The Four Myths of Male Leadership
What I’ve learned, a Fathers Day reflection
’Tis easy enough to be pleasant
When life flows on like a song,
But the man worth while is the man with a smile
When everything else goes wrong
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Firstly, I found researching some things for this article interesting. For instance, if you Google “The four myths of male leadership” you get a series of articles about the gender gap, how there are very few female mentor-mentee relationships, and differences between men and women in the workplace.
For some reason, the top Google hits do not talk about debunking male leadership ‘truths’ or perceived ‘norms’. They instead focus on the myths that separate male and female leaders. These are not purely masculine myths, but certainly ones I have seen or acknowledged in myself. Here are my four myths.
It’s about fighting to the top and hogging the spotlight
You can only lead from the top, you can only get there by showing you are better than the competition. The way to the top is on the backs of the losers.
It is not a win or lose world, it is not about being the loudest voice. You can create win-win situations, you can lead softly.
In fact, many of the most effective leaders are reluctant and deflective of praise. In his renowned book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins and his researchers highlight several leaders who fit this mold and have had significant success.
These amazing leaders, Collins found, “are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless.” You’ve probably never heard of Darwin E. Smith or Colman Mockler, but these men brought success to companies that lead (and are still leading) the industry.
When Smith became CEO of Kimberly-Clark, the paper company’s stock had fallen 36% behind the general market. In the 20 years of his tenure, Smith transformed the brand into the leading paper-based consumer, generating cumulative stock returns 4.1 times the general market. In retirement, Smith humbly reflected on his outstanding performance saying simply: “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.”
Mockler was the CEO of Gillette from 1975 to 1991 and during his leadership faced three take-over attacks that threatened to destroy the company. If the company capitulated, the executive team stood to receive great compensation, but Mockler fought for the future and went on to lead Gillette to amazing growth and fantastic returns. Publicity-shy Mockler was a humble and gracious man, but no one who knew him would have mistaken his plain and open modesty for weakness.
“You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.” — Harry S. Truman
If you want to progress, remember it is about the success of your team and company and not your success. I link this back to Fathers Day in this way:
If you have children, your priorities shift. People say it all the time. It no longer becomes about your success, but working to put your children in the best possible position to succeed. The same goes for your team. What can you do to put them in a position to succeed? Succeed in the long run.
Confidence is the only attribute that matters
People want to follow a confident person. The person with all the answers.
Confidence masks a lot if ineptitude, being confident and charismatic does allow progression and plaudits from those who view it from far, but false confidence and bravado do not often hold up to close examination.
“Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.” — Thomas Carlyle
“Confidence comes from hours and days and weeks and years of constant work and dedication.” — Roger Staubach
But, what if I said that confidence isn’t the key. In fact in this Forbes article on the 11 Powerful Traits of Successful Leaders the word ‘confidence’ only appears once under the heading of setting clear goals and persisting to achieve them.
More important are characteristics like being;
able to self-manage — Manage yourself before you think about managing others. Knowing your capacities and stressors will assist in understanding those of your team. Regulate your time and energy, know your limitations and weaknesses, and seek assistance. Be cognisant of your potential biases.
able to effectively communicate — Be clear, consistent and succinct. Being an effective communicator requires a series of verbal and non-verbal cues, you need to work to reach people at all levels.
accountable and responsible — Effective leaders hold themselves accountable and take responsibility for their own mistakes — they expect others to do the same. If you have power, you must know when and how to exert its influence.
As a Father who at times has been over-confident, I would say that the over-confident Father is the one who can make bad decisions.
They may seem right at that point in time, but a better answer would have been found by consulting the family. This is often true of your work and your teams.
Rather than being confident, work at being justifiably confident by using other characteristics. Those of communication with your colleagues, accountability to your team, and management of your self.
What characteristics do you need to allow your team to succeed? Confidence is important, but it is not the most important.
You need to lift the heaviest things
Many years ago (like caves and stuff), leaders were selected by appearance. Strong, big and brave meant safety. These are often masculine attributes. Now, when strength is not the defining leadership quality, we still think that doing the heavy lifting is important.
In the modern environment office and the on-line world, I’m referring to intellectual lifting; the big ideas, the key strategies, the solutions to the complicated problems, these are all deemed the leaders remit.
The best leaders do not provide answers, they create complications.
The best leaders are great at describing the problems; providing clarity and intent to the issue that needs solving and the characteristics of the outcome. However, wherever possible they do not give the steps to get there.
Work hard to get better at describing the complication. Work hard to get better at defining success. Work hard to stop providing process.
Further, do not let the preconceived notion of the outcome you thought you would get from dismissing the validity of the solution proposed to you. Just ask more questions to understand that they have met the constraints.
The aligned and refined answer of many minds, is always better than the answer of one.
If your family is planning a holiday, or a move to a new address, allow the family to be involved. Do not assume that your answer will be the best. Do not assume that the smallest of your tribe cannot add value to the end solution. For instance, some of the best Fathers Day experiences have been the ones you did not plan.
The same goes for you and your team. Do not dismiss the most junior voice, do not dismiss the person with the most unlikely suggestions. Instead, listen.
Each person's voice in your team is valuable. If they do not have the best information, it is your job to help them learn. In fact, you must continue to challenge your team to lift heavier things. You are the trainer, not the weight-lifter.
Give ’em the carrot or the stick
The best workforce is motivated by incentives and opportunity for rewards and avoiding punishment and adverse ratings.
This dated management theory has influenced many people in positions of leadership of recent generations.
The theme is that people need both incentive and punishment, one drawing them forward one pushing them. The reward to distant or close, motivations wanes. The punishment overbearing or insufficient, the lose their drive. While there are times this is true, and sometimes effective, it is not the right way to motivate your team.
As a father, or in fact a parent, it becomes easy to resort to threat and punishment or bribery and reward. This carrot and stick approach has proven a valid parenting technique for generations, but it becomes fruitless when its application is inconsistent.
Rather, it is better to be fair and consistent, attentive and clear, and allow freedom when you can and constraints when you have too. The same goes for your team; if you offer freedom of thought and application, are attentive to and strive to understand their needs, and provide fair compensation (including honest and thoughtful praise), they will startle you with their creativity and achievements.
If I think back to my time as a child.
I reflect that I was offered time in the spotlight, but encouraged to find a way to acknowledge the effort of those around me and step to the back when it is their time.
I saw my family admit to struggling, and demonstrate self-management and effective communication:
When you cut loads and loads of firewood over a weekend, drive the truck deep into the woods to find the best timber seated five people in a single-cab, as a way to get extra money.
You learn a lot about each other and your capacities. You learn about confidence in your ability to split the wood, safely operate a chainsaw, and bounce on the tow-bar to get extra traction, you learn that confidence is earned and nowhere the most important thing.
I remember that my father continuously challenged me with little games while we did chores around the farm:
Tips for the 25-times table, how many words can you make from the letters S-O-T-P? What is the best way to repair this gate, how do we get the cows into the pen as a team? Each of these things challenged me to grow, to lift heavier things. To examine new complications and test my current creativity.
I acknowledged that there were boundaries that if breached warranted punishment, and that hard-work may result in reward.
Even more, I noted the freedom of the farm, the play with my Brother’s where we lost track of time, returning to the house at dusk, dirty and smiling. I saw the attentiveness of the family to support our interests and efforts. Looking for an opportunity to praise where it was warranted and earned.
So as I sit here, thinking about Father Day this weekend, I note that I have work to do. Both with my children and my work colleagues. We all strive to grow, learn, solve those complications, and create value for our team.
The same applies to you and your significant people.
Treasure those relationships that matter.
Dad — thanks for letting me grow, fail, learn, adapt, celebrate, commiserate, laugh, cry and stretch.
Kids — thanks for listening and not listening. Challenging and elevating me, loving and laughing with me, trying and sometimes failing. Focusing me on the things that matter, and lifting my aspirations.
Happy Fathers (and significant caregiver) Day.
Stay safe and keep smiling,
A writer of things, learning about leadership, personal development and growth. Originally published at leonpurton.com