Upping our feminine in leadership
When Professor Henry Higgins, one of the central characters in the film My Fair Lady, mused forcibly to his chum Colonel Pickering ‘why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ he was perhaps articulating an attitude that has underpinned the leadership mind-set and mode for many years. And he is missing the point.
When it comes to leadership why can’t a man be more like a woman? And that’s not about taking the opposite stance. Rather it’s a recognition that feminine qualities – caring, compassion, sensing, intuition, greater emotional attunement, creativity, collaboration, communication, the ability and desire to truly connect and build positive and sustaining relationships and community – will be increasingly important as the working world evolves.
And that means all of us tapping into and using these qualities – which we all have access to irrespective of gender – more explicitly in our leadership and lives. We’re already working in an environment of constant and accelerating change. The climate that’s creating is complex, uncertain, ambiguous.
We’re finding established ways of tackling challenges and opportunities – previous experience and tried and tested approaches – less and less effective. Instead we must rely more on our ability to sense and intuit, on loosening our grip on the strategy or plan and remaining flexible and open to changing course, on trusting our creative instincts. We need to prioritise communication and including and collaborating with others. All qualities of the feminine.
And the case for ‘upping our feminine’ gets ever more pressing when we consider the predictions about the future of work – its shape and scope. Many of the predicted models seem focused more on the ‘hardware’ – technology, robots, AI, data – than the ‘software’ – human beings.
The greatest challenge in this future is creating a purposeful and meaningful place for people in work. That will need more heartful, compassionate, engaging, emotionally intelligent leadership to help people navigate and flourish in the world that is emerging. To help them find and keep finding their place through continuous reskilling, adapting capabilities to new contexts, through creating a sense of community and belonging and, crucially, developing the mind-set of growth that supports exploration and openness to change rather than giving up. If we haven’t already upped our feminine isn’t it time to get started?