Throughout history, men have had to stand out and compete if they wanted to achieve status and obtain a mate. Look no further than nature’s showy tales of peacocks, or impressive antler racks on deer to demonstrate just how much men had to invest in competition in order to win. But what if there was another way? For too long, we’ve allowed our masculine biological nature to drive and define leadership. But through cooperation and a more feminine leadership approach, we can become better leaders, build stronger teams, and achieve outcomes where everyone wins.
As an evolutionary biologist, I love being able to bring my biological background into the leadership forum where I work now as a professional speaker and leadership coach. So let’s start with the basic biology. When we look at reproductive curves for males – in other words, how many potential offspring they can father – they look the same across most species: a handful of really high-quality males get all the ladies, and all the opportunities to populate the next generation. Most males get few or no opportunities to father offspring. What this means is that males are biologically designed to do all they can to stand out – to show off, to spread their peacock tail, and strut, because the competition is fierce. And, biologically, the only two things that really matter are survival and reproduction. Nearly any risk is worth taking to stand out if you’re a male. Obviously, with our complex cultural setup this doesn’t hold completely true for humans today, but by and large higher status men have more access to resources, and therefore, more women tend to be attracted to them. Women, on the other hand, have never had to stand out. The female reproductive curve ranges across a normal distribution (i.e, almost any woman who wants to have a baby will have no problem finding a male to reproduce with her in any species). There’s really little variation in reproductive output, and therefore no biological need for any woman to try to stand out. In fact, when you look at the natural world, you’ll see that most females tend to be the more drab, boring looking gender across species. As a side note, not needing to stand out and actually the danger associated with it for females is likely a driver for having fewer females in positions of power today – but that’s for another discussion. After all, standing out is a risky business. It’s why male peacocks get eaten at six times the rate of their female counterparts, and why your son’s car insurance is higher than your daughter’s. Standing out is inherently dangerous, as is competition, but humans no longer live in that sparse, scary environment where if someone wins, someone else has to lose. We aren’t playing a zero-sum game in the interconnected and inter-reliant setup of the world we’ve established. Isn’t it time for leadership to make a shift as well? Perhaps a little less standing out and competing, and a little more standing back and cooperating, in order that all ships rise.
As companies continue to expand globally, and the focus shifts to more collaborative, inclusive, relationship-heavy cultures, these play to the strengths of a more feminine leadership style. Feminine leadership is described as being more “holistic,” pulling people together from across sectors, to gain input from multiple stakeholders and diverse perspectives. Which is particularly important during times of extreme change. Think get it right, rather than having to be right. Imagine how much more powerful our teams can be when they understand that when one wins, we all win.
The time for feminine leadership is overdue.
Until next time, live more, fearless.