At Halloween we enjoy putting on costumes and masks. At work, we sometimes assume roles. Doing so can have two opposite effects. It can undermine engagement — or promote effectiveness. The natural tendency to adapt in order to “fit in” can undermine engagement if we do it unconsciously and lose authenticity. But we can consciously shift our approach (e.g., from feminine to masculine) in order to be more effective Shifting in the latter way is no more inauthentic than speaking a foreign language in order to be understood,.
If feminine ways of making decisions are “Fran,” and the masculine approach to decision-making is “Max,” we are all “Frax.” We are “Frax-wise” when we can use and appreciate both approaches. In the area of decision-making, Max’s approach (the masculine)) is to focus on the goal and approach it in a logical, linear and efficient way. Fran focuses also on the process, gathers ideas, involves others and synthesizes input. Both ways are valuable in different circumstances. Frax-wise people know when to use which; they appreciate someone whose approach is different from their own and know the value of having both on a team. Frax-wise leaders know this difference can create obstacles and work to lower those obstacles.
There are two “languages” in the workplace — masculine and feminine. We use the term “Frax-wise” to describe people who understand, appreciate and leverage both masculine and feminine ways. (We are all “Frax,” a combination of Fran, the feminine prototype, and “Max,” the masculine.) If I am personally Frax-wise, I know which “language” is most effective in which circumstances. In working with others, as a Frax-wise person, I do not take speech styles literally; I know Fran may simply not be expressing his or her ideas powerfully and Max (though sounding confident) may be expressing an opinion. As a Frax-wise leader, I understand that these differences may create obstacles for those who speak “Fran” and I can lower those obstacles. I can be an inclusive leader and get the upsides of gender diversity.
Differences can be the source of judgment and tension. Understanding can lower judgment and enable appreciation and leveraging. The sequence is: awareness, understanding, appreciation, leveraging. If we can understand and appreciate masculine-feminine differences, we gain insights and skills that enable us to appreciate and leverage all kinds of differences.
Recent discussions on the “Millennials” (Generation Y) focus on (negative) stereotypes and on similarities. An HBR blog says we exaggerate differences and should focus on similarities. I agree that we exaggerate differences but do not think the solution is in ignoring them. We can be “generation blind” no more than we can be “color blind” in dealing with racial differences. Recognizing differences enables us to see strengths and to leverage differences.