I have had an epiphany. The “double bind” is perfectly understandable. Unacceptable today – but understandable! Until recent history, leaders were men – so, of course, leadership has been defined in masculine terms. It is understandable that we are confused about what we expect of women, especially women in leadership. I don’t like it that women are “damned or doomed” depending on whether they choose a feminine or masculine style of achieving results. But my epiphany gives me greater understanding.
The 2014 Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor joins a growing body of research that concludes that today’s leaders must have feminine as well as masculine leadership strengths. This study shows that women score higher on 10 of 14 key leadership attributes, including the top four. They are feminine strengths so, naturally, show up more in women than men. Key feminine strengths include communicating in an open way, admitting mistakes and bringing out the best in others. If you follow the work of DifferenceWORKS, you understand these strengths.
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg points to internal barriers that hold women back. Many are just “feminine” ways. Women are wired and acculturated to value relationships more than status and to avoid bragging. This looks like lower ambition. Women tend to speak more humbly; this looks like lower confidence. I agree that, to make it to the top, women must demonstrate ambition and confidence. But my hope is that one day leaders will understand and appreciate feminine as well as masculine style and see leadership in both.
Fritjof Capra wrote in 1975 about the importance of valuing and balancing masculine and feminine ways. This year John Gerzema published The Athena Doctrine, demonstrating that business today needs leaders who balance both feminine and masculine forms of leadership. Gender diversity is good for the bottom line because it enables businesses to have a balance of both masculine and feminine strengths.