There is an inherent balance in nature between two opposite yet complementary states: the masculine and the feminine. These states do not reference physical gender (female/male), but rather the philosophical concept of yin as the feminine and yang as the masculine.
When we discuss leadership, our society tends to overvalue the traits associated with the masculine, such as profit-chasing, individualism, competition, linear thinking, and hierarchy. This often comes at the expense of leadership styles that embrace more of the feminine traits: intuition, collaboration, creativity, generativity, and vulnerability.
This mindset was part of our capitalistic society for hundreds of years, and we are now faced with the detrimental outcomes of the imbalance. As society begins to take on a new shape, it is vital that we integrate more so-called “feminine” leadership qualities into the corporate world — not to overpower the masculine traits, but to re-establish the inherent balance found in nature. As women move into more and more leadership positions, we have the unique opportunity to stand as role models. We can model this inherent balance, accessing and applying both the feminine and masculine traits of leadership.
Here are three ways to access your inner feminine leadership traits and balance them with more masculine leadership styles. Think of them like two sides of a battery – you do need to access both poles in order for the battery to work properly.
1. Spending or conserving energy
Masculine = Action: Action, activity, and productivity are all traits that align with masculine yang energy. They focus on accomplishment and achievement and are vital components of success. We cannot thrive without some action. And yet, historically speaking, we as a society tend to focus too much on action. Without the balance of its feminine counterpart, restoration, we deplete ourselves, become overworked and overstressed, and struggle to produce quality work.
Feminine = Restoration: Rest, respite, and rejuvenation are the states that complement action. They are necessary to replenish our bodies and minds. By giving our minds and bodies a break, we recharge back to full capacity, which is necessary for us to maximize our gifts and talents at work. Research shows companies that incorporate regular breaks into the corporate culture have healthier and more engaged teams and show increased profits.
How to incorporate restoration into your leadership style: Challenge beliefs that say, “If I ever stop, something bad will happen to the company.” I often have clients imagine themselves as a 90-year old and ask their older selves, “What will I remember on my death bed?” Even though it may sound a bit harsh, this activity can jar you into taking a much-needed break to eat lunch or plan that back-to-nature get-away.
2. Producing work alone or in a group
Masculine = Individualism: This trait focuses on going it alone and doing it all yourself. The benefits include that it pushes you to excel beyond your perceived limits and access your own inner strength. But similar to action, we as a society tend to focus too much on individualism. Without balancing individualism with its feminine counterpart, community, we become silos, isolated and over-dependent on our own ideas at the expense of connection and collaboration.
Feminine = Community: Cooperation, connection, and collaboration are the traits that make up community. Community is a state of expansion, connecting us to something bigger than ourselves and helping us generate new ideas. Too much individualism can be limiting; its counterpart, community, breeds limitless possibilities.
How to incorporate community into your leadership style: Challenge beliefs that say, “If I ask for help or insight, I am weak.” To counter this, take a pressing work issue, and ask your team members to individually journal or sit in silent contemplation for five minutes. Then, come back together as a team at end of the five minutes to brainstorm on generating ideas as a group.
3. Making decisions using analysis or intuition
Masculine = Analysis: The analytic state of mind includes analyzing problems with linear thinking and logic. This is a vital process to successfully solve work problems throughout the day. We cannot thrive without some analysis. However, if we overanalyze a situation, we get into the proverbial paralysis by analysis. Without balancing logic with its feminine counterpart, intuition, we get caught in a mental struggle to produce quality solutions.
Feminine = Intuition: Following your insight, your “sixth sense,” or your “gut hunch” embodies the yin quality of intuition. When we tune in to our intuition, we aren’t disregarding facts. We are actually listening to a deeper message than the individual facts can communicate. Linear thinking, or analysis, is formulaic: a + b = c. Intuition asks us to take notice of that little voice that’s telling us how to make sense of the larger picture, even if we don’t understand why it makes sense in that moment. We can’t always explain it via logic, but we’re rarely wrong when we follow our intuition. Both are needed for strong, healthy leadership.
How to incorporate intuition into your leadership style: Challenge beliefs that say, “If I follow a gut hunch, people will think I’m crazy.” Learn to honor your intuitive side more often. Practice following your gut hunches by starting small. Start with something easy, like choosing between two restaurants for a meeting. Instead of analyzing the menu choices or other details, just listen to the first thing your gut tells you when you ask yourself which place would be the most optimal. Go with the first one that strikes you. Here is another way to increase your intuitive side: Start keeping a list of moments where you chose to follow a gut hunch that proved helpful.
The bottom line
Several research studies show that accessing and valuing all the above feminine traits along with the masculine traits has a transformative effect on workplaces. Draw from the best of each to have healthier and more engaged organizations.