The importance of moving past antiquated concepts to recognising and appreciating traits such as compassion and loyalty has been discussed during "Psychology Matters" on The Chrissy B Show (Sky 191)
Slugs and snails and puppy dog tails or sugar and spice and all things nice...which are you made of?
For many years we have been bound by the notion of "male behaviours" and "female behaviours" being of particular value in certain contexts. Unfortunately this idea has also be extended to suggest (implicity or otherwise) that the opposite traits are less successful in those very same contexts.
Leadership is as much "horses for courses" as anything else. If a team responds well to a certain style, the leader who is able to best present that style is likely to be the most successful. Of course it is as helpful for both team and leader to remain flexible and adaptable to the changing world so that they continue that success even in less preferential environments. But it is not necessary to be a specific gender!
Behaviour is flexible
Behaviour is not fixed. We are allowed to change our minds, we have a range of choices of action (although we have a tendancy to stick to what has worked for us in the past). We are adaptable beings, and while it may take some of us longer than others, we can always learn. The more flexible we are, the more influence - so says the second law of cybernetics - the organism with the largest range of options will control the system. Flexibility (in mindset) is not related to gender - it's simply practice!
Labelling is for products not people
Labelling tends to help things stick, and how we choose to lable (when it comes to people - flexible beings) can be problematic. For example, if we say that something is "good" or "bad" - we may always try to repeat what is "good" and avoid what is "bad" - whereas in a different context the "bad" behaviour may be the most successful. I prefer to see things as effective or ineffective dependant on outcome as well as context. Whenever I use labels such as "masculine" and "feminine" I often describe them as part of antiquated evolutionary approaches to behaviour. Times have changed - so too must our language.
Effective traits are gender neutral
However, when it comes to effective or flexible behaviours - these are not specific to men or women. Just because a woman may enjoy putting on make up, it does not mean she cannot hold a successful board meeting for engineers. Just because a man drives fast cars, doesn't mean he cannot be a patient nursery school teacher.
The effective traits of leadership (or even of just being decent):
- passion and charisma
...to name but a few are not necessarily seen more often in males or females.
And similarly, ineffective (or self-serving) behaviours:
- game playing
- "divide and conquer"
- being a "politician"
...are as common to both
Of course, approaches and styles may also differ - but is that necessarily anything to do with gender? Isn't it time we look beyond sex to the traits that we most respect and want to encourage and be around?
"I get on better with men/women"
This is a common point raised by clients after explaining they have had negative experiences with specific people who happen to be of one particular gender and have thrown everyone else of that gender into the same tin. Not only that but they then approach new leaders or colleagues of that gender with mistrust. If you act suspicious of me, is it that unreasonable that I may respond in kind?
Often this mindset tends to relate to slightly deeper experiences with very specific people of that gender, but when it doesn't, the question I would ask if this sounds a little like you is "I accept that you will have experienced a more pleasant working environment with a certain gender...but is it because rather than you getting on better with them it is your traits that make it easier for them to get on with you"!? (Sometimes we just aren't self-reflective enough and that must be addressed first!)
I look for reliabilty, clear communication, direction (if required) and structure in my professional relationships. I have been fortunate to experience that with many people (of both genders)...I have also experiened the opposite as well as my pet peeve "political" behaviour (saying one thing but meaning another and "divide and rule"), but this is also non gender specific. When I have been uncomfortable in an environment, I look first at behaviour rather than the actor...and do the same for myself. If it is me causing the issue because perhaps I keep requesting a timeline, or I want to pin dates down, or I complain about the lack of communication, I see this as the way I like to function not because "I am female". I then question whether my style needs adapting (and if I am willing to do that), but to reduce the reasons for conflict to the lowest common denominator is both lazy and unhelpful. Not only that, but it's terribly restrictive to your own growth and happiness. I try to build all my relationships on a complexity of traits that I value rather than anything broadly superficial.
Broaden your persepctive and you broaden your learning
If we continually excuse conflict we will not grow - not in ourselves, and not in our relationships. This may work well if we remain in an echo chamber with others who think like us, and I am not saying a world necessarily needs to be any bigger than that if you are happy...but the reality is, how many people are?
Try holding complexity in judgment. I'm not even asking you to do anything about the opinion you arrive at, but rather than simply writing something off by saying "I'm sure that happened because X is [insert most obvious thing that is not me here]" Reflect instead on the interaction and what effective or ineffective behaviours were displayed on both sides.
Audrey is a Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol), and the author of "The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness" (Pearson & FT series) and "Be A Great Manager - Now" (Pub Pearson, 2016, Book of the Month in WH Smith Travel Stores). She is a CPD Accredited speaker, trainer, and qualified FIRO-B and NLP Practitioner. She is the founding Development Coach and Training Consultant with her training consultancy CLICK Training, and the resident psychologist on The Chrissy B Show (Sky191), the UK's only TV programme dedicated to mental health and wellbeing. She often presents at National and International conferences in the fields of leadership and team cohesion, and is part of the Amity University conference panel. She currently lectures in Personal Development and Mindfulness and offers psychological consultancy in these areas to organisations.