The importance of being held accountable in the midst of transformation— a different kind of Gender Gap

philip horváth
LUMAN.IO
Published in
10 min readApr 16, 2020

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Leaders around the world, in businesses, nations and communities are responding very differently to the current planetary situation.

On the one hand this has been showing how we are in need of new systems, systems that allow for fluid global collaboration and local action.

On the other hand, it has also been noted that women leaders seem to deal better with the situation: women in politics, businesses and communities, especially in those system relevant jobs people are suddenly talking about (e.g. making up 70% of healthcare workers). Women are also being more affected by the pandemic.

When in crisis, we look for female leadership. The Glass Cliff phenomenon describes how women tend to rise during times of crisis.

Cynically, one might say that this might be because they make for good scapegoats, being blamed for the difficult situation in retrospect and then promptly replaced with a man once the situation relaxes, but there is also something else at play here.

In times of crisis, we want to be held accountable.

Accountability is the elder sibling of integrity. Integrity is when we show up for our agreements with ourselves, accountability is when we can be relied on to show up for our agreements with others.

Accountability for leaders, whether men or women, is endemic to our systems: We track numbers, taxes, balance sheets, stock prices, and now curves— externalized “proof” of reliability (while of course there are entire industries built on figuring out how to make those numbers “look good”, even if they aren’t).

Any manager or leader needs their people to be accountable. And every leader needs to be accountable. Without it, our systems crumble.

In a time of transformation this is true more than in others.

In extreme situations, accountability — and lack thereof — becomes visible quickly.

In a world of social media, virtual meetings, shared project boards and consequent transparency, playing “Cover Your A..” is quickly becoming impossible.

We ac-count, a very male Apollonian thing to do.

“Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted“ (attributed to Albert Einstein)

But what about the “held” part?

One thing that is also happening is that carework is becoming visible — and not just the nurses and shop assistants that are system relevant, and maybe appreciated for the first time.

There is also care work in meetings, in our daily interactions. People have noticed that, in this time of virtual meetings, starting with connecting, with checking in with each other as humans, is crucial to being effective remotely.

We have to compensate for the cognitive dissonance of being hyper-present (a face on a screen, and a nearly intimate voice in your ear), and absent at the same time (not touching or otherwise physically and emotionally sensing each other — down to missing mirror neurons).

Connecting and checking in is crucial for remote collaboration as it establishes the human bond required to collaborate effectively.

Checking in with others is something primarily women do: ask about feelings and how each other is doing. They are more likely to be integrators, making sure everyone is part of the story. They care more about diversity and inclusion, bringing more voices into the room, talk more than men to process their emotions, and express more care about each other’s well-being.

Caring about each other as humans, feeling cared for, creates Psychological Safety.

We need psychological safety to perform at our best, as Google found out.

Another kind of Gender Gap

Already in existence for millennia, and amplified in the current situation, is a different kind of gender gap.

Women tend to understand psychological safety better than most men — probably because they haven’t felt particularly safe throughout most of history.

Women, too, are in positions of leadership and accountable for results.

They also understand that in order to motivate people, you have to start with the people part.

Especially in times of transformation, people want to feel held.

When kids are frightened, they want a strong father figure, when they are suffering (especially in isolation), they want to feel the loving warmth of their mothers. At the moment we need both.

Instead of simply managing people and their results (after all, manage comes from manege and training horses with carrots and sticks to get them to do things), women tend to lead people in a different way, focusing on held before accountable.

Empathy is a human capacity — Integrating Genders

The capacity to hold others is not unique to women. Men can do that just as much. For that, they have to activate their feminine side, though.

Activating your inner feminine doesn’t mean you have to dance around like a ballerina in a pink Tutu (although I can say from personal experience that this can be a very liberating experience and definitely supports you in unlocking your inner feminine).

It means accepting yourself as an individual, someone who is unique in their own right, who has a unique mix of masculine and feminine hormones and psychological capacities, and who is able to activate their full self.

Our esoteric and perennial wisdom traditions have been teaching the integration of gender for as long as humanity has been around

A simple esoteric framework for an integrated human is found in the Tarot, with its four court cards:

  • King — The mature Masculine aspect, father figure. They are stable and solid, and are highly capable of directing the flow of their energy to achieve their visions and goals. They like to manage, direct and stabilize. They see themselves as providers, taking responsibility for others’ well-being. Kings want to make a difference and have an impact on the world. It is the most positive idea of Patriach you can muster up (think, e.g. Henry Kaiser, who created welfare and social services for his workers). The negative expression is the fascist dictator. Kings focus on whether we are in integrity and accountable.
  • Queen — The mature Feminine aspect, mother figure, matriarch. The Queens tap into the feminine energy of nurturing and caring for others, and focus on creating a more sustainable approach to life. Queens provide nourishment and sustenance. They have mastered the power of gentle persuasion, setting the tone without imposing their point of view. They are focused on empowering others and the community as a whole. They gently and subtly influence, without being seen to be too pushy or domineering. Think “leading from behind”. The negative expression is the backstabbing manipulator. Queens focus on making sure everyone feels safe and held.
  • Prince — The immature Masculine aspect, the young man, the son, the boy, inside each of us. They want to create, build things, break things, be daring, win, prove themselves to the elders. They are eager to go on adventures, and be seen and rewarded for their work. In some ways, this is the hero of the hero’s journey, the young man who goes on an adventure to become a man and bring back something of value to his tribe. The negative expression is the destructive vandal. The Prince is the one wanting to be accountable.
  • Princess — The immature Feminine aspect, the young woman, the daughter, the girl, inside each of us. This is the active part that wants to innocently play, be romantic and sensual. It is our childlike creativity, fervent energy, joy and excitement. Princesses want to learn, have new experiences and practice new skills — while feeling safe to do so. The negative expression is the spiteful, well, “princess”. The Princess is the one wanting to be held.

Since there are four suits and a total of 16 court cards in the Tarot, they have also been linked to the Jungian archetypes that underlie the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators. Here too, it is important to note that while we all have propensities, preferences and primary operating circuits, a mature human has access to, and has evolved all aspects of themselves to some extent. Through that they become able to style-flex depending on the requirements of the situation. They also learned to honor each aspect of themselves and their respective needs.

Each of us has all four major elements in various levels of expression.

Based on their most obvious physical equipment, most people take on societal roles of “Man” and “Woman”, they are first princes or princesses, then turn into kings or queens — leaving us bifurcated and unfinished as individuals (and in danger of living in co-dependent relationship with a projected anima/animus).

This was more common until last century, when women fought their way into males systems — from businesses to governments, to even the military.

In order to be successful in a “man’s world”, women had to do double duty in order to be their feminine selves, while at the same time evolving their princes and kings in addition. Women had to go on heroes’ journeys, and learn to rule with the might of kings. Not necessarily always by choice, they integrated further as individuals (if they did not replace their feminine with masculine archetypes as in some regrettable cases).

In order to evolve, we need to both cater to our strengths and continue to work on our weaker sides.

So, what can you do as a leader to activate some of the matriarch in you and hold people?

Especially in the current situation, it is easy to get stuck in the lone wolf/ male martyr role: Amidst uncertainty you don’t know the way either, but can’t give yourself permission to acknowledge that, since you are used to being the one in charge, who everyone wants something from — especially decisions.

It can be a lonely world. And the lonelier you feel, thanks to the curse of self-fulfilling prophecy, the more you will also end up alienating others — especially if you focus on the tools that have served you until now (which might lead to your demise sooner than later given the amplification that happens amidst transformational moments like the current one).

Here are a few things you can do to alleviate that pain, while activating some feminine leadership capacities and make people feel held:

  • Care more — When in doubt, focus out. Relieve yourself of the worries about yourself by focusing on alleviating the worries of others. Check in with them, ask them how they are feeling. How can you make sure everyone on your team is okay?
  • Give others the stage — Those who can give power have the most power. Like love, power grows if you give it to others. Giving others the chance to shine makes you the one anointing them, so it serves your ego and theirs. Success is a team sport after all. Especially also take care of the silent ones and invite their voices in the room — you never know what brilliance they might harbor, but might be too introverted to share in a room full of strong King types.
  • Listen more — Take time to be really present and fully listen to others. Pay attention to them as if what they are saying was the most important thing in the moment. Catch yourself when you start thinking about what to say next. Pause before speaking. Practice active listening, summarizing what you heard, make sure you heard correctly, and ask more questions before you speak — even if they are asking you a question (for bonus points).
  • Talk more — About feelings. About what is going on for you. About how you are experiencing rather than about what you know. Share your process, and by example show others how they can deal with fears.
  • Be more vulnerable — One of the key strengths of authenticity is to be vulnerable, to be okay with not knowing, to admit to your fears and worries, to acknowledge that you are merely human. There is no courage without vulnerability.
  • Give permission — One of the most gracious things you can do is to provide permission to others. We all have little boys and girls inside of us, princes and princesses, who want to dare and try new things. Make it feel safe to do so. Have your team suggest projects that they are interested in, then challenge them to create something around those projects that pushes them just a safe bit beyond their comfort zone.
  • Trust more — There are always some people who will disappoint you or screw you over. You can choose to live for them in paranoia, or focus on the majority of people who will actually step up and impress you when you trust them to do so.
  • Make it safe to fail — Nobody likes to be punished. If you trust people, and they then try something, they gave their best effort and have learned something, celebrate them — even if they “fail”. At the moment, we need lots of experiments, most will not become successes, but all can be important learning opportunities (for everyone involved).
  • Give more FeedForward — When people don’t show up in the way you want them to, it won’t help to focus on the past and explain to them what they did wrong (they might already know). Focus on the learning and how things could be done differently in the future. Encourage them to take in the learning experience, and let them decide how they want to show up differently in the future.
  • Acknowledge more — Everything that is alive wants to be seen and heard. Even introverts want to know that they are being seen. Sadly, we are fast to criticize others, and not so fast in praising them. We can all use more acknowledgement, and by focusing it not only on results, but on how people show up, on their process, the more you can also foster a growth mindset.

We need “all hands on deck”

To solve the complex challenges of our time we need all hands on deck and all aspects of ourselves coming to the table. We don’t need men or women, we need individuals capable of style flexing, we need a new level of leaders.

If we honor and evolve all gender expressions inside each of us, delight in each other as fully expressed individuals worthy of our love and respect, we can we create our next step of evolution.

Imagine a world where each of us is held accountable for living our potential as humans.

If you enjoyed these thoughts, please take a moment to clap here — it will give me lots of delicious dopamine, and therefore more reason to continue creating.

Resources for leaders in these times: http://luman.io/create-the-future

The future belongs to those who create it. That is why I work with change leaders and their teams to create future-ready cultures and organizations. Through my work with LUMAN and other projects, I provide frameworks and operating metaphors to support leaders around the world in their individual evolution and in growing innovation capacity in their teams and organizations. I have worked with startups, NGOs and with global brands in a variety of industries around the world. More at http://philiphorvath.com.

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philip horváth
LUMAN.IO

culture catalyst ★ planetary strategist — creating cultural operating systems at planetary scale — tweeting on #future, #culture, #leadership @philiphorvath