We can conform to the leadership style that has been historically rewarded with success. Or we can sharpen the feminine inside of us.
Traditional workplaces have often rewarded masculine qualities like directness and competitiveness. Nurture, inclusion, and empathy known to be feminine values that need to be seen as immensely powerful in today’s workplace. It is a style that puts people at the center both in principle as well as in action.
This blog is not about male/female. Instead, it is about seeing the value of the feminine for family, social, and organizational life.
Story 1- Layoffs done well
Layoffs are bad news for all. It generates much grief and bad moods that stay on much after the event. The HR leader and the CEO of this boutique software company had created a culture based on nurture, trust, and openness and they decided to handle layoffs very differently from most other organizations.
Meetings were conducted in small groups so questions and conversations could be encouraged. The people who were to let go were met 1-1 and given time to express themselves. Some of them needed multiple conversations and HR and managers were asked to be open to doing it even if they were tough.
The CEO did meetings with those who were staying back so their emotions could be expressed. After all, their jobs were coming at the cost of others who were losing it. Some of this group felt guilt at being retained while their good friends were let go.
The CEO cleared an entire floor and had laptops fitted at each workstation. People who were let go could come every day for 1-2 months to keep a time structure to their day. They looked for jobs, met each other, and kept up learning and upskilling. Consultants were called in for outplacement, interviews, and help with preparing resumes.
This style of layoffs that was handled with such care created great goodwill and became an important milestone story for organizational culture.
This is a great example of feminine principles in the workplace.
The TED talk by John Gerzema, the co-author of The Athena Doctrine is on how women and the men who think like them will rule the future. It provides statistics on how people are dissatisfied with the conduct of men in their countries and the qualities they stand for. Their survey showed the vast majority of people feel the world could be a better place if men started thinking like women and if feminine qualities and principles were at the forefront of social and organizational systems.
Feminine principles and qualities exist in both men and women. Due to socializing and reinforcement perhaps these are embodied much more in women than in men. Women naturally bring these qualities into their leadership style and in turn, influence the culture of the teams they build. Having said that I have also met male leaders who choose to explore and develop the feminine in them and hence lead powerfully. Male leaders who think with their feminine side are seen in the many examples we hear in the TED talk above.
Story 2- Could her creative energies have made a difference?
The CEO’s father was the founder of a ball-bearing company and together they headed this family-owned business. They soon began encountering cost-related issues with their customers. They faced loss year after year. The CEO did not want to manage the loss-making company anymore. They went through a terrible process of shutting down the company
The friend who shared this story remarked that they had no women in their workforce. This is very common in many industries like manufacturing for example that even to this day are male-dominated. This friend believes that industries that have opened their gates to women are standing apart. My friend said this manufacturing company had a woman on their board. She was the CEO’s mother, who was a very capable medical doctor. However, she was not considered in decision-making activities.
The friend remarked ‘Who knows what it could be like if she was leading instead and if women colleagues may have found a better solution?’. Maybe if women actively participated during the critical stage of the company the organization’s strategy, systems, recruitment, and pricing strategy may also be different.
Feminine qualities such as these are known to add great value to any system- empathy, open-mindedness, nurturing, intuitive, accommodating, flexibility, vulnerability, introspective, and reflectiveness to name just a few.
In her book The Moment of Lift, @Melinda Gates emphasizes that empowering women will bring about radical change in the economy of the country and hence the world. She accounts for inspiring stories of women who sparked change in their communities towards gender equity.
Feminine qualities I have seen women leaders bring to organizations.
In my coaching practice, these are places where I have seen women bring feminine principles alive in powerful ways.
1. Building cohesion within the team.
They work towards collaboration, so they are accommodating and inclusive of everyone’s uniqueness. This provides a cooperative space for the employees to work in unison.
2. Making room for free expression.
They build trust in each other by nurturing and empowering them through compassion. They bring great openness to individuals being different and having the freedom of expression is encouraged instead of shut down.
3. Encouraging flexibility and agility.
They get creative to achieve optimum results looking at the bigger picture rather than ruminating on a pre-planned idea.
4. Inviting reflection and open-mindedness.
This is important to introspect on failures and stuck points. Not to dwell or be critical about it, but to learn from it. Women are reflective and open-minded, which helps in situations where one might have to build from scratch. It is coupled in strength where women are great at long-term planning.
Recommended reading: Developing a Growth Mindset for Women Leaders
5. Dropping the Ego.
They are accepting, in acknowledging a member’s mistakes or their own. This in turn helps build a strong team that trusts in each other.
6. Bringing their intuition to work.
The intuitive powers of women are known to be strong. It helps them stay in the moment, with how they feel about the situation. This allows them to move in unique ways as the path appears.
7. Owning their vulnerability.
It speaks of courage, the strength to face an obstacle or in taking risks. Brene Brown has done path-breaking research in vulnerability.
8. Leading with empathy.
It helps them reach out to an inaccessible, psychological level in the other many men find uncomfortable to reach. They can provide a psychological safety net within the team.
9. Bringing Grace under Fire.
Women are better prepared under crisis. This is one reason why many organizations during adversity, engage with women to help stabilize the company. This is a phenomenon called the glass-cliff effect. Most often, women excel than men when put in such challenging situations. The organization undergoes a shift in its management thus signaling an overall change.
Women leaders led fearlessly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article by The Guardian, women political leaders outshined their male counterparts during Covid in 2020. Leaders like Sheikh Hasina, and Angela Merkel, made life-saving decisions ahead of other countries. They went into lockdown and blocked borders earlier than others. Their policies were brought about with clarity and utmost care. As a result, their countries had fewer deaths during the pandemic.
Recommended – Power Up Leadership Program for Senior Women Leaders
4 ideas for individuals and organizations to nurture feminine principles
- Invest time and resources in training leaders to accept and hone their feminine qualities. Women at all stages of their careers should be encouraged to hone these qualities. I wish to call out here the work done on Feminine Archetypes by Nirupama Subramanium author of the book ‘Powerful. Nilima Bhat co-author of Shakti Leadership also addresses many different aspects of this in the book.
- Normalize emotional skill building. Feelings are for all and often we notice women more in touch with their emotional selves. Male leaders who develop a greater intelligence possibly manage teams differently with this intelligence.
- Own our feminine selves. All leaders need to access and celebrate their feminine side. Men accessing their feminine strengths and encouraging other men to do the same helps. The use of empathy in our managing style needs more encouragement.
The use of vulnerability in our leadership needs encouragement. Vulnerability and emotional expression have been seen as a sign of the weak feminine.
- Allowance for mental health. Spending half their waking hours at work, employees will inevitably encounter an assortment of feelings. They may show recurring patterns of behavior that may not work well for the organization. Offering a monthly allowance to seek a psychotherapist will aid in creating a better quality of life for employees. EAP programs and emphasis on mental health talks in organizations need to be shouted from the rooftops. Recently my visit to @Inmobi was impressive where I saw meditation rooms, counseling rooms, and space to ‘be’. @Veena Sethuraman, Juhie Saboo, Jalaja Pillai, Deepak Dhananjaya calling you out for the work you do to support this.
I wish this blog would have more engagement with not just women but also male leaders. I believe the world needs the ‘feminine’ in order for chaos to reduce and balance to return. It is feminine principles that will lead to the rise of effective conversations on sustainability, education healthy politics, and healthy work lives.
Let us wish this for us all.