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bell curves 2013When I first started studying and teaching about “gender differences,” in our workshops, we used the terms “masculine” and “feminine.” My colleague and I said, over and over, that men and women both use both masculine and feminine approaches. We asked participants to mark where they tend to operate on the “masculine-feminine” continuum in several dimensions. When a man found that he operated in certain feminine ways, he was often not comfortable sharing about it. He might be sheepish; he might be teased.

It worried me that men hesitated to claim their feminine strengths. It was clear they sometimes felt they would be seen as (or called) a “sissy” – or that having feminine strengths reflects on their sexuality!

In my book, I establish a common definition of “masculine” and “feminine” by using prototypes – Max and Fran. In our workshops, I graphically show that “Max” (Maxwell or Maxine) and “Fran” (Francis or Frances) can each be male or female. Maybe it is this, or maybe it is that we (often with male and female co-facilitators) explore the ways of Max and Fran; but for some reason, male participants are comfortable acknowledging their “Fran” strengths or tendencies as well as the ways in which they are more like “Max.” Men seem to enjoy our workshops as much as women do.

I think it is more than our use of prototypes and the effectiveness of our workshops. More business leaders, according to McKinsey’s latest report, understand the business value of gender diversity. (Lower in the organization, it is less universally accepted.) Leaders actually want women (as well as men) in leadership. Some have read other experts who stress the importance of balancing masculine and feminine leadership skills. McKinsey has a model of “centered leadership” that includes “feminine” mindsets and behavior. Last year John Gerzema published The Athena Doctrine and gave a powerful Ted-x talk; he declares that today’s challenges require a kind of leadership that includes both masculine and feminine strengths. “Feminine values,” he says, “are ascendant.”

I am delighted that men are showing greater value of the feminine – in themselves and others. Men who suppress their feminine ways out of fear of judgment cannot be authentic or whole. That is not good for effectiveness – or health. Men who value feminine as well as masculine ways of thinking and leading are more inclusive leaders. They are more likely to work to achieve gender diversity in leadership.

Where have you seen men effectively use feminine leadership strengths? Share what it was like.