It is time for a more balanced or wholistic form of leadership, one that leverages yin (feminine) as well as yang (masculine). The business world was created by and for men. Women got there in large numbers “only” in the last four and a half decades. That is enough time to significantly alter concepts of leadership. But definitions of leadership continue to be heavy on masculine qualities, e.g., being decisive, direct, firm, and tough.
Only in the last decade have leadership experts advocated for a more balanced or wholistic form of leadership. At least two speak in terms of masculine and feminine qualities (as I do). John Gerzema wrote The Athena Doctrine, “How Women (and the Men who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future.” He declares that the historically masculine form of leadership no longer works for today’s workforce. Effective leaders must master feminine strengths.
The more recent book, Shakti Leadership: Embracing Feminine and Masculine Power in Business, uses the yogic figures, Shiva (masculine) and Shakti (feminine) in advocating for a form of leadership that reflects both qualities. (The authors cite my book and an article that I published in Forbes and, at p. 109, adapt my work in showing masculine-feminine differences in five dimensions of leadership. You can download the complete and updated version of my masculine-feminine continuum here.)
This message that leadership includes feminine strengths is freeing for women. That’s because women have succeeded in part by adapting to the masculine model (while navigating to avoid the double bind). Less obvious, it is also freeing for men. Men, too, conform to the masculine model, even when that is not their natural style or when that is not the most effective approach. This broadening of the definition of leadership allows men, too, to operate more authentically and use more of their natural abilities.
This “wholistic” form of leadership can benefit any organization. Leaders who naturally have, or have mastered, both feminine and masculine leadership strengths have a larger toolkit. They can use masculine strengths (e.g., being direct, commanding, and competitive) and feminine strengths (e.g. persuasion, inclusion, and empathy), depending on what is needed and most effective in each situation. By valuing both sets of strengths (in men and women), leaders encourage authenticity and allow greater engagement. Better leadership and broader engagement go straight to the bottom line!
Do you agree? Do you see other ways that wholistic leadership can benefit men, women and organizations?