When you need to solve a novel and important problem, what kind of leader do you want in charge? Does the word “decisive” make your list? What do we mean by “decisive”? Usually we mean the masculine decision style – moving straight to the goal. While this is often effective, the feminine decision style has different benefits, including creativity and buy-in. The feminine style is to gather ideas, synthesize and process. It takes more time but can avoid costly misses. The best leaders can make decisions in both masculine and feminine ways and value both ways in others.
Men in my workshops used to hesitate to claim feminine strengths, perhaps concerned they would be called a “sissy.” In my book and workshops, I use prototypes for masculine and feminine – Max and Fran. Men in our workshops seem comfortable acknowledging their “Fran” strengths. Maybe it is because more of them understand the value of gender diversity. Some may be convinced, e.g., by the work of McKinsey & Co. and John Gerzema, that leadership must include feminine as well as masculine perspectives. Valuing feminine strengths personally enables authenticity, effectiveness and health. Valuing feminine strengths in others contributes to inclusivity, which drives engagement and results.
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.
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.
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.
In the past, I found women more willing to describe their approach to working as masculine than men to describe their approach as feminine. I see signs of greater value for feminine ways of leading. I find men in my workshops talk about when a feminine approach is most effective. I have friends who proudly claim their feminine strengths. I see articles praising the positive aspects of feminine leadership — and increased interest in feminine forms of leading. Descriptors of leadership are becoming more gender neutral. Hurrah!