The Feminine DNA of Enlightened Leadership

May 3, 2013

The Feminine DNA of Enlightened Leadership – Let’s Encourage It!

Mark Lefko hosts a great blog on Linkedin, called “Conscious Leadership Connection”, and he recently started a discussion on Female Leadership Characteristics, and how men can play a role in supporting and elevating female leaders. I would like to share some of the thoughts I posted on Mark’s blog in response to his provocative question:

As a male manager/leader whose natural tendency is to approach the leader-follower dynamic with a predominantly feminine predisposition, I had been somewhat hesitant to jump into this particular discussion…but one of the female discussion participants provided the appropriate cover for me to express what was on my mind, (thank you, Nancy) by discussing her predisposition to lead from the more “masculine” side of things.

So my comments begin from the point of view of a male who entered the ranks of management fresh out of college in 1973, when the Gospel of Management was preached at AMA seminars where we were exhorted to “plan your work, and work your plan”.  ‘People’ were nothing more than another consumable raw material to be allocated and used in appropriate quantities.  There was no discussion of “collaboration” or “cross-functional teams”, “group dynamics” or “hierarchy of needs”.  The  words “empowerment” and “engagement” were nowhere to be found in the management lexicon.  Our job was “to get things done through other people”, with no expectation other than giving orders and laying out the workplan for others to follow mindlessly.  In those days it was not uncommon to actually hear the phrase, “I didn’t hire you to think”.

I came to an early realization of the innovative power of employee engagement when I was instructed to introduce Quality Circles into the food processing plant where I was the QC Manager, in 1975.  Even though the Quality Circle effort eventually withered and died because the company was not willing to invest in facilitation or problem-solving training for me or my teams, I was priveleged to experience this epiphany about the incredible creative energy lying latent between the ears of every set of hands on the production floor.

The flood of ideas that gushed forth in the early stages of our QC meetings was astonishing.  People were so enthused and energized by actually being asked what they thought, and even more enthused when they saw their ideas being implemented.  My role was simply to provide data and whatever resources were at my disposal; they did all the heavy lifting.   I didn’t know it at the time but this moment of enlightenment, early in my career, is what eventually fueled the passion that prompted me to begin writing my book in 1995, and has consumed me these last two+ decades.

So combining this early enlightenment experience with my natural, inborn tendencies to collaborate, empathize and  empower, it was not long before I was labeled a “soft manager” due to my tendency to provide resources, seek consensus, and encourage others to lead when appropriate.  Despite achieveing superior results, I often felt like I was not competing on a level playing field with my hard-ass peers who played all the political games and sucked up to the hard-ass Directors and VPs along the way.  I guess I felt then like many female manager/leaders feel today…and have been feeling for decades – excluded from the old-boy network!

So, here’s the question:  “What could all those male managers have done to support (instead of hinder) me as I attempted to lead in a more conscious and mindful manner?”

1. They could have considered our results objectively, accepted and encouraged my methods, and recognized the teams’ accomplishments.

2. They could have managed me collaboratively, sought my input and reached consensus, instead of pointing to numbers on a page with no discussion of “why”.

3. They could have provided a Vision instead of an MBO.

4. They could have managed (led) me and my departmental peers as a collaborative team instead of pitting us against each other in a “survival of the fittest” competition

5. They could have listened to me when I tried to convey the angst and dread they evoked at the shop floor level, with their authoritative bombast and erratic changes of direction and priority.

6. They could have “listened”…period.

In short, they could have acted like enlightened, mindful leaders instead of autocratic, pompous asses.

So my answer to the question posed above is simply:  “Be conscious leaders”:  Listen; Collaborate; Empathize; Guide; Mentor; Hold High Expectations…with Compassion; Inspire; Provide firm Direction; Set and Maintain Priorities; Create an Environment where it’s OK to make a mistake as long as you learn from it; Help others engage in achieving the Vision off in the distance.  Be inspirational; build relationships…get in touch with your inner female leader!