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.
Concepts of good leadership are often associated with how men tend to lead (masculine forms of leadership). The feminine form of leadership is different but equally effective. Sometimes the results achieved by women who exhibit feminine leadership styles are overlooked. The focus is on how they operate and how it is different from the norm. Getting gender diversity at the top requires that we expand our definitions of leadership.
Sheryl Sandberg goes beyond the issue of “having it all.” She suggests that women need to demonstrate more ambition. To avoid stereotyping, I suggest the question is whether women in general are less ambitious or express it differently. Sandberg is observing differences in how the prototypical male and female express ambition. The masculine way is to compete and win. Women in general are less likely to ask for what they want; they wait to apply for a position until they feel fully qualified; they have a harder time taking credit for their successes. We can coach women to appear more ambitious in the masculine way. I would like to see equal focus on coaching leaders to recognize and appreciate differences.
More and more studies link gender diversity and higher returns. Some suggest this is because of unique ways women lead. I disagree. All women do not lead alike. Both men and women lead in masculine ways; both have “feminine” elements to their leadership. The best leaders value and leverage both masculine and feminine strengths. When they do, more people feel valued — and engaged. Having more women at the top makes it more likely a group will have a balance of masculine and feminine strengths; more likely more people are engaged; more likely decisions will be better.
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!