For years now I have been talking about the strengths of both masculine and feminine ways of thinking, behaving, working and leading. In our workshops, we demonstrate the business case for gender diversity. Rather than focus on the balance of men and women in an organization, we focus on the balance of masculine and feminine approaches to work. Having both men and women on a team increases the odds there will be both masculine and feminine approaches. And the result of that balance is better business results.
I was thrilled to come across an article entitled “Between Venus and Mars: 7 Traits of True Leaders.” The author, Leigh Buchanan, reviews his conversation with John Gerzema, author of The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future. I rushed to download the book. I could not wait, though, to point out the parallels between what Buchanan says about it and our work.
Buchanan underscores the importance of employee engagement to productivity and profitability. This is the point of my book, Difference Works: Improving Retention, Productivity and Profitability through Inclusion. Inclusion means appreciating and leveraging difference; the result is broader and deeper engagement, which increases employee energy and commitment.
Buchanan quotes Gerzema as saying that it is “still a man’s world with masculine structures and women conforming to these ideals.” “Feminine traits and values,” the quote continues, “are an untapped form of competitive advantage.” Most important, the article stresses the need for both masculine and feminine forms of leadership, quoting surveys that say “leaders require a combination of male and female traits.” Leaders must be competitive, confident and decisive (masculine strengths) – but also collaborative, empathetic, intuitive and vulnerable (feminine strengths).
I have written about how better decisions arise from having both masculine and feminine thinkers involved. The masculine thinkers will keep things focused and moving. The feminine thinkers will be more thoughtful and inclusive, and do more processing. Buchanan notes the strengths of the feminine approach: “In the new order . . . the bias is toward soliciting more, and more diverse, perspectives.” I have written about differences in masculine and feminine forms of communication, noting the feminine tendency to disclaim, hedge and express ideas as questions. Buchanan refers to a resource that concludes that communication that utilizes “disclaimers, hedges, and hesitations” is often more persuasive than “assertive talk.”
This is not the first expert to declare that feminine forms of working and leading are being valued more. I recently posted a summary of praises for more feminine styles of leading (participatory, non-hierarchical, etc.). I think this article and Gerzema’s new book sing the same song I sing. We need more feminine strengths in the workplace not because it is superior but so that we have a balance!
Do you have examples of powerful leaders who exhibit both masculine and feminine strengths?