Do I Need to Be a Different Man?
My grandfather and father suggest I do. Here’s why and how.
Gerrard Durrell’s My family and Other Animals was written 50 years before I had a similarly idyllic childhood.
Summers in the shade of pine trees, warm waters, swimming, sailing and trying to catch octopus, watched by turtles and dipping swallows.
The hot mountain air carried the scent of wild lavender and freshly harvested wheat. Snakes safely hid in the shade under rocks and near wells.
I roamed till dusk, school was an inconvenient perplexity book-ended by early morning swims and late afternoons sailing.
This is when I learned to be a boy. Independent, free to do what I liked. So I thought, because what runs through our psyche is a hidden force, internalised, nuanced and with razor sharp fragments. It is only now men like me are starting to tweezer them out.
My grandfather Eric Marshall was a WWII RAF fighter pilot. After a multitude of sorties over the English Channel and a number of ‘confirmed kills’, he regained civilian status to marry and have two daughters. They were young when he placed his head in a gas oven and committed suicide, while in full uniform. I never met my maternal grandfather but I have photographs of him.
My father, a Greek-Cypriot was involved as a civilian in a guerilla group which led the uprising against British troops stationed in Cyprus between 1955 and 1959. At 16, he was detained and narrowly escaped death by hanging. In 1974 he was married and a father to a boy aged three. Me. This time in combat uniform fighting, in vain, the Turkish invasion of the island of Cyprus. Life was not straight-forward for him after that.
At the age of 18, I was conscripted in the Greek army in the special forces’ green berets. I served as a lieutenant and platoon commander in a Rangers’ company in various NATO task forces during the Balkan’s crisis and the first Gulf War. After discharge and with skills and experience aplenty, I worked in *** intelligence, before settling for a more sedate career in teaching.
You may not have a grandfather or father with active military duty but there is a strong likelihood you had an uncle, teacher, boss or mentor who did.
It is likely you had someone of influence in your life who lived and breathed a certain way of being a man, and a particular way of being a leader. Understandably, most men took what they saw as solid blueprints and transposed them to the office, at home and in their way of being who they were.
Our childhood may seem, upon first inspection, a relatively normal one simply because we only had one. There is no means of comparison but it does not mean we should not question if what we learned from our fathers stills stands true.
Do men really need to change?
Is there a need for us to change? Do we need to become different men and learn new leadership styles? Let’s look at, for example, where we spend most of our waking hours: at work, in the office.
Beyond dispute, the office is an environment which has changed radically. Let’s start out by saying it bluntly: most of what we know about being a leader in the office is wrong, especially if half of the entry-level employees are women.
Why is it wrong? Because if you are a man you learn most of what you know from your father and he, in turn, learned everything he knew from his father.
Those men grew up in wildly different times — an era which required them to be a man in wildly different ways. The ways which the world today is calling men to be men are very different.
My grandfather was a product of WWI and my father was a product of WWII. Most men of their generations were men who were affected by a world war and the Cold War, and in my father’s case, a war in a corner of the Mediterranean.
The common theme here is not a voluntary war where you choose to participate like most today. Rather, wars where they were either drafted or conscripted.
My grandfather and father were born and brought up during the worldwide commencement and development of the might of the military industry. This industry needed armies and armies must operate in a particular way.
Take leadership for example. With the exception of small special forces’ units, traditional military leadership is universally top-down, a command and control type hierarchy — Patriarchal-style dominance ran supreme.
Such hierarchical structures imprinted a particular set of characteristics in how my grandfather and father thought and behaved. When I look at old photographs I see my grandfather in his uniform, my father in his and me in mine. If your grandfather and father were not in uniform, they would have had friends, a brother, an uncle, teacher or boss would have been: experiencing leadership based on rank.
This is how most men learned leadership (unless you are Swiss) and this is the kind of leadership they came to understand at home and in the office. In fact, this is the type of leadership which is used in most schools.
In turn, this is how I witnessed and learned to be a leader as well. When I eventually joined the army, all it did was to confirm the style of leadership I saw at home. It was easy for me to fit it when I was conscripted.
Whether you know it or not nearly all your behaviour is developed and ingrained by experience rather than based on hereditary traits. Essentially, in the nurture-nature debate, neuroscience would suggest today, almost unanimously, it is nearly all nurture and very little nature.
Here is an example of how this type of observational behaviour works: I am recently a father so it’s fresh in my memory how my son began to talk and indeed how through pre-school he came to increase his vocabulary. I ask myself the question:
How did my son learn how to talk?
Not by reading books because he could talk before he could read. He learned to talk by imitating those around him. If I spoke Greek to him that’s what he would be speaking today. I worked hard with him, daily, in teaching him how to speak, and I still do. His vocabulary is a function of him experiencing me speaking to him.
I would have probably finished writing my book years ago if he was born able to speak or rather he simply developed his vocabulary as naturally as he grew in stature. Oh, hang on a minute, I feed him, he doesn’t grow on his own — nurture in action again.
It gets more interesting. I have witnessed how my son learns. From how to use a knife and fork to how not to use my iPhone, how to get his shoes on, manners, how to ride a bike, and soon no doubt how to interact with girls and other boys, and how to lead.
Most men learn their habits, beliefs, and attitudes not from books but rather listening, watching and copying what their fathers do. My wife often talks about how our son simply mimics what I do, even the way in which I put my hands behind my back when I am standing still — a throwback to my military days when placing hands in pockets was forbidden.
The moment boys see was is being demonstrated by those they deem as their leaders of their tribe, they unconsciously mimic. They then go out into the external world and continue to mimic learned behaviour. It is also, for this reason, I do not drink alcohol or do drugs: in the hope, maybe naively, that if he does not see me do it, he may think such behaviours are non-normative.
For the rest of his life in society, at the home, and when he reaches the stage where he works in an office, he will be my spitting image, a chip off the old block and he will mirror what he learned at home.
What he projects in the workplace in terms of empathy, consideration and kindness will be a function of what he learned, hopefully, at home mostly from his father.
My grandfather’s and my father’s generations lived through and perpetuated patriarchal systems that gave rise to behaviours which some today would call toxic masculinity.
If like me, you are a man who has been unwittingly influenced by patriarchy, this is the risk you run: the one I’m seeking to describe and articulate a remedy for. Re-thinking masculinity is having the courage to be pro-change, the courage to take a pill, even.
If you take this pill, you could bring your 20th-century leadership style or, parenting skills, which learned and whose habits you replicate, into the 21st century. Just like Morpheus said:
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
How patriarchy came to form our character is like a rabbit hole of questions. Complex questions, inter-connected questions, some questions which we never ask ourselves. Some say it’s better to not dig around for fear of what we might find. For those, it is the blue pill. If you are still reading, it is the red pill.
And why have many men come to see old-style masculinity as a cross to bear? While it is a complex question, it is also a pressing matter which we need to think about and make changes.
Since our father’s and grandfather’s times, the world, the marketplace, society and schools have changed, or are starting to. Are we, as men, also changing at the same pace?
Or, does their legacy on how to be a leader and a father still run through our veins? Think of Silicon Valley, the City of London, Frankfurt’s financial district: the work cultures in these locations and many more have changed and they have changed so much, people are mostly offended and repelled by the behaviour of 20th-century leadership.
Imagine beer-swilling womaniser Don Draper of the series Mad Men, running an ad agency in London today. What would most of the workforce think of such a proposition? A ‘reality’ tv experiment, maybe, but not really reality. Mad Men depicts office culture during my grandfather’s and father’s times, both of whom unwittingly espoused the same ideals as most of the male characters in Mad Men.
Such behaviour is not only seen as intolerable, but it can also cost you so much in so many ways and more than just your ability to have influence and maintain leadership.
You don’t have to overtly behave like Don Draper to be in danger. If unconsciously, you possess any of his traits, chances are they surface more often than you think. So be mindful because at best you could be labelled a relic and at worse sexist, bigotted and ineffective at your job, not woke enough.
So, what has changed?
How do I have to be different as a leader and as a man? If you ask yourself enough questions, some of the answers will follow.
What has changed? Think of it as a massive global earthquake, like never seen before in the history of the human race, that has rocked our world and caused huge fissures.
What remains is a new reality, one which we cannot escape from no matter how hard some nostalgics try. Think of The Eagles’ Hotel California:
“… you can check out but you can never leave…”
The largest driving force in an ever-accelerating transformation of how we live and work is technology.
Technology has upended every reference point we ever knew: no matter how firmly some hold onto the old-style military-like-patriarchy command and control, it is as incongruous as a square peg in a round hole.
Technology has dismantled every once sacred point of control across the entire patriarchal ecosystem. In fact, it has decimated it and it and we now have open access for everyone to question it. We have a state of anarchy. If you think of anarchy as skinny youths burning tyres looting city centres, think again.
This anarchy is a state of disorder because of the non-recognition of patriarchal authority and its controlling systems which dictate how a man ought to behave. We don’t exactly have lawlessness about what it is to be a man, but there are a gradual absence and tolerance of 20th-century Patriarchal-style ‘government’.
The revolution which ensues promises men the freedom to be the individual they want to be. Of course, this revolution was preceded by most women being less patient with some men, but men too are starting to become restless too.
When my grandfather came back from WWII and started a family, there was a sustained population explosion. Because of the exponential growth model, we now have the so-called millennial generation and the iGen— they are two of the most influential powers in the workforce and the consumer’s market by virtue of their vast numbers.
How do the latter two generations co-exist with my father’s baby boomer generation and my nine, generation X?
Baby boomers (my dad) and generation X (me) are very different from millennials and the iGen. Yet, we have to coexist.
The younger generations are very different because they grew up during the technological revolution. Millennials and the iGen are the only ones who have known peace and prosperity, and the effects of a life-changing technology as we have come to know it. They grew up with all the modern conveniences which my father’s and my generation only saw as a possibility on black and white television sets.
Under the influence of indulgent helicopter parents, fastidious about protecting their children’s feelings and self-esteem, Millenials and the iGen will not experience conscription or war, will not agree to top-down leadership styles, or tolerate Don Draper-type behaviour. I know this for sure — I have taught them in a classroom (pupils of those generations, not the traits)
It is not a matter of whether such a state of affairs a good thing or not, it is simply reality, and it is also the compelling new reality. What is also significant is these two sets or generations (baby boomers and generation X), and (millennials and the iGen) is that they could not be more different.
Think for a moment how their value systems came to be: how they were raised, their experiences and their digital enculturation. How did their world affect their character and their perspectives? How does it affect what they want from life, their motivations their drives?
For the first time in human history, there will be four generations working in the workplace together, with the former two vastly different from the latter two. This brings huge challenges: patterns of behaviour, codes of conduct, mentoring, management, accountability, leadership.
Soon most leadership positions worldwide will be held, necessarily, by a millennial. What is also necessary is his or her parents will be working in the same workforce in some capacity. Then millennials’ children will enter the workforce.
This four generation dynamic has never existed before. It does now because of how long we live, later retirement age and technology which makes it possible to work remotely. In this multifaceted dynamic what type of leadership will thrive?
Then, there is the equally important paradigm shift of the times. Women in the workforce are booming and are taking over.
In 1950 in the UK approximately 10% of women with children held jobs outside the home. By 1990 the number grew to approximately 50% and in 2015 it is over 70%. Three-quarters of that 70% were in full-time jobs. Today mothers make up 40% of the main breadwinners in households with children under the age of 18.
Of the households who have a stay-at-home parent, 20% of them, it is the dad, who is at home, with the mum being out in the workforce earning money. It’s is both amazing and unheard of that over 20% of households today in Great Britain have a stay-at-home father.
It’s a woman’s world and here is why.
Women have an advantage over men due to technology. We are now a much more civil society, we are more collaborative, relational, we have more social ethics and clarity on matters affecting others.
Whether due to the decline of formal and organised forms of religion, or not, these the new governing values are mostly found in the inherent capabilities, strengths and attributes of women.
I have seen it at work. I live it and breathe it and watch it unfold before my eyes. Women are better authors of meaningful friendships, better connectors, better communicators, better community builders. Women tend also to be natural social networkers, and they have a genuine caring curiosity about others and their lives.
I have lived through it and I admire just how effectively they create a multiplier effect, recommend and promote services and products to other women, products they’re passionate about which gives them an authentic sales edge and influencer advantage over men.
I have found it especially hard to outmanoeuvre and sell an alternative idea to a strong woman who is driven and impassioned by something. Young women have achieved and are holding onto the mantle of decider and controller of consumer spending both privately and in the household.
And, now, technology has transferred product control from the distant manufacturer to the individual in the office or at home. The effect?
These new multi-dimensional and discrete economic systems have transferred power from employed marketers in office buildings to the consumer (women) which makes them the new puppeteers of the market place.
Women control 65% (much higher percentages for the Western world) of global spending totalling 20 trillion dollars of economic control.
So, women as recruiters, leaders, team builders, marketers, multiplier effect creators, sales leaders and culture creators, have a significant advantage in relating with and creating influence, and understanding value in the new mass market. Women control the new market place.
So it would seem men’s choices are limited and our skillset is in danger of becoming obsolete. On the contrary, it seems to me to be an opportunity for re-invention as long as we properly define what it is we are meant to do.
If you are a manager, a leader or a team builder and your inclusion of women does not stand at 50%, there may well be adverse effects to your business because women understand the spending trends of today’s marketplace. You need women in your team to guide you, influence strategic reasoning and challenge long-held assumptions about what is right for the marketplace.
If, as a man, you are in a position of leadership and you wish to provide leadership for the 21st century, you need to be pro-change: to adjust and re-invent yourself.
This does not necessarily entail you have to learn more facts, read more literature and blogs, and take notes during inclusion seminars; this is an intellectual pursuit, which I would suggest is superfluous.
I am referring to a different, more powerful type of capability, one which women use more than men and use it with huge success rates. You have to grow your emotional capacity to understand and be able to decipher subtle cues and have a tolerance for emotion as a conduit of decision-making.
If you are sharing an office with a diverse workforce, to drive productivity, lead a team and motivate all those around you, you will need a comprehensive re-boot and a distinctive personal growth trajectory: you need to boost your emotional intelligence.
I cannot give you here all you need to know about emotional intelligence and what you need to flourish as a 21st-century leader — such a path is not easy because such personal growth takes time, persistence and discipline.
What I can give you are anchor points with which to start your journey of exploration, to have as fixed positions on the horizon for reference.
In my job of leading young women, I quickly learned there are two traits which are inextricably linked to create an effective leader in the workplace:
Confidence in your ability.
Being confident is crucial: people you work with seek people who know what they are talking about, to guide them towards what to do.
Confidence must be used and looked upon with prudence: confidence can be mesmerising and captivating, especially for people who are focussed on a particularly narrow task at work, people who by design or choice are not capable of seeing the bigger picture and sometimes do not question authority. Of course, when confidence is used to good effect, the results can be astonishing.
Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill had a certain kind of confidence. But, the greatest leaders of history who make into the history books for the right reasons are the ones who connect confidence with another significant ingredient:
Humility avoids taking confidence too far; it is the prudence we all need.
Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt and Mother Teressa consolidated these apparently contradictory traits of leadership, confidence and humility. Humility is especially powerful. You only need to contemplate its definition: an emotional state where you do not feel better than other people.
CS Lewis described it best:
“…humility is not thinking less of yourself but rather thinking about yourself less…”
Humility sees a leader who listens to others around them: those who guide and advise, who impart novel ideas and hard truths and in doing so they improve a leader’s odds to make fewer mistakes.
Humility is the one seemingly counter-intuitive trait which makes people tune-in to what you are saying. Your team are able to empathise with you and understand your strategic thinking — you can argue with opinions, you cannot argue with feelings.
Confidence, on the other hand, is cautiously having a powerful sense of self, a feeling you can do something well. You can get results, you can weather the storms, and remain steadfast in what you set out to achieve while following the unique path which you created for yourself and others.
You see your path to success as one grounded in truth, objectivity and value for all and not tied down by ego, selfish design and intransigence. You can see how the two traits could be at odds but it makes sense because, if you are able to engineer a delicate interplay between these two traits, it makes for compelling 21st-century leadership.
But, while possessing humility may seem hugely attractive and an easy win, it isn’t.
It is easy to think and speak with humility and much harder to practise and for you to come across as a person of integrity, one who possesses genuine humility. There are signs to look out for in a person who has humility:
Vulnerability demands not physical but emotional courage and may well be the greatest leap forward you can undertake.
One of the most prominent strengths you can demonstrate as a man is having the courage to be vulnerable and admitting your mistakes. The reason is we have so much work to do in this area and therefore the gains are significant.
One of the most formative and powerful books I have read with real lessons to be learned is Dr Rowan Williams’ Meeting God in Paul. It’s a shame such books turn some people off by virtue of what they think the content will be.
Far from dogmatic and ‘preachy’ his book is a treasure trove of how to manage and lead others, and, importantly improve yourself — this is where leadership starts. The book is humorous too, since Apostle Paul aside from his charisma, was also rather quirky, impatient, rude and short-tempered.
In his attempts to convert others, Apostle Paul was one of the earliest men on record to demonstrate vulnerability: he would announce publicly he was the worse sinner of anyone he had encountered. He would concede this publicly and unreservedly, and in doing so he set precedence and provides us, in turn, with the lead to admit our mistakes and deficiencies, even in a secular way.
It is the ultimate state to be in, one which inspires empathy and the powerful process of establishing the most important connection point: conceding space to experience another person’s point of view or to realise how they feel and from there being able to influence positively and empower.
Only when you genuinely identify with another person’s weaknesses and faults are you able to win their trust, but, the first step in this process is to embrace your own vulnerability. It is the ultimate power of a true leader.
In order to cultivate humility, you need to listen. I do not mean face someone, nod, and impart all those cues you are supposed to. You know, the ones some of us are guilty of imparting while pretending to listen, and all the while thinking of other things.
There are no hacks such as open body language, a smile, facing the speaker and so on. You really need to slow down time and listen closely and put yourself in a position where you also listen to what is not being said.
I learned this very quickly when working with young women: typically only a woman has the capability to express something critical by not saying it and it is something bearing in mind and being able to cultivate yourself too.
Invite more questions and offer fewer solutions. For much of our childhood, we were curious and interested in pursuing the world around us.
But at school, we were are shown success is rewarded by offering up great answers, and, being the first to do so. In the first years of our working life, we are geared up to give the right answers to our bosses.
All our natural question-asking capability has been rooted out of us until the moment arrives when we are in charge and need to start asking ourselves and others the right questions.
Leadership is not about being an oracle that automatically dispenses flawless answers. It is not like the popular television series University Challenge where you have to come up with the right answers in record time.
The difference between the 20th-century boss and the 21st-century leader is bosses give answers, leaders ask questions. Bosses manage work, leaders lead people, bosses develop subordinates, leaders develop leaders.
Bosses dictate plans, leaders shape the vision. Bosses insist on control and leaders encourage collaboration.
Bosses like to be the go-to person for the answers as it makes them feel valued and important and reinforces their position of authority, but, the other team members stall if the boss is not available or cannot give out enough answers quick enough.
This stifles growth and limits productivity since what moves an idea forward relies on the controller. It hampers productivity and curtails people’s ability to lead and move forward. It cripples personal and company growth.
It’s an exciting time for men. Some men are proclaiming to be feminists, some are becoming ‘woke’ but there is a significant number who find both options unappealing simply because to become a feminist is borrowed and to be woke is complicated.
Simply studying our personal history and what had an effect on us, starting to ask questions and realising the world has changed, is a starting point and the workplace is where we can make the greatest impact.
The change should be exciting, liberating and transformative. It’s a matter whether we are dragged along or we opt for it, and if we opt for it there is a meaningful sense of ownership involved.
With ownership comes a sense of pride in doing something worthwhile for ourselves, our partners, our friends, and, importantly our sons and daughters.