Many traditions have as a model, the power of the integration of the masculine and feminine. In the Chinese tradition, Yin and Yang (feminine and masculine) are seen as forces that when brought together, become a natural whole. In the Hindu tradition, Shakti is the goddess of the feminine and Shiva the god of the masculine. They come together to form a unified whole – different sides of the same coin, often depicted in images side by side.
Carl Jung spoke of the power of the masculine and feminine and even holds that the soul of a man is feminine (Anima) and the soul of a woman is masculine (Animus), suggesting that to become whole, one is required to embody the opposite. Each wisdom tradition, throughout the ages, values this integration, the coming together, the unification of the masculine and feminine, and suggests that if we are too far in either end of the polarity, something in us gets disconnected. If we move too far toward the masculine, we often do damage, are over aggressive, and don’t listen. Our expression becomes dominant, excessive and rigid. We become over controlling.
If we move too far toward the feminine, we have no movement. We have no direction, drive or force. We become tentative and too yielding.
More often than not we equate the masculine polarity with men, and the feminine polarity with women however both genders have the potential to embody both polarities at any given moment, in both healthy and unhealthy ways. Every man and every woman carries a certain combination of these energies within.
In leadership, a healthy masculine and a healthy feminine are both needed. A healthy masculine embodies enough of the feminine such that it can express the beauty or upsides of the masculine. The masculine is the impulse of change, evolution and freedom. It is constantly looking for movement and to achieve something meaningful. It can be firm without being rigid; provide direction without blinders, and be direct and clear without being closed.
A healthy feminine embodies enough of the masculine such that it can manifest its beauty. The feminine feels at home in a relational context and in fact grows through inclusion and connection. It is deeply anchored in the web of life and creates and gives structure and substance. Intuition is a spontaneous emergence of this energy. It can be open without being flaccid, yielding without acquiescing, and fluid and flowing with enough intention as to facilitate transformation. Both a healthy masculine and a healthy feminine are crucial to effective leadership and can come in many forms and expressions. Whatever the form or manner, together they embody the best of leadership.
As leaders, if we can expand our capacity in the masculine and feminine, where we can play with and express both, our ability to consciously lead and choose our response in different situations is expanded.
If I am not able to move within these polarities inside, when I meet one or the other in the outside world, I will feel more challenged and contracted in relating to it. As I look at the arc of human history in business and organizational life, it appears we have overly emphasized the value of the masculine. We have bowed at the alter of the masculine in business to the point that it has become our own undoing. However it must also be acknowledged the masculine force and its expression in leadership has worked well, and in fact, has contributed a great deal to our advancement as a society.
The drive to create, innovate, grow, develop, reach new heights, and compete for the betterment of the system, are deep expressions of the masculine polarity. We have created extraordinary outcomes and results from that masculine drive. Unfortunately, despite the positive effects of this force, there are two significant downsides. First there is a tendency for the masculine to dominate the environment for its own desires. As a result, our environment is showing clear signs of suffering.
It is no accident we call our planet, Mother Earth, and she is in pain. We are driving forward without considering the severe consequences, without a sense of connection to her. This is a reflection of the masculine gone awry. The second downside is that the masculine is highly linear and operates much better when the variables are known, consistent and manageable. To the extent that the world is highly changing, ever fluid, and highly unpredictable, the masculine is limited in its ability. A more feminine force is needed to partner with the masculine drive in order to navigate in an ever changing dynamic.
Fluidity and the ability to dynamically steer are now far more important than holding tight to five year strategic plans, no matter what reality is showing us.
Far more than ever before, a style of leadership combining a healthy masculine and feminine is needed to navigate our way through this continuously evolving world.
Progress and movement, including mindfulness about the larger picture, considering multiple perspectives, and decision-making with awareness are crucial to organizational success. Companies that understand this and have a blend of men and woman in senior positions, animating the healthy aspects of the masculine and feminine polarities, have broken their own glass ceiling, and are much better at producing results.
As chronicled in my recent book, Gender Intelligence 1, coauthored with Barbara Annis, through more balanced leadership, decisions tend to be more aligned with sustainable results, creating better cultures, that are more responsive to their markets, and utilize their talent more effectively.
All this adds up to greater profitability and performance. So take a look around your organization. Do you see a healthy balance of the masculine and feminine? How do these polarities arise in you, as a leader? Do you have some agility in expressing and valuing both the masculine and feminine poles? Are you taking advantage of the full depth and breadth of your talent pool by welcoming and utilizing the natural differences between the masculine and the feminine? Or are you holding on tightly to an imbalanced masculine model of leadership that is rapidly becoming a dying breed in today’s highly volatile and ever changing environment?
1 Annis, B. and Merron, K., Gender Intelligence: Breakthrough Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Improving Your Bottom Line, Harper Collins, 2014.