the most effective, the majority of participants believe that adopting a “Transformational Leadership Style” is the most desirable to have in order to be a successful leader.

Transformational leaders most likely fit the description of your ideal CEO; someone who is collaborative, actively cheering on co-workers to be the best they can be, and reach their individual and team goals with as much passion as they would have for accomplishing their own, leading by example while creating an empowering environment for everyone.

Along with the “Democratic Leadership Style”–a collaborative, unified technique that values equality among team members–the majority of the surveyed women executives find themselves pulling in aspects of the transformational leadership style into their authentic leadership style in order to avoid letting what comes naturally prevent them from progressing in their careers.



By changing your leadership style, you run the risk of not being your true self, which can lead to unhappiness and inauthenticity. This is NOT the intention. The majority of surveyed executives stressed that authenticity is tremendously important in leadership positions.

According to the study:

“Women executives should not be afraid to be authentic and remain true to who they are with their teams, regardless of leadership style. This trait is inherent to good leadership.”

Instead, the study found that being open to other styles and moving flexibly between parts of different styles reaps the biggest rewards for leaders.

This is called “Situational Leadership”, and 81% of executive women believe that it has led them to success in their careers.

One surveyed woman explains:

“Every situation and experience I have had has in some way affected my leadership style . . . Though the foundation stays the same, my nuances are always shifting and changing.”

As no one leadership style has been found to be more effective than another, being adaptable in your leadership style allows you to have the best of everything.

Be transformational when you need to inspire, mentor, and coach. Be democratic when you are facing difficult challenges. Be authentic when you want to strengthen the relationships between your teammates.


So How Can You Be a Better Leader?

While women still face dated stereotypes about their performance in the workplace, being able to recognize and address those stereotypes allows women to take back control of how they are perceived without sacrificing who they are and their own leadership styles.

By being adaptable and employing situational leadership, you can be the leader your unique team needs rather than being the leader you assume they would want, as one woman explains:

“I used to be more of a Laissez-faire leader, mainly because that was the type of leadership I thought that I wanted to have myself . . . It was difficult for my team because I was so absent, and I got nailed on my performance feedback. Ultimately, I progressed fine, but it was a wake-up call to be a more active leader and to listen to my team versus driving forward with my own opinions about what was best.”


The KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report can be read in its entirety on the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit website.

How are you taking on leadership roles in your life? Which leadership style do you gravitate towards? Let us know in the comments below.