Blending Gender for Leadership Third Way
- by Peter Dean
Let’s face it, Men were in the workplace first. One could say men created the workplace. Also, men employed other men to manage it. Thus, men forged the “first way” of leadership as masculine: a hierarchical work structure modeled, very often, after the military. This structure was based around a masculine use of power and position. It was characterized by a top-down style of communication that looked like a pyramid with a few people on top, mostly men, and the majority of the workers, more men, below.
Men still dominate 95 percent of key leadership roles in business, and the rest of the labor market consists of 50 percent men and 50 percent women. With mostly men on top of that pyramid, the distributive effect is the maintenance of a masculine-normed work environment with ”man-agement” in charge.
The skills most valued in this masculine-normed work environment are task based: taking initiative with confidence, adapting to frequent change quickly, focusing attention on business growth, attacking a problem using analytical brain structures, distancing oneself from emotional concerns, and completing work on time and correctly.
Men favor other men for succession, and men at the top expect other men under them to be loyal to the male chain of command. This leadership structure was successful for a long time, but the world of work has changed. Today’s leaders have to do more than remain narrowly focused, give their attention to one thing at a time and tune out external stimuli.
The world of work in the 21st century is global in structure and requires leaders to impart cultural, political, technological, economical, ideological and linguistic sensitivity. In addition, companies must be ready for a more open-minded agreeableness that adds an important facet to leadership’s repertoire: attention to diversity—of thinking and doing—in order to optimize the impact of leadership.
The way this “attention” is displayed includes:
- Cooperating with others to achieve long-term objectives.
- Listening, especially to internal and external customers.
- Empathizing with the emotional perception of others.
- Engaging with others using human relations skills.
- Mastering language skills in the verbal, vocal and visual elements of messaging.
- Practicing openness to offering feedback and accepting the opinions of others.
- Showing respect even in disagreement or conflict.
- Participating through civil standards of behavior.
- Considering the short-term and long-term impact of strategic planning and policymaking.
These skills, more subtle than first-way leadership skills, can be overlooked by the fast and focused masculine-normed work environment where only task accomplishments, not human relations, are cherished.
These human relations skills are commonly associated with women.
According to Louann Brizendine in her 2007 book titled The Female Brain, males and females see, hear, intuit, comprehend and sense differently due to different brain structures. Women have 11 percent more neurons than men in the brain centers for language and hearing. The female hippocampus is larger, allowing women to be able to observe emotions and recall the details of emotional events more easily than men.
Based on my research, I have found that women outperform men in the human relations skills of listening, empathy, attending and showing respect. Both men and women possess these skills, but women use them more than men do.
Brizendine, in her 2011 book titled The Male Brain, continued to highlight these brain differences. On average men have two-and-a-half times the brain space devoted to action and aggression than women do. This biological fact can explain why men use their physical presence, loudness and aggressive nonverbal signals to influence behavior. This aggressive male behavior has value in competitive environments but may not add value at other times in the workplace.
In fact, it can serve as a demotivator at work.
If the first way of leadership was masculine, should a “second way” of leadership be feminine? The answer is an emphatic no. Should the skills listed above, usually associated with women, be welcomed more in the workplace? The answer is an unequivocal yes.
The “third way,” neither masculine nor feminine, combines all the skills listed above as a blend of masculine and feminine.