At DifferenceWorks, we do not stereotype men and women. We focus on the “masculine” and “feminine” strengths in both men and women. We establish a common definition of these terms by introducing two prototypes, Fran and Max, Fran representing feminine ways of thinking and behaving and Max representing the masculine approach or style. One area of differences between Fran and Max is in the area of influencing others.
A foundational difference between the masculine and feminine ways of leading is this. Max sees the world as a hierarchy while Fran sees herself as part of a network of relationships where power is distributed more horizontally than vertically. In a hierarchy, those at the top get others to think and do as they wish by giving orders. Max exhibits dominance. In a flatter structure, commanding can damage relationships, an unacceptable risk for Fran. Fran influences more indirectly, by persuading.
To understand both feminine and masculine ways, and to know when to leverage which, is to be “Frax-wise.” If I am Frax-wise, I can demonstrate dominance when there is limited time or urgency or when consistency is important. I can shift to a more feminine form of influencing when it is important for others to feel heard and involved and when creativity and buy-in are important.
In working with others, if I am not Frax-wise, I may judge someone whose style of influence is different from my own. For example, if I am most familiar with the masculine form of influence, I may fail to see the value of using collaboration and inclusion to get a result. But if I am Frax-wise, instead of judging, I can appreciate and leverage the best approach for the particular situation.
If I am a Frax-wise leader (in my book, I call them “sages”), I know that different styles of influencing can create obstacles for people whose style is more feminine. I recognize than unconscious mind-sets may screen out those who do not conform to masculine images of leadership. The traditional (masculine) form of leadership and influence is “leading from the front.” Feminine leaders, rather, lead from behind or beside; they lead collaboratively and inclusively. (Nelson Mandela praised the ability to “lead from behind and put others in front.”) In deciding whether someone deserves a promotion, a manager who is not Frax-wise may fail to see leadership strength if the candidate leads collaboratively rather than “from the front.” A Frax-wise leader will focus on a candidate’s results rather than insist on one style of influencing and leading.
In your workplace, are both ways of influencing modeled and valued?