Reinventing Men's Leadership: beyond gender agenda

“Hold her under so she doesn’t get up.” Thank you Caro, Eddie McGuire and Sam Newman for this thoughtless repartee.

Regardless of gender, this kind of aggressive sledging is not funny. It speaks to everything that is not pretty or decent in some men’s leadership.

Male leadership is struggling, and has been for several decades. Men and their relationship to women, especially in the workplace, has often been uneasy. Women surged in to the workforce during World War II, and then had to make way for the men returning from war. Having had a taste of independence, the seeds of feminism were sown. Soon came the rejection of the 1950s homemaker lifestyle, the rise of the sexually liberated flower child, and then the career woman with hefty shoulder pads to echo her male colleagues. The feminist dialogue screamed for equality, wrestled with the Superwoman ideal, and espoused the promised land of work-life balance where a talented woman could be a professional, a loving mother, devoted wife, and brilliant housekeeper.

Female leadership identity has had no shortage of spokespeople.

And men? What of male leadership? There has been an eerie silence on what men are supposed to look like, sound like, and be like as a progressive male leader.

There have been a few leading lights, like Lieutenant General David Lindsay Morrison AO, former Chief of Army, who is a vocal and visible advocate for diversity and tolerance. His quote, “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept” is the most salient call to action for us to live our values, not just preach them.

But where is the voice that explores what men are thinking and feeling as leaders? Privilege is a also a prejudice. Men are not allowed to talk about their struggles. They worry about being providers (their default role), they desperately want to do the right thing (they want to treat their female colleagues appropriately but are often unsure if what they say or do will be held up as sexist or not), and they feel shut down and dare not share any of it for fear of offending or being seen as ‘weak’.

As leaders, men are expected to be self-assured, confident, proactive, intelligent, and have all the answers. In reality, they often feel unsure, reactive, and lacking in answers. Just like women do sometimes.

Many men are confused about how they should act around women. They are afraid that any criticism of women will be held in a chauvinistic light. They often feel like they are treading on eggshells. There is always a filter of caution in their relationships with women.

In the past men were strong protectors. Their role was to protect and provide for the family and tribe. Women were the nurturers and social glue. Now that women also have the role of strong protectors, as heads of family, of businesses, of industry, what happens to the male role? The fear of being feminised (a.k.a. seen as ‘weak’) makes some act out even more aggressively, while others shut down.

Not all are as brutish as Eddie Maguire and company.

So what does a male leader who is respectful of women and able to express himself fully look like?

What we need in our male leaders is an integrated man. A gentleman who is a Gentle Man. This is a leader who can hold dualities as a polarity. Strong and soft (male and female) are not opposites, but complementary strengths. The gender-roles of protector and nurturer need not be opposites, but integrated in to one person. A leader can focus both on survival and on group harmony (traditionally male and female roles respectively). Men, and women, need not replace each other, but integrate the best of each in themselves.

Elbert Hubbard said, “The stronger a man is, the more gentle he can afford to be”. A strong man need not be a bully or macho. A strong man can be centered and sensible.

How do we help our men evolve? We open up the space for them to be heard. To listen. To recognise that suffering is suffering, even if it is from a place of privilege. If we don’t hear what needs to be said, we are creating just another monologue.

What is you vision for the integrated male leader? What needs to be said about men’s leadership? Men’s fears and aspirations?