Women are much more likely than men to take to heart what their co-workers think of them, new research finds.

A study by researchers in Canada, Spain and France examined 221 MBA students who each had more than 6 years of work experience. The research discovered that women more quickly and rationally aligned their self-awareness with the way their peers viewed them, while men continued to rationalize and inflate their self-image over time.

When asked to rate themselves on key leadership skills — self-confidence, self-management, interpersonal understanding and behavioral flexibility — both men and women initially rated themselves higher on each trait than did their peers, the research revealed. However, over the course of six months, women's self-assessments dropped more steeply than did men's. By the end, women's self-perceptions had essentially converged with their peer's ratings.

The researchers believe the results show women close the gap between self- and peers' ratings faster than men, exhibiting more sensitivity to social cues.

Researcher Margarita Mayo of Spain's IE Business School said greater sensitivity, however, doesn't necessarily constitute an advantage for women in gaining positions of leadership.

"Aligning their self-image to reflect what others think of them represents an advance in self-awareness, which is a big step in leadership development," Mayo said. "But, when self-awareness entails doubts about one's competence, it can induce paralysis unless women take their cue from their peers to seek out the training and coaching that will enable them to take on new challenges."

Mayo said the overestimation of their own leadership abilities among men can also have both positive and negative consequences.

"Preserving their sense of personal efficacy in the face of negative feedback can help them take on new challenges," she said. "Yet, persistently ignoring the plain message of others is hardly a prescription for success over the long haul."

Mayo said companies should consider the study's results when crafting leadership-training programs.

"Multisource feedback will advance leadership development to the extent that programs combine feedback with coaching in keeping with the different ways men and women respond to the ratings of their peers," Mayo said.

The study, co-authored by Juan Carlos Pastor of the IE Business School, Maria Kakarika of France's Kedge Business School and Stephane Brutus of Canada's Concordia University, appears in the current issue of the journal Academy of Management Learning & Education.

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