The best leaders in the COVID-19 crisis will draw on both their masculine and feminine qualities

As organisations and businesses strive to deal with the COVID-19 global health emergency, the influence and the impact of their leadership will be the key differentiator for success or failure. For most leaders this will be the greatest test of their abilities and performance. Those most likely to navigate the storm successfully and steer their business and people through to the calmer waters beyond COVID-19, will be the leaders who, regardless of their own gender, are able to draw heavily on both their feminine and masculine leadership qualities.

A lesson from a Greek goddess

The importance of using and developing masculine andfeminine behaviours is underlined by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio who write in their bestselling book TheAthena Doctrine: How Women (& the Men who think like them) will Rule the Future, “Man or woman, you need both masculine and feminine traits to thrive in today’s world.”

To develop their theory, the authors undertook a study amongst 64,000 people. Dividing the group in half, they asked the first group to explore 125 key human behaviours and identify whether each was masculine, feminine or neutral. For masculine, the behaviours chosen included dominant, strong, arrogant, distinctive, and focused; while for feminine, the behaviours chosen included being articulate, reliable, and reasonable; and neutral behaviours ranged from visionary, to neutral, attentive and carefree.

The second group were tasked with placing those behaviours – without knowing which had been identified as masculine, feminine or neutral – against the categories of leadership, as well as morality, happiness and success. In all the categories, the feminine qualities correlated more strongly. So, for leadership, 11 feminine behaviours including being loyal, passionate, collaborative, flexible, reasonable, intuitive and empathetic were identified as crucial, compared to only six masculine behaviours.

Leadership demands feminine traits

What does that prove? When you take gender out of the discussion, it seems evident that more feminine qualities are needed for successful leadership. This doesn’t equate to simply saying we need more women leaders (we do – I’ll save that topic for another day!), but it is recognition that whether a leader is a man or a woman, they must draw on those qualities and competencies that come from both their masculine and – crucially – their feminine side.

Do all leaders, regardless of their gender, have both feminine and masculine competencies they can exploit? Yes, at least as far as Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious is concerned. The Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst argues that every woman has an unconscious masculine side – ‘the animus’, while all men will have an unconscious feminine side – ‘the anima’. The point being here that leaders of whatever gender need to become aware of those latent qualities and behaviours they have within them to be the best leader they can be.

We need to talk about gender

The problem is, in today’s workplace these gender discussions are often seen as uncomfortable. Although gender is a hot topic, bringing it into the debate, even as a solution, creates a real irritation – men don’t like it and, often, neither do women. For example, a man can be comfortable being compassionate, but if someone identifies that as a feminine quality then that can make the man uncomfortable in exercising his compassion. But it’s critical that men are content and comfortable with their feminine qualities and vice versa. Men can be compassionate and women can be persistent – they both need both!

There are so many judgements and prejudices around the gender stereotypes and most of them are unconscious – not spoken. But if we don’t talk about gender, how will the organisations develop gender-smart strategies for a better future? And how will we help men to embrace their own feminine qualities and how can we help women to embrace their masculine qualities?

Leading through the biggest crisis in a generation

The COVID-19 global health emergency is the biggest crisis of our generation and we will need leaders to draw deeply both on their masculine and feminine qualities to help their people, businesses and organisations win through.

As a leader you can be a man or a woman, but you need compassionate communication as much as graphs and strategies; multi-tasking and a work-home balance as much as mastering technology for Zoom; taking care of people’s emotions like fear and anxiety as much as social distancing metrics. You need to show empathy, flexibility, fairness, understanding, vulnerability and solidarity as much as agility, resilience, resistance, persistence and power.

This is a crisis where all men and women need all their qualities to survive and reach to a better world.