Real Leaders

50 Shades Of Balanced Leadership

Yes, 50 shades is on our list of trending topics this week as momentum builds for the movie’s worldwide premier on Valentine’s day, another much loved and hated topic in social media. I’m surprised the author chose the number fifty for her title, because 50-50 seems to be missing entirely in her story, the movie, and its current ad campaign.

Here’s an invitation, however, to become aware of today’s lack of balance in our business, life, and –rather inevitably— in our bedroom. I guess I should have read the book before writing about it, but frankly, I can not bring myself to go near it. Something about the whole phenomenon reeks of mass manipulation to a woman in her forties like myself.

But the reason I’ve chosen it as topic today is an article I came across on Fast Company about how the movie’s promotional posters glorified abuse. Because despite our many protests the fact remains: this story was a total turn on to millions of women the world over. What are we missing here?

The stuff that turns us on tells us a lot about the body we drive to work every day.

The stuff that turns us on tells us a lot about the body we drive to work every day. We drive our bodies as if they were stupid, disobedient cars. But the human body is still the most sophisticated and baffling technology on this planet, superior by far to anything we can create. Our problem is we’ve lost track of how it works and what it reacts to. If we were a little less ignorant about its deeply irrational, wild and very feminine, chaotic logic, we would know that when it turns on to something, no extra effort is needed. In fact, when the human body is really into something or someone, there’s actually little we can do to stop it.

Passion, my friends, is not something you build with fantastic storytelling, but rather an infinite source of energy you discover when you learn to drive your body-car the way it was designed. Judging by the incredible success of this book, both women — and the men they engage with –find the dynamic of dominant male and submissive female utterly exciting. Is this the way it was designed to happen in Evolution? Or is this the result of thousands of years of wars, pillage and progressive domination of everything female, chaotic or scary in its unpredictability? I read recently that elephants are now being born without ivory tusks.

It seems to be an intelligent adaptation of the species to its context. So many elephants are killed for the sole purpose of stealing and selling their ivory tusks, that the mysteriously sophisticated intelligence of organics has adapted to promote survival and growth of the species. Without the tusks. Have women’s deepest bodily drives adapted to find unfair and disrespectful domination attractive? Is this what it took for women to survive in recent history?

Our biases of perception and behaviour are given away by the patterns of mistake we repeat.

Before you tell me this has nothing to do with leadership, let me stop you right there. We use exactly the same body in everything we do. The way it reacts to sexual encounters is not that different to the way it interprets social conversations or work situations. Our biases of perception and behavior are given away by the patterns of mistake we repeat.

And the deeper the causes to such error patterns are, the more pervasively do they show up in our behavior. For example, would you be interested in working for Mr. Grey? Do you think he would be respectful of your ideas? Do you think he would be fair about recognition and punishment? Or does he sound like the kind of boss who plays mind games with you all day long until you forget who you are and what you want?

We don’t even need to watch the movie to answer these questions, do we? It’s quite clear that Grey’s patterns of error are not what we want in the leaders who shape our jobs. But what about his girlfriend’s patterns? What do you think of them? I work for many companies who want to promote gender balance in their leadership.

One of the biggest problems encountered once and again in female executives is lack of self-confidence, or its twin sister: excess of self-criticism. Perfectionism and fear of risk holds hundreds of women back from positions of power. And the question is, were women always like this or did they just get that way over centuries of violent domination?

One of the biggest problems encountered once and again in female executives is lack of self-confidence, or its twin sister: excess of self-criticism.

If the organic logic of women’s bodies is anything like that of elephants’, we have to wonder if women aren’t making it to the top of our businesses and societies because we’ve adapted to a context where being strong, self-confident and defiant was dangerously threatening to our lives. Being emotional and creatively chaotic about business may be as dangerous to executives today as growing ivory tusks is to elephants. Note that emotions and instinctive approaches are not only forbidden to women. Men are also heavily motivated to stay linear, rational and dominant. Alfa male role models are glorified across industries.

Mr. Grey is just another really rich, super successful business guy who thinks women exist to make his day more entertaining. How are women discussed among powerful men? What kind of women do these alfa guys choose as partners? The ones who oppose them, challenge them and clash with them in search of a better way to do things? Nope. Those are the much hated, avoided and humiliated ex-wives! Evolution developed male and female genders through a long, complex process of innovative trial and error. The combination of male and female genders proved to be very successful, reaching its ultimate level of sophistication in humans. Women exist to help men become better versions of themselves.

And men exist to help women do the same. We are so similar in some things, and so incredibly different in others, that our species wide game against each other has pushed us to grow and progress more than any other animal on the planet. Even if we do run into deformations from time to time. In the two-hundred thousand years of history of Homo Sapiens, exploitation of women is a deformation whose seed was planted around the time when we invented agriculture, only twelve thousand years ago.

When we realized we could exploit Nature to achieve smaller goals like wealth or social status, we also began to control and suppress the feminine in all its ways. Women stopped working, hunting and leading as equals to become pretty little things men inherited or traded with each other. Wars, conquests, pillage and rape slowly extended this deformation to every corner of the Earth. Gender balance, like strategy and charity, must start at home.

So if you consider yourself a leader, let me ask you to pay attention to what happens in your office, in your family and in your bedroom. Find out when and how you suppress the feminine in yourself, and make a note to stop it a.s.a.p. Self-awareness is the first step to leadership growth. It’s also the first step towards reconciliation between any two foes.

And with growing complicity, passion will flow. Real leaders are the best lovers.

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