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In my last post I introduced Max and Fran, two prototypes to help us establish a common understanding of the terms, “masculine” and “feminine.” I told you that Max, who could be Maxwell or Maxine, operates in all situations smack dab in the middle of the masculine bell curve, and that Fran, who could be Frances or Francis, always operates right in the middle of the feminine bell curve. We can say “Max does ___” or “Fran values ___ more than ___” and not be saying that men or women operate in certain ways. Certain ways of thinking and behaving are either masculine or feminine, whether exhibited by a man or a women. Max and Fran are helping us understand the difference.

The point of understanding the difference is to learn to observe, appreciate and leverage both approaches in the workplace (and the world around us) to create inclusive cultures where more people want to stay and do their best work. You need to understand something about Max and Fran before we start exploring how they each operate in the workplace. They operate in the centers of their respective bell curves—not at the extreme ends of the masculine-feminine continuum. Someone who operates at the extreme end of the masculine side of the continuum is what I call a “Bully.” The terms for one who operates at the extreme feminine end of the continuum is a “Bimbo.” Bullies and Bimbos are also prototypes.

I’m not a fan of these prototypes. Operating at either extreme magnifies the limitations of their respective approaches to work. It makes it harder for either to modify his or her style when another approach would be more effective. They tend, therefore, to be narrow and rigid. There really aren’t many Bullies or Bimbos in the normal workplace. They represent an important point, however: effective leaders do not operate at extremes. Effective leaders flex their approach to the point on the masculine-feminine continuum that is most effective in the circumstance and they appreciate others who also operate along a wide expanse of the continuum.

What behaviors do you associate with someone who is either extremely masculine or extremely feminine?