by Nicole Schwab
A lot has been said about women’s leadership, and how it does or does not differ from men’s leadership. In most discussions, women’s leadership and feminine leadership are assumed to be the same thing. As a result, any talk of feminine leadership is understood as something not relevant to men, and even antagonistic to men.
In this article, I want to approach the topic of feminine leadership from a different angle, which I believe is more helpful and illuminating. An angle that does not separate nor oppose the sexes, but looks at human beings in their wholeness.
As a starting point, I would like to posit that each human being possesses a set of qualities and attributes, which can be brought to bear in the exercise of their leadership.
Among this breadth of attributes, for the sake of simplicity, let us identify two broad categories. Let us say that whenever we make a decision, we can use our analytic and logical intellect. Or we can use our feelings and our intuition, which in this context I would define as an embodied form of processing information.
In other words, we have at our disposal two distinct pathways to knowledge.
For example, when hiring someone, we can do an extensive analysis of a candidate’s CV, and his or her answers to interview questions, assign points and come out with a final score to inform our decision. We could also simply trust our gut-feeling about that person and their fit within the organization.
Most often, we do both. We bring these different ways of knowing together, and somehow concoct an outcome, usually without our direct awareness of the exact contribution of each pathway to our final decision.
However, the gut-feeling pathway is generally not embraced to the same extent as the rational analytical pathway. We live in a world, where our mind’s extraordinary capacity for linear, logical thinking and deduction has been given strong preference over an intuitive approach.
This intuitive pathway is often called irrational and despised, considered incapable of meeting the demands of a leader in today’s world. It ranks lower on the scale of worthy competences, and consequently, its cultivation and blossoming has been utterly neglected.
We spend years in school and university training our intellect. And yet how much time do we spend tuning into our intuition? How much time do we spend experimenting with it, using our discernment to recognize situations in which we connected with our intuition — and it proved accurate — and situations in which the signals were blurred? To feel the difference between true intuition and a cognitive shortcut based on subconscious beliefs.
For us to be able to benefit from the full panoply of faculties at our disposal, it makes sense to equally develop and value each of these ways of knowing, and their associated qualities. In the case of intuition, these include empathy, and the ability to feel connected to and responsible for the world around us.
It makes sense to use both pathways. Fully.
I believe this neglect and suppression of the feeling side of who we are is a tragedy of which we are now facing the consequences. There are consequences for our inner wellbeing, where the subconscious degradation of these faculties, deemed unworthy of existence, creates a psychological conflict at the core of our being.
There are consequences for our environment, whereby our inner imbalance blinds us to the reality of our embodied connection to the world we inhabit. This inner denial makes it possible for us, as a species, to plunder our planet and consume without end. We are numb to the impact of our actions: they are a mere intellectual reality, not a direct embodied experience.
This is akin to thinking about someone cutting off your hand, as compared with feeling someone really cutting off your hand. Wouldn’t we act differently if we could move from operating strictly within the realm of thought, to also truly feeling the impact of our actions?
And finally, there are consequences for gender equality, because the intuitive and feeling aspects of our being have generally been associated with women. And thus, the unworthiness attributed to these softer leadership qualities has become equivalent to an unworthiness attributed to women’s leadership.
How often are women professionals told to leave their emotions at home? As if leadership meant becoming some kind of analytical robot banned from uttering any opinion that is not backed by scientific evidence. Isn’t this an impoverished way of existing on this planet?
But let’s remember: it is not just about women. It is about a multi-faceted set of qualities, which for the sake of simplicity I have grouped under the theme of “intuition”. Qualities which we could call feminine.
Many people have a strong reaction to the word feminine, which is just another indication of the magnitude of the problem. A word as banal as feminine should not ignite passions nor trigger resistance. Especially when defined as an aspect of every human being’s existence.
We are whole beings with immense potential. And part of that potential has to do with fully developing both our masculine and our feminine qualities and attributes. This applies to everyday life. And it applies to leadership.
Let us strive to come back into balance. Let us reinstate our feminine qualities to their rightful place, hand-in-hand with the incredible capacities of our intellect, which we could call masculine. Let us nurture and value them equally within ourselves and in the world.
Only then will we – men and women – achieve inner balance, which in my opinion, is a prerequisite for any form of leadership, be it transformational leadership or spiritual leadership.
This Spirituality and Transformative Leadership series was set up as a response to the need to bring ‘higher order’ principles into leadership today and to spark an ongoing discussion as to the role that spirituality, as distinct from religion, has in today’s world. It is a curated series that invites both Young Global Leaders and others with an interest in leadership to contribute to a discussion on the role that spirituality plays in leadership today. For more information, please see the following link for an overview of the origins of this project and for a link to all the blog posts in the series please click here.