Yin and Yang in Leadership
As a Man, are you Man enough to integrate the female side of your personality into your leadership?
And as a woman… are you brave enough to lead with your feminine side without trying to overcompensate by being even more masculine than your male colleagues? I love asking these questions from my strong, ambitious CEO clients, who are all looking to get stronger at 21st Century Leadership and are concerned about employee well-being.
For example, Rebecca is amazingly successful. She has just got her latest promotion. She is the youngest Chief Officer in the company… Yet, she suffers from anxiety and her mood swings are so strong lately, that she started to contemplate quitting her job. She feels that she is pushed way beyond her limits and the environment forces her to be a workaholic. “I feel like my career wants me to be a man. Yes, I have had to become a man. To have a life, I need to be a woman. I gotta quit… get out of here, to be finally me.” I have heard this so many times. But quitting often is not the solution to this dilemma… You may quit, but it will not solve the challenges of being able to embrace the otherness of others, or to be able to show more flexibility and kindness to the people around you.
I share with her an interesting research from Hudson which found that Women at the top appear to have a male leadership profile with feminine nuances. C-level women tend to score lower on altruism and people centeredness compared to average women. Interesting, isn’t it? What makes women wanting to be a man when leading?
Fred is another client of mine. He too is very successful. His issue is that he lacks intimacy and trust in his life “left, right and center…” as he puts it he is always obsessed with the next external enemy in his life… If only that guy wasn’t there…
Rebecca looks me in the eye and asks: “What choice do I have?”
We talk about choices now…The oldest symbol of how the feminine and masculine principle should embrace each other is the famous Yin-Yang from China. Western societies, however, did not recognize the relevance of this until the twentieth century. Carl G. Jung, a great 20th century psychologist reminded the world that we all have a feminine and masculine side of our personalities: Animus and Anima, as he called it. Inner health, balance and self-actualization requires awareness and balance of both sides.
The mistake most so called Diversity Programs make is to think that just by having more female leaders, the problem will be solved. It is not just more female leaders that we are missing… It is more that we need men to lead by being aware of their female sides as well…and we need women who are not afraid to lead with their female side, and yet can be firm and decisive. This requires very high levels of self-awareness with an acknowledgement of the male/female side of our own personality. Fred for example is desperate to be more authentic about his feelings and craves attention… yet depth and emotions are for “chicks with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and not for Men who drink bourbon and like football…”. He completely denies his own female side which throws him off-balance.
Certain leadership practices such as effective coaching require skills and attitudes which are strongly connected to the female side. Such skills are active listening and empathy, and a genuine state of being candid and open to the other person. Our conversation with Rebecca shifts from deciding to leave or stay to how she can allow the female side of her personality to surface. Fred begins to see that he can remain tough and decisive while also showing authentic vulnerability. Keeping both the Animus and Anima at bay he begins to feel more comfortable of showing emotions and connecting with teams and individuals without the fear of being exposed.
Meaning and genuinely caring for employee well-being are the two most important factors that drive Engagement. Generativity, inclusiveness, empathy are all deeply connected with feminine qualities of leadership and the Anima side of the human psyche. Caring for the mental and physical well-being of team members in an organization presupposes a stronger Anima focus in leadership. At the same time, no individual, organization and community can exist in a sustainable way without balancing the two. A company can be very profitable and at the same time be a community to which people want to belong to. Research shows that companies with low engagement scores have an average operating margin just under 10 percent. Companies with the highest “sustainable engagement” scores had an average one-year operating margin of 27 percent. Among sustainably engaged employees, 74 percent in the study believed that senior leaders had a sincere interest in their well-being. Only 18 percent of disengaged employees felt their managers genuinely cared about their well-being. No single behavior influences more the quality of people’s energy than feeling valued and appreciated by their supervisor. “The manager is at the heart of what we might think of as a personal employee ecosystem” a Towers Watson study concludes, “shaping individual experience … day in and day out.”
We need to expand our consciousness beyond the usual distortions and stereotypes. Real diversity starts by being able to acknowledge our own full inner team and developing a mature Yin and Yang balance.