Is good leadership a feminine thing?
by Dr Norman Chorn
Something different is happening
You’d have to be asleep not to notice that conditions have changed - and
times have become far more volatile and uncertain. Some observers have
even proclaimed that it is now the “end of business as usual”. These are
clearly challenging times for organisations and leaders alike. We are being
asked to consider signiﬁcant changes to the way we design, build and lead
our organisations - whether they are large corporates, small startups or not-
This has placed enormous stress on managers and leaders at all levels in the
organisation. As I work with my clients, I am witnessing signs of anxiety and
even depression as they adjust to the new conditions. Many of the tools and
practices they mastered on their way “up” just don’t seem to work any longer.
Some try harder in the hope that things will turn around, while others just
seem resigned to the fact that they may be failing in this these conditions of
Why are we struggling?
My observation is that many organisations are dominated by the so-called
“masculine” values (Carl Jung’s deﬁnition) that emphasise competition,
independence and discipline. Contrast this with the “feminine” values as
described by Carl Jung:
A review of the challenges that these organisations face reveals that they are
likely to require a better balance of the so-called masculine and feminine
• the new competitive landscape places an ever greater premium on the
ability of organisations to add superior value to their customers. Adding
value to our customers becomes more important than focusing on what
your competitors are trying to do and trying to “beat” them. As a
metaphor for strategy, “love” seems more appropriate than “war” - see
my previous blog “Strategy as Love”. And the feminine values seem more
accepting of this way of thinking.
• in a fast changing environment, competitive advantage is generated by
the speed of learning and the ability to integrate the various
organisational processes. Building bridges and interdependence across
the organisation is an important leadership capability - again favouring a
more feminine approach.
I’m not suggesting a wholesale shift towards feminine values in our
organisations. This would create another set of weaknesses similar to those
created by the dominant masculine model. But I do believe that a better
balance between the two is required. We need to recognise the strengths
and limitations of each, and aim for a more integrated approach.
Some suggestions for moving forward
Many writers have suggested approaches that would produce more
integrated and realistic leadership to organisations in the “new normal”, but I
have added some from my own research and observations:
1. Share your visions and principles generously: Leaders should,
wherever practical, share what’s on their mind and their overall
intentions. This may seem like exposing yourself - particularly if things
do not work out! But how else can you expect your colleagues to act in
the best interests of the organisation if they do not understand your
2. Engage your people: This means that you have to do things with your
people, and get involved in their work. We are not suggesting that you
micro-manage them, but simply that you show an active interest in what
they are doing and make yourself available to give them ongoing
guidance and encouragement.
3. Argue strongly with your colleagues: At ﬁrst, leaders may shy away
from the notion of arguing with their colleagues. After all, we don’t want
to encourage conﬂict unnecessarily! However, arguments are an
opportunity for leaders to express their opinions, to stand up for what
they believe in and to achieve real consensus. The issue is to stimulate
conﬂict and disagreement so that people are compelled to put their
assumptions on the table.
4. Know when to be a follower: The important counterpoint to leadership
is followership. Without followers, there can be no leadership. Knowing
when to follow is an important attribute of a successful leader. However,
one reason why some leaders are reluctant to follow is the notion that
they are somehow expected to know everything, or always be right.
Clearly, this is not a realistic approach in an organisation dealing with
complexity and high rates of change.
Both the masculine and feminine sides of the coin are valid. I am not
suggesting that traditional masculine value be swept aside. They have
contributed much to the success of our organisations until now. But these
values have to be complemented by a feminine approach - one that enables
us to deal with a far wider range of uncertainty, complexity and change.
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