In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg points to internal barriers that hold women back. Many are just “feminine” ways. Women are wired and acculturated to value relationships more than status and to avoid bragging. This looks like lower ambition. Women tend to speak more humbly; this looks like lower confidence. I agree that, to make it to the top, women must demonstrate ambition and confidence. But my hope is that one day leaders will understand and appreciate feminine as well as masculine style and see leadership in both.
The masculine form of influencing others is based on a hierarchical world-view. The feminine form is based on building and maintaining relationships. Those (men and women) who influence in a masculine way command, tell, and demonstrate dominance. Men and women who influence in a feminine way do so through persuasion. We can wisely use our understanding of these differences, and the strengths of each approach, to be more effective. Our understanding and appreciation of these differences enables us to be more inclusive. Leader who appreciate these differences are aware that they can create obstacles, for example, for feminine leaders who do not “lead from the front.” They can see leadership strengths in those who lead collaboratively.
Leigh Buchanan’s article talks about a new book by John Gerzema, “Between Venus and Mars.” I see many parallels. Both our work and Gerzema’s are based upon the importance of employee engagement to productivity and profitability. We both see that women have typically conformed to masculine workplace values and styles. Most important, we agree that the workplace needs both masculine and feminine styles of leadership and that the best leaders combine strengths of both. We agree that the best decisions result from having both masculine and feminine thinkers involved and find value in both masculine and feminine forms of communication. We need more women in leadership because a balance of men and women means we are more likely to have a balance of masculine and feminine strengths. And that leads to better business results.
By “gendered” definitions of leadership, I mean definitions of leadership that are based on masculine vs. feminine ways of leading. We may associate the term “decisive,” with masculine ways of making decisions and solving problems. A feminine decision includes involving others, gathering ideas and processing input. This gets great results, but may be mistaken for indecisiveness. I want people to appreciate both masculine and feminine ways of working and free concepts of leadership from notions of gender.