Since the Great Recession, there has been this conversation about male versus female leadership. A great many people have said that it wouldn’t have happened if there were more women leaders in business and politics. Now the conversation is being framed in terms of female and male traits and which ones are more desirable in the current environment. One of the voices in this conversation is John Gerzema, who has co-authored a book with Michael D’Antonio, The Athena Doctrine; How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the World, which details their global research about how traditionally feminine leadership and values are now more popular than the macho paradigm of the past. They surveyed 64,000 people around the world who responded with a message that leaders who exhibited feminine traits were more desired and needed.
Backlash against men and/or male traits.
It does get oversimplified but the conversation typically demonizes men as leaders and expresses a wish that more women were in leadership roles. Interestingly, many of the leadership theories that have emerged since the 1970’s and current research suggests that the most effective leadership styles incorporate emotional intelligence and many of the “”feminine” traits identified in The Athena Doctrine. In the comment sections of blog posts like HBR’s ” ‘Feminine’ Values Can Give Tomorrow’s Leaders an Edge”, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In or women leadership, you see tension present between the cultural norms that encourage the traditional male-female roles and the emergence of a more androgynous model.
It’s easy to get sidetracked into attacking the other
Given that social roles are changing and the Great Recession has such far reaching consequences, it is easy to get lost in feeling oppressed. It is quite likely that the Great Recession will have far reaching sociological implications and there isn’t a road map to show us how to create equitable opportunities for everyone. The way things change in Chile are not going to be the same as the way they change in Korea. But…global research points to leadership and business success being dependent on men and women leaders developing certain traits to respond to current conditions.
There are real leadership failures and lessons must be learned
There are examples of bad leadership all over the world that led to scandals and financial ruin. The Anglo tapes in Ireland provide an excellent example of “masculine” leadership traits gone wild but they aren’t the only ones. The challenge will be looking for ways to have conversations that avoid polarization, gender wars and encourage learning what traits will work in a given situation. As we look at how leadership styles have morphed over the years, we see that some of the desired traits haven’t changed at all. It may be that we don’t have the words to describe how leadership has to evolve with the times. It may even be less and less about gender at all.
What makes cooperation/collaboration, empathy, vulnerability, flexibility and/or patience much more desirable in current & future leadership?
How is language complicating the discussion about which leadership traits will be most effective in the future?
How are we blinding ourselves by posing leadership skills as male or female?
Are we setting up more dichotomies that polarise the discussion about leadership? Why or why not?
How do discussions of leadership actually illuminate male and female identities?
At what pace do you see business adopting and adapting to leaders with “feminine” traits?
About the author: Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth, small business coach and executive coach, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding locally or internationally, Ability Success Growth guides established small to mid-sized business owners and executives to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.