I have been thinking a lot lately about how a workplace would function if the values focused on a partnership system (“power with”), and less of a domination system (“power over”), thanks to the amazing book The Real Wealth of Nations, by Riane Eisler. And there are definitely some traditional “feminine” and “masculine” characteristics that seem to tie to these two types of action.
But, lest you get “up in arms”, this is not a sex thing, or a sexist thing. (Get it, by the way? The masculine energy of fighting and weaponry defines our world even down to our idioms. Check that out.) This is about how we function as humans, no matter our gender identity.
Men don’t have to be in “masculine” power, and women don’t have to be in “feminine” power. And neither is inherently better than the other. Women can be in their masculine power, men can be in their feminine power. Or either can be balanced in both; a nice, functional combo. It’s all in how you interact with others, and in how you and they feel during those interactions. It’s in the balance between different types of energy, between connection and action. It’s in how you talk to yourself. It’s in how you lead teams, projects, and yourself.
There is at least some recognition in this day and age, that there are many positive aspects to both masculine and feminine characteristics, and that a balance between the two is really a good place to be. What this looks like for men in the workplace, and how acceptable this balance may be depends entirely on the culture of the workplace.
The Alternative is Balance
I am not of the opinion that the “feminine rising” is the ultimate answer to all problems in business, politics, or the world. But, that worldview is also a natural reaction to the state of the world today, and I do think that finding more value in traditionally “feminine” characteristics is certainly a step in the right direction. There is tremendous value in the feminine. And, I believe the true sweet spot lies somewhere in the middle.
Some organizations consciously place value on a balance of masculine and feminine, and others unconsciously place more value on traditionally “male” characteristics. The difference actually seems to be that some leaders purposefully question the status quo, and others simply function within the systems that they and others have created, without ever wondering if that model works as well as another model might.
There are organizations out there that have started to embrace this difference, and to define their culture differently. You see the difference, on occasion, in how their leaders communicate, and how they share what is going on with them. It’s a bit intangible, but I would define it broadly as “more vulnerable”. A leader who actively and publicly lets people in on the fact that they are not perfect, and that they recognize their own humanity, is definitely changing the conversation. A great example of this is Jonathan Keyser’s new book, You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win. I heard him speak about his journey, and wow, that’s leadership in balance!
Not a whole lot of leaders are comfortable in this space. And it seems that more than a few people are very uncomfortable with seeing their leaders enter that space. We’ve seen that backlash in business, in politics, in a lot of spaces in the last few years. Much of the world wants to hang on really hard to the “traditional values” that define masculinity in a particular way and define that as success.
Ask for What You Need
And yet, it’s pretty clear that the “traditional” definition of success is no longer meeting the needs of all of our current population, not by a long shot. We see that in the quizzical experience of “baby boomers” when they consider what “millennials” are looking for in a workplace. We see that in initiatives around diversity and inclusion, which seek define value differently and more broadly. We see that in the welcoming and championing of “feminine” characteristics in the workplace, like collaboration, community, caring. We see that in new business models, like Conscious Capitalism, considering stakeholders differently, and taking a long-term viewpoint on the impact of business.
The shift toward balance is happening, because people in the workplace expect something different from their company and from their leadership than they used to. That shift is happening as people recognize that the world is changing, and that they need to expect change, ask for change, and create change.
The shift toward balance happens when brave people (of all gender identities) bring up challenging topics in a curious and open way, and don’t back down from asking to have the hard conversations. This is hard work, sometimes scary work, and these are the efforts that are needed to move organizations and their cultures toward a balance that “works” better for a larger part of their population.
Fighting doesn’t work. Being armored up doesn’t work either. Openness just might. Vulnerability just might. Listening just might. Asking for what you need in a way that your request can be received and acted upon is all you really have. You can’t force change, you can only ask for it, welcome your own change, and let it happen within others.
Postscript: Letting Go
So, how do you make a difference in your workplace, if the culture is not quite there yet, and you don’t feel like your needs will be acknowledged? There is always value in trying to build bridges, making the effort to listen and hear where someone else is coming from, and sharing your thoughts as well. The more we can see each other in our common humanity, the more we connect, and the less we need to strive for our place in it all. And that plays well for everyone.
To a point anyway. And, after that point, there’s a lot of value in letting go of the need for someone else to understand what you’re trying to say. Sometimes, hoping that another person will see you for who you are is nothing more than wishful thinking.
So, teach, and question. Give it a good go, if the situation seems to call for that. Recognize when the person you are talking to is open to new viewpoints, and open to letting go of what they think they know. And don’t feel bad if you can’t get through to them. Be ready to say you’ve given it your best shot. Be ready to let go of your need for them to see you. Be prepared to walk away.
There’s only so much of yourself that you should spend on someone, or some place. And then, you’ve done all that is reasonable, and you don’t need to give them more of your energy. You can choose how much of your resource you give them. You decide when the conversation is over. Make that a conscious choice. You get to choose.
If you want to strengthen your ability to have these conversations, or work on your next steps, click here to learn how I can support you.
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