You better have an agenda for your life or someone might steal it from you. I am getting very busy lately coaching women leaders. What I’m finding is a new level of restlessness. A kind of “I’m not to take this anymore” energy that used to be invisible. I think that now that the economy is showing some signs of life talented people are getting friskier. This seems to be true for both men and women but it’s definitely more pronounced among women.
This inner energy for change…for something better, something…fairer…something more meaningful is not surprising to me. What we are all getting sick of this world run on “hard power” while it depends on “soft power” to get good things done. Let me explain. Hard power is a way of thinking that is distinctly male.
When male babies are in gestation their brains become bathed in testosterone. This kick-ass hormone helps shape their brains to be highly sensitive to competition and status. Later, as boys grow into men they’re socialized to be aggressive goal achievers and pack leaders. Since their brains are prewired for this behavior it seems very natural. Of course not all men are extreme, hard power competitors. But psychological and social research points to a clear majority being principally wired this way. Notably a few women are as well…but probably less than 20%. Baby girl brains enjoy a soft “bubble bath” of estrogen which seems to prewire the female brain for emotional intelligence and social connection.
Like anything this is good except when it’s not.
It’s not good when women are simply expected to be pleasers and doers. So here’s what’s going on in many workplaces today. Hard power men are very used to setting goals and demanding accountability. The way they are used to driving success is to demand success and punish failure.
But that’s no longer working very well.
Now organizations have to be agile, innovative and collaborative or they will simply fail in the marketplace.
So today, in most organizations I walk into, men remain at the top and women are getting a lot of the work done.
That’s true because hard power is not agile or collaborative and it does a poor job of inspiring innovation. Men who set goals that rely on women to achieve them may sound a lot like how it works at home. I just read that fewer than 20% of men in households with two working spouses regularly help with laundry or vacuuming. In fact, according to the Pew Foundation research, working women spend an average of 31 hours a week doing house work and childcare while working men spend about 17 hours a week.
I don’t bring this up to make you mad.
I’m just pointing out that the thousands of years of civilization built on hard power has created a social system and an economy in which hard power leaders set the agenda and soft power doers keep people glued together enough to get stuff done. If you’re one of the soft power people this arrangement is not healthy. In fact it is very stressful and ultimately life-threatening. Recent research reveals that workers who were the most susceptible to heart attacks and stroke are those that have high demands and low-power. According to the Department of Labor statistics, that accounts for over 80% of today’s jobs. It’s almost gruesome. Like all good solutions the way out of this problem is not to complain about it, shake your fist or demand that hard power people soften up. It just doesn’t work.
The real solution is to have an agenda for you.
The real solution is to have career, family and personal goals that you’re unwilling to compromise. Not everything should be negotiable…especially not your health, your relationships or your career satisfaction. If you don’t care about these things, believe me no one else will. One thing I frequently hear in the halls of most businesses today is that life-balance is no longer an issue because it’s simply impossible. Today’s technology has killed it. Well it may also kill you. As the saying goes technology is a great servant but a terrible master. So while hard power leaders may declare that life balance is no longer relevant, research from Blessing and White indicates that life balance is still a huge concern among women… especially women with children. (I think this is where Sheryl Sandberg says, “Deal with it.” Really?) On the other hand you could resist.
Every time you open your e-mail inbox you’re looking at other peoples’ urgencies and goals.
If you’ve created an expectation that you will respond like a 911 operator you will never have time to pursue what’s most important. And there will always be plenty of hard power people in the world who will gladly make use of your empathy and desire to help to achieve their ends.
So here is what I advise women and all soft power driven leaders to do.
Develop hard and meaningful goals. By hard I don’t mean difficult. I mean measurable. I mean uncompromising. Stand for something. Make it your agenda. Commit to it. Talk about it. Inspire others to help. And when somebody offers to help hold them accountable. I want you to understand your strength. When a person with a soft power orientation who can easily empathize, collaborate and build consensus uses hard power skills to establish a clear direction, layout measurable goals, and drive results they attract armies of committed followers.
Today, we long for businesses that exist for a reason.
We long for leaders that are motivated by something greater than their self-interest. Nearly everyone is looking for meaning…something to believe in…a way to make a difference that matters. So much of business today is either engaged in trivia producing and selling of stuff we simply do not need, or in negative innovation which wastes the brains of smart people, creating products that actually harm us. (Have you seen Taco Bell’s waffle taco? Has anybody at Yum Brands heard of the diabetes epidemic…what a tragic waste of human effort.)
So let me get specific. The demands of other people’s hard power agendas infect the psychological air we breathe. Here is how you put on a gas mask.
When you wake up in the morning do not open your e-mail. If you do open your e-mail it will immediately change your early morning creative thinking patterns and trigger stress energy. Instead, take ten deep breaths saying the following with your Inner Voice. As you breath in say “Breathe in values.” As you exhale say “Breathe out vision.” Just let your creative mind do what it’s designed to do. Don’t try to direct it… just experience what values come to mind. And just notice how these values direct you toward your vision. After you finish your 10 breath meditation write down your thoughts.
Don’t edit them. In my experience the vision you will become aware of is the career and life your bold and confident self wants you to live. Okay, okay I know this sounds ridiculously woo-woo. But it’s what I do and it’s what I’m teaching others to do so we can get clear on our best path forward. All I ask is that you give it a try with a little persistence. Try it for a week. It may take a few days to clear the clutter out of your mind so that you can really experience the voice of your higher self. Also, if you persist, you’ll get clearer and clearer and your vision will become more specific.
Then just start. Launch your vision. Set goals. Hold yourself accountable. Go.
Multiple research studies indicate that the greatest regrets that people have at the end of their life is that they didn’t create or seize opportunities that were important to them. I want you to avoid that regret. Not everything you try will work.
But nothing will work if you don’t try.
We need leaders with soft power hearts to use hard power skills to create a future of sustainable abundance. If this does not happen on a massive scale we will continue to get what we’ve already got.
This is not the best we can do.
Go ahead close your eyes and breathe.