Real Leaders

The Yin and Yang of Leadership

I had an intensely brief debate on Twitter about leadership last week. The fact that we’re limited to 140 characters makes articulate expression that much more challenging, doesn’t it? And then there’s an audience to think about. We can’t really bore followers with endless replies. Still, a few tweets containing two opposing views of how to become a leader planted the seed of today’s post. Leadership is, after all, whatever you want it to be. The issue was a great one: is leading an art or a science? Is it something we learn by experience, trial and error, or is it a set of techniques and knowledge to be studied and perfected?

It’s kind of like another very provocative question I’ve thought a lot about over the years: is leadership more masculine or feminine? Oh yes! This is near heresy!! Trust me to put it out there! Now that it’s out there, maybe we can play! Because the sophisticated attitude embraces both. Leadership is both an art and a science. Both manly and womanly.

The beauty of true, irresistible leaders is that they draw you in. No matter your type, your ideals, or your particular resistances…real leaders make you an admiring follower before you know it…gushing, smiling and performing at your best without a moment’s hesitation. Before you even realize what’s happening.

Yet only when we master seamless combinations of both extremes can we excel. Like Alan Watts put it in his wonderfully amused philosophic voice, “the universe is made of opposing elements engaged in ecstatic play”. The day we finally come to effortlessly mix our yin and our yang in every gesture, every word, every swirl of our wand…that is the day we lead without words. The first step to ever achieving such a feat, however, is to understand the right order of things. And here I borrow from another provocative thinker. Bert Hellinger, much to every feminist’s dismay, says that “the woman follows the man, but the man serves the woman”.

Before you crucify us both, though, think of it in symbolic terms: The feminine in our own personality follows the masculine, but the masculine is supposed to serve the feminine. What is our dark, cloudy, female yin about? Feelings, emotions, impulses, instincts and intuitions. What’s our more transparent and obvious, manly, sunny yang? Thoughts, strategies, plans, willpower, discipline. Our hot-blooded emotions follow our cold brain’s direction only when it works for our deeper wild nature.

This is the division of power between the sexes that we, modern humans, find so difficult to accept and integrate into our lives. These are the opposing elements of our leadership style, constantly engaged in ecstatic play, taking us to our very limits and beyond once and again. The Mother Earth follows the Father Sun, revolving around him as she provides sustenance for life in every form we know. She is drawn to Him in a profoundly loyal gravitational orbit.

But He serves Her with warm, protective light. Mother Earth could not nurture anything without Father Sun’s warm and sunny servitude. This simple exchange is still followed by many species of mammals in Nature today. It was the cornerstone of hominid Evolution and later human survival for hundreds of thousands of years. If only we men and women weren’t so busy fighting each other nowadays, we might come to admit how much fun this ecstatic game of ours can actually be.

Between us, and within us. In both male and female leaders, abundance, emotional closeness and nurturance come from our feminine side, with its deep passions and unpredictable impulses. Only to be shaped and channeled by our more manly self-discipline, our calculating science and army-like, effortful technique. One can’t succeed without the other. Yin and yang enhance each other if we let them, dancing a sweet, effortless waltz in which male and female aspects take the lead in alternative turns as reality demands one or the other to trigger our response.

The deeper, more powerful side, however, is feminine, passive and visceral. Like a proactive rider with his reactive horse: all speed and actual power come from the purebred mare under his saddle. Professional dressage champions often prefer a mysterious mare with her mood swings, her demanding rhythms and enchanting grace. The rider trains her, pulls her and pushes her to show off her very best when it most counts.

The mare follows her rider’s instructions only when her rider is fair, considerate, protective and loveable to her. There is no competition between them. It’s not about who wins over who. It’s about the most enjoyable mammal complicity. She weighs five times more than he does. She only plays along because her passion is fulfilled by following her handsome rider’s strategic thinking. Best results come to those who are best paired together, those whose chemistry with each other conquers all obstacles. With ecstatic pleasure.

It’s exactly the same for your male brain and your female heart. Your brain likes to think it controls everything your heart wants. How foolish! Your body decides when you fall asleep, who you fall in love with, which teams you fall into step with. That mysterious emotional treasure of impractical whims and deep animal instincts draws you towards business deals, partners and adventures your controlling mind would never get into if it could stop you.

And thank God it can’t! So yes, technique, knowledge and science are important components of your leadership. Especially when you reach a level of maturity in which you no longer fight with your own deeper self. When you bend your pretentious knee to serve the needs of your wild, inner animal.

When you come to trust your own instincts more than any practical word of advice or string of scientific evidence. When you accept that your motivation to keep going has little or nothing to do with whether it’s good business. When you follow your passion in such an intelligent way, that you’ll never have to worry about demotivated organizations again.

And business turns good because everything about it feels good. Your leadership is whatever you want it to be. Just remember that if you exclude any one of your two opposite ingredients, there won’t be any ecstatic play!

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