Does leadership really have a gender? Is leadership really, “male or female?” As a female, am I stuck with certain behaviors just because I’m female? I think not. Can we start moving our conversations on leadership BEYOND gender? Many people incorrectly believe that leadership style is determined biologically by one’s gender, as exemplified by business conversations in the media on “Male Leadership versus Female Leadership” comparisons.
This can lead to not only blind spots in our vision of how we view others and ourselves; it can affect our own leadership development. It can contribute to unrecognized bias that we unwittingly build into our own brain. It can also interfere with living out our personal values, living as our authentic self. The focus on gender as what defines one’s leadership ability powerfully illustrates our lack of understanding about how our brains can create the way that we view ourselves and our lives and how our brains can shape the way we operate in the world as men and women.
This lack of “brain-awareness” also literally impacts all areas of our lives. I use gender and leadership as the context here for illustrating how our mindsets can get stuck—regardless of gender. Gender stereotyping, for example, is applicable to men who stereotype other men and women who unconsciously stereotype other women as well.
Brain-based stereotyping is an equal opportunity phenomenon.
While the leadership and gender argument regarding “Male Leadership” versus “Female Leadership” can point us to the root of our lack of success, we need to seriously consider that there is a deeper question that is really at the root of our dilemma. Getting to the root is essential to uncovering our own values and authentic leadership style. What is the root of our dilemma? It is the lack of understanding “how our own brain works.”
Can you be an effective leader without clarity of vision and strategy for yourself and your team? Think about this a moment… Stop here a moment and focus on this question.
Did you notice that by focusing on this question, you had to give your attention to it? When you focus, you are tapping into the brain’s basic navigating tool. You had to make a decision to turn away other thoughts floating through and focus on the question at hand. “Focus” is a basic way that the brain operates to guide your choices. What you focus on expands in your awareness. What you give your attention to is sending a command to your nervous system that the object of attention is your goal—for better or for worse. When you coach and engage your team into creating a clear vision and strategy, you are increasing their focus on where the company wants to go. Of course, allowing people into the process not only increases the likelihood of ownership; innovative ideas could also be an added benefit.
If you want to engage the minds and heart of your team, you must be able to paint a clear and emotional vision and implementable strategy. Of course, just writing a vision down and putting it in the drawer or on a PDF file will not engage people’s passion, commitment and accountability. If you design an impeccable “big data” management strategy without taking into account people and their roles, skills and needs don’t be surprised when your organizational change initiative becomes a part of the 70-80% Failure Club.
Just having a design on paper remains theoretical until implementation brings it to life. The vision and strategy must be articulated and designed clearly and the stakeholders/people must be engaged in the process. This takes creativity and mental agility on the leader’s part. Otherwise vision and strategic planning is simply more busy work, unproductive meetings and mindless activity. If this were your scenario, it would be little wonder that people do not see the value of vision and strategy.
I came across Google’s 8 Rules for Effective Leadership the other day. I’m glad to see that their analytics revealed the fairly obvious list of what makes for an effective leader. It is important to many people to have objective data and research upon which to base their decisions on and it really can be useful. The one Rule though that really stood out to me that was strange however is Rule 7, “Have a clear vision and strategy for the team” which was next to last. This list was created based upon order of importance in a descending order. I’m curious, how can one…
Self-awareness has finally become a commonly used and acceptable term in business circles. So has “mindfulness” and “meditation.” While mindfulness is a key to developing self-awareness, it is not all that is required to self-direct your behavior change. You will need to “see the need to change” and you will need to learn new adaptive skillsets. Fortunately, skillfully applied, practical application of neuroscience concepts can help. Of course, having real-life experience on how to actually do this does matter. Leading by example can be crucial as many people can simply read a book or research articles. Actually retraining your brain matters also.
I recall when I first started learning the skill of practicing mindfulness—about 14 years ago—this idea was still being ridiculed within the halls of academic neuroscience. Being the pragmatic, results-oriented person that I am—and courageous—I did it anyway. I learned, years ago, that mindfulness practice is only an initial ingredient to performing at our best. True, it is a key to unlocking the higher Neo-cortex area of our brain, which I refer to as Level 3 Brain. I hear this comment being made all the time. When we can start to separate from our thoughts and reconnect with our feelings in our bodies, we can begin to “take back the steering wheel of our mind” I like to say.
Yet, if you don’t know how to drive and operate your brain, don’t be surprised if you find your way into a ditch.
At the heart of successful change is changing our behavior on purpose. Changing behavior in my world does not mean, “fixing yourself.” You are not broken, where do we get these ideas? Who decides who is broken? This negative connotation for learning is one reason why few leaders want to raise his or her hand in the first place to ask for coaching. It’s also why adults pretend that they already know it all.
Behavior needs to evolve based upon context and desired outcomes. If you want to become a more effective leader, team member or to learn new skills from strategy to relationship building, you have to have some grit, courage and to lighten up before you burn yourself out. Too much activity is like too much of any “good thing.” We have gotten way out of balance and the stress, ineffectiveness in performance and lack of creativity are all results of not growing ourselves to keep up with the environment around us. It is a result of having a stuck mindset.
Very few people are actually enjoying their work or lives to tell the truth. Mindfulness is an important first step but you will also need to: (more…)
People are doing a lot of talking, texting and technology…but are they feeling heard? Better yet, do you feel heard? While at one time the masses of people may not have been able to “speak their truth” as we were gagged and bound it seemed by “the media control” that allowed access for an elite few or those with sizable enough bank accounts to bankroll one’s message or agenda.
Now, with social media and Internet access, technology allows anyone with access to a device to create a blog, open a free social media account and to upload free videos. Some people have seemingly become overnight, Justin Bieber for example, wildly successful entertainers by getting started on YouTube. There is a lot of talking going on, but I’d have to agree with an article I read on The Atlantic, “Saving the Lost Art of Conversation” written by Megan Garber, that people may be using the various technology platforms in record breaking numbers…yet they are not having real conversation. Paradoxically, this leads to feelings of isolation in the midst of the crowd.
Early on in my medical practice I was a “bossy boss.” After finishing my medical training, I immediately began plans to open my own office. During that time of my life, I was a very driven, self-centered person. I was driven to “prove myself” via achievement and goal setting, and “enough was never enough.” After achieving my medical degree and training ahead of schedule, I charged directly into opening my new medical practice—without skipping a beat.
Medical education is notorious for fostering a competitive mindset and for not helping physicians to develop people skills. The only thing that saved me in the realm of patient care is my natural tendency to care for those whom I feel responsible for with empathy and deep commitment. Back in those days, if you were not in this category, you probably would not take very long to discover my short temper or curt attitude when (easily) provoked. I not only put undue stress and pressure on myself, I had an inner critic that was perfectionistic and worked over-time.
Now imagine me as the leader of this new medical practice. When I was in college, before I became an overly assertive grouch after medical school, I was a supervisor for a major grocery store’s customer service desk. This was the extent of my professional managerial skills. Suddenly, after opening my practice, I found myself not only responsible for full-time employees, I was also responsible for what seemed like an astronomical office overhead and I had an acute need to accelerate my business development skills!
Women do have an advantage in leadership style in today’s workplace, not simply because we are women, but more so because “heart” behavior, such as showing another person empathy or exercising better listening skill is becoming more socially acceptable as exemplary leadership behavior. Yet, do not men have a “heart” as well? Judy B. Rosener in the Harvard Business Review article “Ways Women Lead” postulates that characteristics generally considered to be “feminine” accounts for why women are succeeding in the 21st century workplace. “Macho male” leadership styles tend to lead to disengagement in today’s world.
Let me be explicit here for a moment. While I know that our language implicates “feminine” as being only of the female or woman, I find it striking that the functional qualities of our right-brain parallel qualities that our language defines as feminine or female. Yet, human beings – men included – have a right-brain hemisphere. Perhaps we need to rethink the etymology of “feminine” and realize that with the clearer understanding of the roles of the brain hemispheres, our tendency to define behavior along gender lines may be antiquated. Our brain capabilities give us the ability to act as we need to in order to evolve and adapt to our environment.
Could it be that we have artificially segmented and categorized behaviors unwittingly according to gender, when really it is culture that has determined what is “feminine” versus “masculine” behavior? That true biology as related to the physiology of our brain has much greater flexibility than this?
For the sake of males who are leaders in today’s world where empathy is valued, I would think that looking at behavior based upon our brain’s ability to respond should supersede outdated definitions that connect behaviors along gender lines. Empathy is a human quality that can be cultivated, not a limited-to-gender quality. Perhaps we can start to recognize that our left-brain and right-brain contain functional qualities that can help us on an individual basis as needed, instead of pegging behavior into gender role-playing. Enough said; something to think about.
News Flash: where your mind is set—mindset—is not permanent. Your brain is flexible; you can learn throughout your life. Science calls it “neuroplasticity.” I call it, “NeuroReInvention®.” The belief that:
- “I am stuck”
- “This is just the way I am”
- “I can’t change”
- “I’m not good enough”
- “I’m always right; this is the way life is”
…is really simply B.S. and by this I mean it is a “Belief System.” You could also say it is due to blind spots in your life’s field of vision. It is my experience that we can change our B.S. Fortunately we now also have neuroscience for our skeptical, fearful-of-change logical brain. We can stop telling ourselves self-limiting stories that keep us from performing at our best at home and at the office. We can change our perceptions that interfere with harmonious relationships, our finances and our health. We can re-create our belief systems.
An important ingredient to this is to begin to understand that your personality and your potential are moldable. Your gender, race, creed or color doesn’t define the totality of you. In fact, whatever definitions are given are someone’s, somewhere subjective opinion and definition. Even your definition of yourself is subjective. You can stop believing it; you can change how and what you think. You can change how you feel. Perception is not objective.
Living with purpose – on purpose, requires clarity of values, what matters to you. To perform at your best you need to make conscious choices about what really matters to you. Without a definite purpose it is all too easy to be distracted by “the latest greatest thing.” It requires a decision to focus yet at the same time having an open mind to filter through relevant insights, information and opportunities. It requires an expanded vision to live an inspired and creative life.
This will require not only a higher level of self-awareness, but also mental agility. Adaptability. Confidence. It is not likely to be the most popular way of living as unfortunately, the masses of people live overcrowded or externally directed lives. Unfortunately, Henry David Thoreau’s words still ring true that,
“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation”
Meaning can’t be found outside of ourselves until we go within to feel into our heart – our passion. With all the fear and noise around us, we have to find our passion, which is likely to be buried under a mound of negative feelings. We can intentionally shift from worry, anxiety and mediocrity when we make up our minds – and heart – to do so. Sometimes we can’t find our passion unless we actually acknowledge, what really makes us angry? Not in a self-righteous way, but in a way that shows concern for a cause greater than just us.
We will have to ask some questions if we want new answers, questions such as,
1. Where do I want to go, to experience? Why?
2. What do I really want?
3. Can I envision it in my mind’s eye?
4. Can I communicate it…to myself?
5. Who or to what cause do I want to serve?
Neuroscience and gender bias was the subject matter of a presentation I attended the other day. It has become very apparent to me that there is much reciting of research going around without much thought to its implications. Granted we are all evolving and we are always growing, which is why I do not cling to my viewpoints around “scientific research.” I do tend to trust my experience first if I have to choose, I will say. This has served me well, as though I have formal background training in neuroscience, I stumbled into my personal experience of transformation before there was any research available.
This allows me to integrate the science with my empirical experience, and it has been quite useful. It is due to this experience that I see so much inherent bias in the most recent round of myths being perpetuated surrounding neuroscience and gender. To get to the point I will share one example from the presentation. I will preface this by saying that the speaker was only repeating what she read from research materials, so I do realize this. Nonetheless, this research is full of assumption and bias. One simple example would be the following.
She gave the data/numbers from a study that compared the differences in gray versus white matter in the brain between men and women to imply there was biological difference. What was the point? Was it for medical reasons? No, it was for cognitive comparison. Anyway it was stated that men have 6% more gray matter – which was attributed to greater ability to be analytical – while women were found to have 10% more white matter – with the conclusion assuming that this meant women are better at multi-tasking and putting together the pieces into context. Does this sound familiar?
Only now we are using neuroscience to attempt to assign cognition to biology once again. It’s like saying that, “Men’s brains are 10% larger than women’s” to imply that perhaps men are more brainy? I’m really not sure what this is supposed to mean, but what is always left out is the fact that men’s bodies are at least 10% larger then women’s on average, so of course their brain should be 10% larger. What does this have to do with capability? Now, here’s the blatant and so obvious-to-me problem with this line of reasoning….
Social conditioning, culture and experiences mold our brain. This is now scientific, objective fact. It is also my personal experience. Hence, there is a built in bias when comparing random sampling of men and women, since socialization influences occupation and “normal” gender-based behavior. This has a gigantic influence on gender behavior and experiences. In fact, be careful what you buy into.
What you believe affects your experience…which affects your brain.
Where is your mindset? Where is your Mind set? Our mind can have a set point. Carol Dweck, a Stanford researcher has a book called, Mindset, that addresses research involving behavior and one’s flexibility in one’s willingness to grow and change. She called the willingness to consider new ideas and growth as a “growth mindset” and a mindset that knows it all, and avoids change as a “fixed mindset.”
I’m happy to see the change in conversation happening. Not many years ago, before I even heard of Carol Dweck, when trying to use the word “mindset” people looked confused and it felt like I was speaking a foreign language. The fact that it’s become a common word in online and offline conversations speaks to our culture’s evolution in thinking. We still have other paradigms that need shifting of course, as growth and evolution is a continuous process. Just starting to recognize that change is constant is a big step in the right direction.
Those who continue to deny that change is happening and fight against it, will continue to struggle as trying to stop life’s evolutionary process is really an exercise in futility and will wear you down. History is full of examples of how people fought ideas like the following when their times were evolving, ideas that we now take for granted:
1. The earth is not flat
2. The earth is not the center of our universe/galaxy
3. Airplanes can fly
4. Cars can replace horses and buggies
5. Cell phone can not only exist but also can work without wires
Notice number five. In my own lifetime, I’ve seen the arrival of the cell phone and have watched them evolve. Do you realize that if a person from just a hundred years ago suddenly showed up now how totally shocked they would be to see our social progress? These outer changes are merely a reflection of our inner mindset changes and shifts.
Our outer world does not just suddenly appear. Someone somewhere had to “think differently.”