They're Cruel To Be Kind

By Stephanie N. Mehta(FORTUNE Small Business) Women own nearly a third of the nation's privately held firms, and scores of them sit at the highest corporate levels. Given those figures, we went out and tried to see whether there was any real research to back one of the most notorious business cliches out there: Women executives manage differently from men. Well, it turns out there are actual academic studies--from profs at Harvard and Stanford--that back the theory up. They reveal that women typically take a more collaborative approach than their male managerial counterparts. Queen bees tend to seek others' perspectives when planning or making decisions. Such inclusiveness, say researchers, is partly due to the way women have been socialized (as in "play nice"), and it's also because working women must often juggle lots of different tasks and ideas (as in balancing work and family). Says Nancy Koehn, a professor at Harvard Business School: "A lot of what women have done over the years is help others feel enabled and motivated to do their best." But being warm and fuzzy shouldn't mean a mushy management style. Lea Marquez-Peterson, founder of gas-station chain American Retail Corp., gets to know her 35 employees personally and regularly seeks their feedback. But she encourages her new hires, many of them working moms, to establish day care for their kids before starting their jobs. "I might empathize more," says Marquez-Peterson, who has a 3-year-old daughter, "but when I make rules, I expect people to follow them. --S.N.M.