Work is becoming a woman’s world, but guys can still get ahead.
There is nothing worse than seeing that light at the end of the tunnel and realizing it’s a train.
For men, that train is bearing down on us fast.
For most of recorded history, men have been in control of…everything. We have been the kings, high priests, leaders, scientists. We have been the picture of power, especially at work.
Work used to be the bastion of manliness. Sure there were women, but they were administrative. Their work didn’t really make as big an impact. Even when they tried, the “old boys club” made that nearly impossible.
But all of that is changing and nowhere faster than work. Women now make up more than half the professional and technical workforce. The work world is morphing into an unrecognizable place for many men because the skills that we were brought up with aren’t getting us ahead. In fact, the reality is that the world of work is growing to be women’s domain.
And the changes aren’t all bad, just difficult. Clearly, men are going to have to make some shifts. The question is can men make these shifts in a meaningful way? What will it take for that to happen?
Shift from do what I say to collaborate, coordinate, socialize
The workplace has been shifting from a series of silloed functions into an amorphous, matrixed managed men’s minefield. For years the management methods that have carried in the day in most organizations has been “command and control.”
The command and control management method was adopted from the military. It leverages hierarchy and the power of position.
People in this type of environment do things because they are told. They don’t question authority; they follow protocol or procedure without hesitation.
This type of management method favors men. We are brought up in sports and cub scouts learning to follow, listen and strive to please the leader. That’s the way Coach Rosatti taught me in wrestling. I learned to muddle through and keep my opinions to myself. This carried through in my first job and was the way I was taught to be a manager. Fortunately, I quickly learned that method just didn’t work in this fast paced, ever changing workplace.
The new workplace is dominated by loosely linked structures where people are matrix managed, using cross functional groups and multiple reporting lines. So an employee could be working for someone and have their performance evaluation written by someone else. He could have multiple bosses or have to manage people that he doesn’t have “authority” over.
This throws the whole idea of title and power out of whack. It is a world of relationship-based influence and collaboration. Teams and leaders have to coordinate their resources. Ideas can’t be forced down from the top. They have to be “floated” by a number of people to gain their buy in so they will support them in public. These are skills that are much more geared towards women. It doesn’t matter how big you are, how tall you are (don’t get me started about heightism), or how tough you are. It’s much more mental and far more subtle. Boys aren’t brought up to be subtle. Mr. Rosatti, screaming at us running laps, was in no way subtle.
The Shift: It’s the relationship stupid – Be emotionally intelligent
The key skill that sets exceptionally successful people apart from everyone else is there ability to build relationships. Truly understanding the nuances of one’s own emotions and the emotions of others is vital. Learning about emotional intelligence is the quickest way to build and drive relationships. Most work that is accomplished now is done through people. Those people persuaded through their relationship with the person involved. It is a powerful way to build trust and increase collaboration.
Shift from me, win, now to we, us, together
Regardless of when men were raised, there is one thing we were all taught. Winning is better than losing. Sure, I heard my fair share of “it’s not about winning and losing, but how you play the game”. I knew that was BS when I was in little league and there was no official score. We all kept score. Our dads all kept score. Men are taught from a young age that they shine brightest when people think they are the best. We strive to win at all costs and compete hard in whatever we do. At work we try to shine the most, be the very best and stand out. But the days of the hero employee and hero leader are fast becoming passé.
Most men are not taught to collaborate, and do so poorly because we want to win. Teamwork is something that has been pushed and pressed in the workplace for a very long time. It is the new way that things get done, not by grit and determination, but by pulling together for the good of the team. It is not about who stands out as the superstar, but how well we work together. It is all about how well people work with others. There is a growing trend to measure success not by what an individual does, but how the team performs. Success in organizations is no longer a full contact sport but a dance that men have not been given the choreography to participate. It’s a social game that men are playing catch up to learn.
The Shift: It’s not about Captain America, it’s about the Avengers – Think about what’s best for the group
When I was a leader at Discover, our new female CIO introduced a concept for us to collaborate more about projects called Project Forum. It was a weekly meeting where all the key projects would be reviewed and where new projects would be chosen. People would have to present to the group, answer questions, etc. This was a huge shift and unsettled the male managers the most. The project decision wasn’t really made in the meeting, but in conversation outside of the meeting. Leaders had to convince other leaders why their project was beneficial to all areas. It was very focused on the greater good and collaboration. Although we all have to be concerned about our careers, men in particular have to become very good at thinking about the greater good of the group vs. what will get them ahead.
Shift from leadership to servant leader
Traditional leadership is about position, power and setting direction. Leadership has been seen as a figurehead that guides, directs and reprimands. Men, for the most part, have always filled the leadership mantle. Leadership is great, but demands that people buy into the leader’s vision. That they can get behind them. The key is — getting behind them. People don’t want to be led by being told what to do. But they do need support, guidance and direction.
There is a new-ish trend in leadership circles that has been a standard of mothers for generations. It’s called servant leadership (reference). Essentially it is about leading by support those on the team. Being there to help develop, remove obstacles and empower people to be exceptional. Women have been leading families like this for eons. They are masterful at leading from behind. Showing the way, while marching along side all the while.
The Shift: You are the wind beneath their wings – not the leader of the pack
My father was a bold, outspoken immigrant from India. He was a born leader. Out in front, leading the way for others to follow. My mother is a strong, soft-spoken farmer’s daughter from North Carolina. She was my father’s right hand. When my father died, she led a group of people in a long legal battle. She didn’t do it by paving, shouting, and cajoling. She did it by supporting, developing and being shoulder to shoulder with the team. Traditional leadership is great in the movies, but doesn’t carry the day any more.
If we can master these skills, men can welcome the shifts in the workplace and ensure we are prepared as the world around us changes.