Balanced Leadership: Leveraging Both Masculine and Feminine Strengths

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.

Better Decisions: Balancing Masculine and Feminine Approaches

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.

Being Bilingual: Speaking and Appreciating Masculine and Feminine “Language”

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.

Becoming “Frax-wise”

To avoid stereotyping, I use a prototype named Fran to describe feminine approaches to work and a prototype named Max to represent masculine approaches. All of us are both Fran and Max; we are “Frax.” A person who understands and appreciates both approaches can be “Frax-wise. in the sphere of personal effectiveness, a Frax-wise individual can shift his or her approach depending on the circumstance. In the sphere of relationships — working with and leading others — being Frax-wise enables one to appreciate and leverage difference, increasing engagement. In the sphere of organization, Frax-wise leaders understand how differences in Fran and Max create obstacles to gender diversity — and eliminate them.

“Masculine” and “Feminine”: Concepts or Stereotypes?

In my quest for gender diversity in leadership, I use the concepts “masculine” and “feminine.” And I use prototypes of each. My point is to avoid stereotyping men and women. I use a common understanding of these concepts to help people see the strengths of both AND to see that both men and women have both. Using different terminology would not make my point as clearly.

Must All Good Leaders “Lead from the Front”?

Concepts of good leadership are often associated with how men tend to lead (masculine forms of leadership). The feminine form of leadership is different but equally effective. Sometimes the results achieved by women who exhibit feminine leadership styles are overlooked. The focus is on how they operate and how it is different from the norm. Getting gender diversity at the top requires that we expand our definitions of leadership.