Reflections on women in leadership

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Reflections on women in leadership
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Sandra Díaz
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June Singer writes: “A wise person once said the goal of the masculine principle is perfection and the goal of the feminine principle is completion. If you are perfect, you cannot be complete, because you must leave out all the imperfections of your nature. If you are complete, you cannot be perfect, for being complete means you contain good and evil, right and wrong, hope and despair”. Perhaps what we need is balance.

I grew up in the eighties when the available role models for a women leader were still very limited… we had few women in politics, few women leading companies, just a handful in leadership positions. Margaret Thatcher, the iron woman, was the iconic female figure of the moment, who was admired for being strong and hard, highly identified with more masculine principles.

I studied Civil Engineering where I also learned to cultivate more masculine aspects of my identity, such as a strong problem-solving capacity, analytical skills and the need to achieve.

If I could bring an image of the characteristics that I cultivated at that time, I would say they were those of Disney´s character Mulan, a young girl who masquerades as a man to be considered an equal among the Samurai. Perhaps many women had to do the same thing to enter the business world at that time, disguising feminine aspects of themselves that seemed of little use: such as emotional connection and empathy.

I wonder how much feminine talent is being wasted on these disguises… especially when companies so desperately need empathy nowadays.

After working a few years in Chile, I traveled to the United States to get my Master´s Degree. The advantage of living in a country with less discrimination and more female role models is that you also stop underestimating yourself, and go for the challenges once others look at you as an equal. Working in the United States I honed my competitive edge and learned very quickly that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission, otherwise you will get behind. It´s interesting how many women willingly accept to follow rules that didn’t invent for them and are not even in their favor.

However, when you only enhance masculine aspects of yourself (something that also happens to men), leaving behind all the feminine aspects, there is a risk of becoming a character that even doesn’t seem human. Somehow I got the message that in order to be appreciated as a professional I must become the perfect version of myself, knowing all the answers, and above all not showing any weakness, especially if you aspire to be a “leader” of some sort.

Leaders with so much desire for perfection are exhausting for themselves and for the rest. It is as if they were walking with glasses that only see what is missing. You look at your partners and what stands out most is what they do wrong. You are almost incapable of giving positive feedback, not because you don’t want to but because you can hardly see the positive in somebody. We meet once a year only to complain of our performance gaps, with a single focus on numbers (17% of loss, 80% of KPI completion, numbers only) and forget to celebrate how much we have learned.

We are not going to have better leadership if we have such narrow views of what leadership is all about. To see beyond the unique style of leadership, we need the feminine that opens up our way of seeing the world to include other ways of leading. The reason we have the same type of leaders in almost all organizations, is because they get chosen among the same pool of people, they give each other awards of leadership achievements, and the inbreeding continues, so we produce the same results of the past and perpetuate the status quo.

For the old world that was less complex, more linear, the traditional model of leadership had its usefulness. But for the world that is unfolding now, it is incomplete. The old model lacks a lot of humanity and balance, lacks empathy and relationship, and lacks inclusion and care for the collective, the ecosystem, and life itself. In short, it lacks the feminine aspects of life. And I do not necessarily mean more women in leadership positions, which is a first step, but a new way of thinking and feeling for women and men in leadership where everyone takes care of results and people, where there is a balance between caring for the environment and business, where you go seeking external achievements and also enhancing your freedom to measure your own principles.