As leadership is becoming more complex, business demands more from male leaders. Men have traditionally dominated leadership but the structure in organisations has been changing. More women expect to work throughout their lives and they increasingly aim for senior roles. Families often need both parents to work for financial reasons and legislation has changed, not only to encourage, but to enforce women’s rights in the workplace.
Companies have had to design a wide range of policies to keep up: equal pay, equal opportunities, maternity and paternity policies, compassionate leave and sometimes even women-only shortlists for new jobs.
In this ever-changing world, it has become harder for men to know what they are or are not allowed to say or do. And harder still to be a senior manager and ensure no one is overstepping an ever ill-defined line. Add to that, the increasing requirement for senior managers to show empathy and emotional intelligence skills, the workplace is an increasingly complex place to be.
In contrast, most men have been brought up and rewarded for displaying stereotypical male behaviours, such as being highly competitive, single-minded, and non-emotional. From an early age, men are taught to view vulnerability as a weakness. ‘Be strong’, ‘man up’ and ‘win at all costs’ are common phrases in society.
Men quickly learn that to share or own up to difficult emotions will expose them, particularly in a tough business environment. Far better to ignore, deny or repress fears and anxieties and go it alone in a culture of rugged individualism, they may think.
These modern myths are turning up the heat on the pressure cooker. Many men and their organisations are unaware of the impact of traditional male conditioning on performance, the collateral damage to others and the hurt being caused to men themselves.
There is little academic research available, but experience and anecdotal evidence tell us that an unwillingness or inability to be vulnerable diminishes a male leader’s capability to respond effectively to situations they perceive as threatening to their ego or sense of self. The result can be chauvinistic behaviours that block high performance of self and others.
High performance and effective leadership require interpersonal skills that can only be developed by exploring one’s own vulnerability: e.g. emotional intelligence, self-awareness, connection, collaboration, compassion, empathy, creativity, and innovation.
Traditional male conditioning takes a toll on mental health.
Anxiety and depression in men are increasing and suicide is now the biggest killer of males under 50. The business cost of male stress is accelerating; the ‘collateral damage’ from macho behaviours in the workplace limits the long-term success of diversity and inclusion programs.
Given the increasing demands placed on men in the workplace versus they way that they are conditioned to live behind a ‘mask’, it is conceivable that this is contributing to the worrying trend of mental health issues among men.
Until now, organisations have concentrated their efforts on gender-related issues predominately on women (and for very good reason). However, the time has come to recognise and respond to that fact that men have a gender and are affected, albeit differently, which cannot be ignored.
How are the current and future senior manager supposed to hold on to the skills that have got them to where they are, whilst also developing new ones that may have been previously been considered a weakness?
Shell realised that in a high-risk male-dominated off-shore environment, working with men to develop greater emotional awareness and ways of working significantly increased productivity. Those men also reported how initial skepticism was overcome to realise the overwhelming benefit to their personal and family’s welfare.
Men, when faced by a crisis, will naturally turn to an external stimulus that offers novelty or adventure rather than self-knowledge, which means that we should not expect men to be queuing at the HR Directors door asking for help. Instead, they are more likely to be at the CEO’s door wanting to take on a new role overseas.
This means that there is more reason than ever to introduce leadership development programmes, similar to those offered to women, so that more male leaders will have a chance to experience greater self-awareness and develop resources to develop greater emotional skills, enabling them to be more inclusive leaders and enhance the welfare of themselves and others.
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