A Balance Between Masculine And Feminine Traits: The Requirements For Success As A 21st Century Leader

The Athena Doctrine“I think we need the feminine qualities of leadership, which include attention to aesthetics and the environment, nurturing, affection, intuition and the qualities that make people feel safe and cared for.”                      

 – Deepak Chopra

Just before my book, Lead From The Heart, was published, a public relations executive told me directly: “Your book is terrific, but no one in business is going to take it seriously unless you change the title.”

In the context of workplace leadership, it’s the word, “heart” that instinctively strikes many people as being soft, sentimental and weak.  From my PR friend’s perspective, managing with any degree of care or advocacy simply isn’t regarded as being manly.  And, since men largely dominate leadership positions, he urged me to rename the book.

I chose to go forward with the title, of course, full knowing I’d face some initial resistance.  And ever since, I’ve made it my intention to find as much compelling evidence as possible to prove the solution to the world’s employee engagement crisis lies in leadership practices that positively affect the hearts in people.  This is all I write about.

So I begin this blog by expressing my profound appreciation to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Michael D’Antonio, and his best selling co-author, John Gerzema.   Their new book, The Athena Doctrine: How Women, And The Men Who Think Like Them, Will Rule The Future, offers remarkable insight into what it takes to excel as a leader in the 21st Century.  And, just as Deepak Chopra insightfully suggests in his quote above, their conclusion is that effective leadership today requires a greater balance between male and female traits and values – equilibrium of mind and heart.

Gerzema and D’Antonio initiated a survey of 64,000 people – all chosen to mirror the populations in 13 countries (e.g. the US, Mexico, South Korea, Germany and the UK) that represent 65% of the world’s domestic product.  As experienced researchers, the authors intentionally sought a wide range of cultural, geographical, political, religious and economic diversity.

To summarize what they discovered: The skills required to thrive in today’s world – such as honesty, empathy, communication, appreciation and collaboration – are widely regarded as being on the feminine side of human nature. Consequently, we’ve reached the end of the hyper-masculine era in leadership as these and many other feminine qualities have become more highly valued.

Here’s a summary of their findings:  

  • The financial crisis begun in 2007 has had long-enduring impacts on people’s lives (e.g. depressed home values, depleted retirement savings, and a scarcity of well-paying jobs).  Reflection on what caused this catastrophe has influenced our entire society to reassess what qualities are essential to leadership roles of all kinds going forward.
  • Nearly two-thirds of people around the world – including the majority of men – now feel the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.  This includes 79% of Japanese men, 76% of the people in Brazil and France – and is regardless of age, income or nation.
  • Masculine traits include being: dominant, strong, arrogant, rigid, analytical, proud, logical, self-reliant, aggressive, daring, competitive, stubborn, confident, selfish, bottom-line oriented, unapproachable, progressive and competent.
  • Feminine traits include being: trustworthy, articulate, dependable, reasonable, helpful, flexible, intuitive, sincere, kind, giving, expressive, emotional, honest, cooperative, nurturing, caring, patient and empathetic.
  • According to the research data, many qualities of an ideal leader today are considered feminine.  “More important, the responses show that we collectively seek a more expressive style of manager, one who shares feelings and emotions more openly and honestly.  We want our leaders to be more intuitive, more understanding of other people’s feelings, and more able to assess various angles of a problem – or consequences of an action – before taking action.”
  • The definition of winning in business (and in all workplaces) is changing.  It’s becoming a “more inclusive construct, rather than a zero sum game.  In a highly connected and interdependent economy, masculine traits like aggression and control are considered less effective than the feminine values of collaboration and sharing credit.”
  • “Patience, sensitivity, and the ability to understand others are extremely valuable traits in a fast-paced and interconnected world.  Seventy-eight percent of people surveyed said that today’s times require people to be more kind and empathetic; another 78% affirmed a successful career today requires collaborating and sharing credit with others.”  These are all feminine values.
  • Boiled down to a list of essential qualities, the keys to success in leadership now include:
    • Connectedness (ability to form and maintain human networks),
    • Humility (an approach to life that allows for listening, learning from others and sharing credit),
    • Candor, (a willingness to speak openly and honestly),
    • Patience (a recognition that some solutions emerge slowly),
    • Empathy (a sensitivity to others that promotes understanding),
    • Trustworthiness (a track record and strength of character that inspires confidence),
    • Openness (being receptive to all people and concepts),
    • Flexibility (the ability to change and adapt when circumstances require),
    • Vulnerability (the courage to be human and make mistakes) and
    • Balance (a well rounded sense of purpose).
  • According to Gerzema and D’Antonio, “These traits all seem like timeless virtues to us.  They reflect a strength of character that is both admirable and noble.”

The authors conclude that feminine values in leadership are now “ascendant.” “Powered by cooperation, communication, nurturing, and inclusiveness, among others, institutions, businesses and individuals are breaking from old masculine structures and mindsets to become more flexible, collaborative and caring.  It’s welcomed in every country we surveyed…. we contend that feminine values are the operating system of the 21st century progress.  By embracing feminine values, all of us can double the resources applied to problems and expand our potential for growth.”

Regardless of whether you’re a woman or man reading this, please don’t draw the conclusion that the authors are radicals wanting men removed from leadership roles, or that they believe male leaders need to be neutered in any way.  Instead, what their research now proves (and what has long been my own thesis) is that leaders are far more effective and successful – and will be in the future – when they leverage a greater balance of traditional male & feminine traits.  Leaders must be hard charging and caring.  They must be nurturing to people while maintaining very high expectations of performance.  At the end of the day, leaders must recognize that the human beings they manage need to be developed, encouraged, praised, valued and respected.  Women leaders instinctively tend to do these things better – and that now must change.

Of the 64,000 people surveyed, 81% said that, man or woman, you need both masculine and feminine traits to thrive in today’s world.  “From this point of view,” say the authors, “an embrace of feminine qualities can be thought of as a competitive advantage, not unlike a breakthrough technology or major market insight.”  Armed with this information, it’s time for everyone in leadership roles to adopt a greater balance of mind and heart related practices.  Workers all over the world are demanding it.

PS: In the context of Gerzema’s and D’Antonio’s exceptional work, I think the title “Lead From The Heart” suddenly has a nice ring to it!

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By Mark C. Crowley

Mark C. Crowley is the author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century which has been taught in 11 American universities. He is a global speaker, leadership consultant and thought leader on the topics of workplace culture and employee engagement.