In college I fancied myself a feminist. I was a French major and my thesis advisor, a French woman, was one. She was supremely cool and I wanted to be her.
The topic I chose was about the great women behind the kings in 17th and 18th Century France, and the very influential role they played in their husband’s rise to power.
I covered Madame de Maintenon – wife to Louis XIV, Madame de Pompadour, mistress, friend and advisor to Louis XV, and one other I can’t remember. I really need to go find my thesis now. Oh yeah, I wrote it in French (not relevant to story; gratuitous bragging).
As part of my research, I read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and I can’t find my copy anywhere so I think I need to buy it again and re-read it. One of the statements that really struck me was, and I paraphrase: The world would be a very different place today if it were led by women.
Her philosophy is there are traits considered feminine and those considered masculine. Men tend to be territorial. And Imperialism is certainly founded on that. Many wars would have been averted if women were the leaders as they were in some cultures not in Europe, however.
Inc. Magazine’s cover story on Seven Traits of True Leaders made me very happy:
Control is a mirage. The most effective leaders right now–men and women–are those who embrace traits once considered feminine: Empathy. Vulnerability. Humility. Inclusiveness. Generosity. Balance. Patience.
To be clear, this isn’t about men or women, it’s about characteristics deemed more feminine or masculine. I’m less interested in the topic of women in leadership but more so in the question, as de Beauvoir poses: How would life be different if our leaders in business, embodied more of these so-called “feminine traits?”
It’s an important question for all of us whether we lead a business or not.
Although I decided not to grow an agency but rather build my own consultancy, I am still a leader. I lead virtual teams, I lead client projects. I work on volunteer committees and sometimes ya gotta run the household like a business too. We are all leaders at one time or another.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some doozies of bosses in the past (both male and female). I’ve worked in seriously dysfunctional teams and from my own anecdotal evidence, I’d have to agree. You can’t advance your own company or career and maintain longevity without some combination of those traits Inc. mentions.
I’ve worked at a company where team members were played against each other. I was nickeled and dimed on every expense report making me feel completely unappreciated. I’ve been berated by a leader and told I wasn’t good. I actually believed it for awhile. It must be true if my boss says so. Until I realized not everyone is honest.
Leaders can feel threatened and will therefore surround themselves with people who are subservient and not as smart. If you don’t fit into that mold, they’ll make you fit into that mold.
I have friends, family, and colleagues who have found themselves in what I’d qualify as abusive relationships with their leaders. Some don’t realize it until later; others feel trapped. They can’t go over their bosses’ heads, so they don’t know where to turn. They might not be able to leave – maybe they’ve been with a corporation for a long time and have vested interest in staying there until X. Maybe they are fearful of quitting or can’t find another job. So they carry on and it affects them mentally and spreads to their personal relationships.
When delayed on a flight home, being a jackass to the airline representative isn’t going to get you home any faster. Why would being a thoughtless leader focused on the wrong things be any more successful?
Most of us are part of a generation where we change jobs frequently. In my case, it’s due to restlessness. I want more; more challenge, more change. It could be the same or different for you.
I just wonder. If these more feminine traits were more prevalent in leadership roles, much of the nasty side effects like poor morale, bad customer service and episodes like Taco Bell Shell Lick-fest wouldn’t happen. There would be even more innovation and likely a far better economy.
Now, I work for myself and I get to (for the most part) make choices of who I want to work with. It gives me great joy to work with others who embrace values like balance and respect, humility and empathy. We work hard – all of us do. We have ambitions, and we are assertive. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not going all soft! But we spend far too many of hours of each day doing this thing called work. It should be spent with the right people, doing things that matter.
As a leader, you get so much more out of the team when you make it feel like team. You don’t throw people out to the field without the tools necessary to do their job. You give them opportunity and flexibility. The right ones will work hard for you when shown appreciation and generosity.
Bottom line: It might mean it’s time to eat more quiche and watch more chick flicks. The sensitive new age leader might be coming back into style.
I’d love to know what you think.[ssba]
Brian D. Meeks says
Those are great traits. I don’t care if they were considered feminine or not, they make for good managers. I have always believed that the best managers had the attitude that their role was to support the people on their team, whatever the task. A leader should be willing to get their hands dirty if it helps the team succeed.
Now, I’m not sure if this changes the old truth that “boys rule and girls drool”, but that’s okay, I can roll with it if it does.
Lisa Gerber says
LOL!!! I hadn’t heard that, Brian. I can always tell a good restaurant because you see the owners/managers working the room and bussing tables, and chipping in when needed.
Same goes for any type of business. I like the Good To Great book where JIm Collins calls them a Level 5 leader.
Bob Phillips says
I’m not sure that labeling these leadership/humanity characteristics by gender is relevant. They are just good sense. The abusive things you mention are simply bad practice and reflective of the pervasive “managers’ ” “need” for control over the “staff” in business organizations.
It is one step removed from having a “Human Resources Manual,” where the staff is regarded as a collection of interchangeable entities, like pencils. “Call Personnel. I need a number 2H.”
Failure to encourage team members to be who they are, and to do what they are good at and to work on things that they want to learn to do better (mentoring) is a pernicious flaw in our organizations.
Lisa Gerber says
Hi Bob, like both you and Brian mention – (and that’s why I called them “so-called feminine and masculine” traits) I think it’s less of a gender classification and more of a psychological classification. We all have a blend of masculine and feminine traits. Can’t really generalize on one or the other.