No single challenge has been greater for me as a leader than learning how to take better care of the people I lead, and to create a safe, supportive space in which they can thrive. The ability to recognize, experience and be sensitive to what others are feeling.
Empathy proved especially difficult for me whenever I felt vulnerable. My instinctive response was to protect myself, most often with aggression. I equated aggression with safety, and vulnerability with weakness. I practiced a lot of personal growth in past years and found the more I acknowledge my own fears and uncertainties, the safer people feel with me and the more effectively they work.
An effective modern leader requires a blend of intellectual qualities — the ability to think analytically, strategically and creatively — and emotional ones, including self-awareness, empathy, and humility. In short, great leadership begins with being a whole human being.
In my coaching practice I meet far more women with this blend of qualities than I do men, and especially so when it comes to emotional and social intelligence.
I believe this is a reflection of limitations men almost inevitably develop in a culture that measures them by the ability to project strength and confidence, they hide what they're feeling, (sometimes even from themselves) and define who they are above all by their external accomplishments and their capacity to prevail over others.
From an early age, men often overvalue their strengths, while women too frequently underrate theirs. In reality, we all struggle to feel a stable sense of value and self-worth. Men often defend against their doubts by moving to grandiosity and inflation, while women more frequently move to insecurity and deferral. Men seek more often to win, women to connect. So long as the path to power is connected to proving you’re bigger and badder, it’s no surprise that men have mostly prevailed in some ways.
In 2012, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of Harvard Business Review reported a study of 7280 business leaders who got rated by their peers, supervisors and direct reports. Women scored higher in 12 of 16 key skills and not just developing others, building relationships, collaborating, and practicing self development, but also taking initiative, driving for results and solving problems and analyzing issues.
I challenge, we need more male leaders with the courage to look within, comfortably acknowledge their shortcomings, and help those they lead feel safe and appreciated rather than fearful and inadequate. We need more women with the courage to step up, fully own their strengths, and lead with confidence and resolve while also holding on to their humanity and their humility.
We need a new generation of leaders — men and women — who willingly embrace their their natural talents they come into this world with and to accept the uniqueness of what they are and what they bring to the table.
We also need new breed of leaders both men and women to fully embrace their opposite.