The best business leaders embrace feminine behaviours

quote from Pablo Isla on emotional intelligence in the work place

This quote jumped out at me from Harvard Business Review’s November 2016 issue. While I’m the feminine-appearing half of Lynne’s and my partnership, I’m more masculine in personality.

In the past couple of years especially, I have learned that masculine people like myself are as emotional as feminine people, we just tend to suppress our emotions, causing them to bubble up as impatience, irritation and anger, all examples of externalized blame and all socially acceptable ways of showing emotion in business. We act like other people are upsetting us and are simply not being tough enough when they are upset with us.  Sometimes we think these “delicate snowflakes”—who demand a certain degree of care and who make their personal lives and feelings about their work experience known—are asking us to put in extra effort to take care of them. But really they are asking us to put in extra effort to take care of ourselves, so that we can be more aware of what is bothering us so that we don’t take it out on others. When we suppress our feelings and pretend that we’re not humans with personal lives, moods, emotional triggers, heartbreaks, and fears, we create oppressive, mechanical environments where everyone is afraid to be wrong, to screw up, or to have feelings.

Each generation gets smarter. We’re getting more emotionally intelligent. There are more demands upon parents to discipline thoughtfully and communicate well to their children, to not use shame and punishment as parenting strategies. Naturally, those kids are growing up to expect that they will be treated decently, not abused. And we’re becoming more intelligent about gender and learning more about the minimal dissimilarity between female and male brains, so we’re raising boys to be more aware of their feelings, the same way we’ve been raising girls.

I believe this is why we’ve got a generation of Millennials who expect a certain degree of care. Canadian Business magazine writes about this in an article titled Millennials aren’t coddled—they just reject abuse as a management tactic.

For decades—centuries—the archetype of the successful business person has been the sneering blowhard, unafraid to bark orders and excoriate the work of underlings. He (let’s be honest, it’s traditionally a he) leads with a charming mix of ego, hair-trigger temper and intimidation. The fictional Gordon Gekko is the poster boy, but real-world examples abound: Rupert Murdoch, Anna Wintour, Larry Ellison, Kevin O’Leary, Donald Trump. Steve Jobs, brilliant as he was, was an often vicious and tyrannical boss.

We see this in Hollywood movies whether the boss is male or female. Think of The Proposal with Sandra Bullock or The Devil Wears Prada with Meryl Streep.

Emotional intelligence—awareness and the skillful accommodation of other people’s emotions—is the learned skill that sets women apart as superior CEOs. Says who?

Business Insider also validates my suspicion about why female-run companies outperform male-run companies: “When we ask them to explain why women were perceived as more effective, what we frequently heard was, ‘In order to get the same recognition and rewards, I need to do twice as much, never make a mistake and constantly demonstrate my competence.’”

Basically, female CEOs have to be outlandishly brilliant and competent in order to be seen as equal to men. But they cannot garner promotions or cooperation without being likeable or at least respected. And for that, they need a lot of emotional intelligence to circumnavigate the misogyny, jealousy, and threatened egos they will encounter.

I’m learning to embrace my femininity as a strength, not a weakness. Behaviours and abilities associated with femininity that our patriarchal culture devalues are:

  • nurturing
  • compassion
  • warmth
  • listening
  • reading body language
  • cooperation
  • compromise
  • holistic and family-oriented behaviour

Communication without these behaviours is aggression, force, and maybe even bullying. These masculine behaviours create short-term wins.

So, I’ve been thinking: If caring about the feelings, personal lives, and motivations of your colleagues, staff, and business partners is not part of your business plan because you think people shouldn’t bring their feelings to the workplace, then I think you’re doing it wrong and that you’ll be less profitable for it. 

One dude I adore who seems to understand all of this very well is Tony Hsieh. He’s created such a caring, thoughtful, cooperative work culture at Zappos that turnover is low and profits and innovation high. They recently innovated their entire company structure into a Holacracy—not at all a traditional masculine business structure—and offered generous severance to anyone who didn’t want to get on board, but allowing them the opportunity to come back to work for the company in the future. Check out Delivering Happiness.

Changes I’ve made recently:

  • valuing intuition despite what Daniel Kahneman says
  • making myself more open to persuasion
  • meditating and breathing more deeply to foster more patience

What do you think? Do Millennials value work-life balance because they grew up in a culture with more balanced gender roles and gentler parenting than in previous generations? Are women-led companies thriving because women are more emotionally intelligent? Are masculine ways of leading and communicating on the way out?

Natasha Clark, Partner at Risk Creative. Republication is welcome only with attribution and a direct link to Thank you in advance for good behaviour. 🙂


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