Those who believe that men are from Mars and women are from Venus may not have leadership potential.
That’s because effective leaders today recognize that stereotypically male and female characteristics overlap. “You can succeed in business leaning heavily on either side of the ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ fence, but to be a leader, you have to stay in the center, no question,” says Emily Bennington, author of the forthcoming book “Who Says It’s a Man’s World: A Girls’ Guide to Corporate Domination.” (AMACOM, 2013)
The rise of social media and the fall of some reckless corporation over the past decade have changed the face of leadership, Bennington says, adding that today’s workforce, “Won’t stand for anything iron-fisted or closed-door.”
As such, “We want our leaders not only to be transparent but to earn our respect, and those who manage the old way, by authority alone, will be lapped,” Bennington says, by those who can communicate and “co-innovate” with folks on the front line.
If ever there was a time for leaders to evaluate themselves on the “soft” skills generally considered “female,” the time is now, she concludes.
Psychologist Richard Coan published a book in 2008 arguing that any person who functions only at the masculine or feminine extreme will likely have problems coping with life and other people, and today he argues that career satisfaction and success also depend on the ability to exhibit “contra-sexual” qualities. These qualities “are a part of all of us and are accessible to all of us,” says Coan, of Tucson, Ariz.
People tend to dichotomize dominance and compassion and to label them masculine and feminine, respectively.
“Whenever you’re working with other people, you can be more successful if you balance those two qualities and don’t go overboard with one or the other,” Coan says. “In certain interactions you’ll have to take charge, but you’re stuck in a rut if you do it all the time. You have to tune into the needs of other people.”
In his book “Masculine, Feminine and Fully Human,” (AuthorHouse, 2008) Coan argues that many people enter adulthood as “rather lopsided individuals,” having cultivated some of their potentials at the expense of others.
“For a time this unbalanced condition may serve us well,” he writes. “Yet over time we may experience growing dissatisfaction, stress and friction with other people, and we need to allow room for psychological potentials that we have neglected.”
Coan believes it is not particularly helpful to think of characteristics as male or female, although he spent much of his career as a psychology professor trying to determine whether certain qualities are gendered and identified more than a dozen different qualities that may be regarded as either masculine or feminine.
“As I see it, the most essential question is how can we best realize all our potentials as human beings?” he says.
The dozen or so qualities can be sorted into five gender-neutral categories that Coan calls “modes to fulfillment:” efficiency, creativity, inner harmony, relatedness and transcendence.
Efficiency encompasses physical, intellectual and social competence.
Creativity involves intuition accompanied by orderly, rational thinking and, depending on the professional field, “the openness of the child, nurturance, aesthetic pursuits, expressiveness, wildness or sensuality,” Coan writes.
Inner harmony is different for each individual but involves recognizing that within ourselves are contrasting or competing urges and tendencies, and seeing them as complements that balance one another rather than acknowledging only some and denying or repressing others.
Relatedness includes nurturance and compassion.
Transcendence is achieved when our sense of individual separateness vanishes. It’s often spiritual; however, it can happen at work when we’re “in the zone.”
Rather than thinking in terms of becoming “more like a man” or “more like a woman,” it might be easier, Coan says, to make sure none of those five buckets is empty.
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