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.”
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!
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.”
I believe brain researchers (neuroscientists) have good intentions when they make blanket statements about other people’s beliefs to be “right or wrong.” Some of them probably believe their “expert status” enables them to make broad and sweeping declarations on behalf of all of humanity – I suppose. I believe, the belief that an “expert” gets to set the rules for what is “right or wrong” is a type of perceptual bias in itself. Just to be clear, there needs to be context when judging right and wrong anyway, since the situation or circumstance can make a huge difference. Life is just not black or white.
In fact, science is full of bias. Just read history…or your current online copy of a variety of current research studies. Can we just get comfortable with the facts of life? Life is not neat and predictable. Everyone, including myself, filter what he or she sees and experience through their own biased lens. The best we can ever do is to continue to raise our self-awareness so that we can be more in the moment to make our own choice as clearly as we can. Simple as that. It is not black or white, “objectivity.”
My bias is that I don’t believe a scientist, researcher or anyone else can determine objective results 100% of the time. It’s easy when we are referring to mechanistic, physical objects. For example, if we as human beings have agreed that the color red looks like…”red”… and then we see a red apple, one can argue that another is “right or wrong” if the color is called purple. That’s what standardized tests attempt to do. Teach people what to think and then test them on it.
Yet, somewhere back in time, red was “made up” and we all agreed upon it and generation after generation it was taught to children this way. It’s called, “language.”
What I have trouble with is when I see articles from scientists saying, for example, “we (people) see patterns where there are none.” Oh, “none” to whom?
We can learn how to make our memories work for us, instead of constantly against ourselves. Your memory of your experiences of this past year will have a powerful impact on your productivity and performance in the future. In fact, your reaction to many of your experiences this year are directly impacted by your past memories, even from decades previous.
I’ve come across articles that share the mechanistic process of how dopamine is involved in the memory making process because of it’s physiological impact on the hippocampus, the “memory bank” of the brain. While this is interesting information, what is left out is that fact that memory is not “mindless.” Memory is not objective linear process; it is subjective based upon your level of self-awareness to impact it. If you do not understand the power of perception to form your experience and actions, you will continue to believe that your brain just, “made you do it.” We have choice, but only to the degree that we are aware of how we are creating the mental models and narratives that determine our sense of self-image and abilities and lead to the choices we make.
For example, let’s say you found yourself in an unpleasant life situation. Let’s say you have a business idea that you worked really hard on to launch. You used a great deal of resources and you did, “the best that you could.” Yet, things didn’t turn out as ideally as you had hoped. If you are not self-aware and you are conditioned to equate failure and disappointment with “bad,” it is likely that you will feel this as a threat to you sense of self-worth which in turn will trigger your self-defensive, “fight, flight freeze” response. Once the emotional perception of fear is triggered and your amygdala flips on with profoundly rapid speed a series of neurotransmitters get triggered, including dopamine that you commonly hear about. Your memory in the way that you structured it gets glued into your memory bank (cellular memory, really) that this is a “bad” experience to be avoided for safety’s sake and you will file it away that risk and entrepreneurship is “bad.” You will assume that this is the “way life is.” You will take it for granted that you are “right.” Eventually, this belief gets recorded in cellular memory goes unconscious and filters future opportunities. BUT WAIT….!
Love is not often thought of as “power,” especially in business. Usually there is a conversation about “power” and then there’s “love.” After listening to a very impactful video on RSA by Adam Kahane, Power and Love, I had an insight. In this video, once again there was “power” and then there was “love.” A couple of days before viewing this video I had a discussion with a Twitter friend on “power versus force,” the title of a book by Dr. David Hawkins. I have been making a distinction between power and force, as if love is power and that other “power” was really force.
After watching this video, I would now say this…that which we call “power” should really be preceded with the word, “will.” It’s really will power, for it is certainly not the only power – love is a power also. Will power plays an important role in self-determination and human potential, yet, as the video points out, it can become destructive when it is not integrated with the power of love.
In the video he defines “power” as the drive of everything to realize itself – growth/self determination. He then defines “love” as the drive toward the unity of the separated – the underlying unity is fractured and love seeks to unite. I would also argue that love also is a part of the drive of everything to realize itself in that love is also involved in the begetting of life and growth.
There is also another point I would add. Love is power. There’s not “power” and then there’s “love.”
Self-determination requires “will power.” Maintaining unification and a life supporting system (integrity, wholeness) requires, “love power.” In fact, when love power takes hold, it can be a force that is powerful beyond measure. When it is balanced with will power it can be more powerful than will power alone, once this integrative will/love power takes hold. For the remainder of this post, I will refer to “power” as “(will) power” in some sentences as love is also a power as well.
He goes on to explain in the video how (will) power and love can both be degenerative or generative when lived to the extreme pole, one without the other. He used the example of the traditional husband and wife relationship:
Many leaders make assumptions that ironically limit their leadership capacity every single day. One assumption is that they always objectively view the leadership and performance capabilities within themselves and their team. Another is that they are already so smart and experienced that they can shrug off learning and development. These assumptions are a blind spot. The belief that the way that we see life is objective…we assume we are right, that how we see is “the way it is” – is often the very thing that creates a leadership stumbling block. This is a closed mindset.
In other words, we really don’t know what we don’t know and unfortunately, all too often we are not open to examining our own thinking. Why? I believe one reason is that we assume (there that word is again) that to raise our hand for leadership development implies that we are “broken” – that we need to “fix” ourselves. Our society as a whole seems to assume this connotation is true as well.