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Embracing Duality - Leveraging Masculine and Feminine Energy at Work

By Rebecca Livesey, Managing Director, Achieve-Lead-Succeed

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Rebecca Livesey, Managing Director, Achieve-Lead-Succeed

At the moment in the world of work around 50% of employees are disengaged and when we compare top quartile engaged companies to bottom quartile, there is 22% improvement in profitability, 21% improvement in productivity and 10% improvement in customer ratings*. If we look at engagement as a measure as of how we treat people, we see if we treat people well, we see great results. So why do we find this so hard?

As an executive coach I work with leaders to look at situations through different frames, or lenses, and then alter thinking and behaviour to accelerate outcomes. One of these frames is masculine and feminine energy. When we look at energy styles we are looking at how someone chooses to use or place their energy. Unfortunately with the labels ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ we tend to default to gender, and get stuck in the labels of being male or female, but it is so much more than this.

Masculine energy is ‘Mind’ energy,  where feminine energy is ‘Heart’ energy.  Masculine energy is characterised by ‘doing’,  linear logical thinking, certainty,  structure, assertion, being directive and focus more on the individual.  Feminine energy is the contrast and is characterised by ‘being’,  creativity,  intuition and the unknown,  formlessness, attraction, being receptive and focus on the collective.

We can see that neither is ‘right or wrong’ or ‘good or bad’.  In fact if we were each completely one or exclusively the other,  regardless of gender,  we would not succeed in all areas of our life. And both have function and dysfunction.

For example dysfunction of ‘the individual’ in masculine energy leads to self-interest at the cost of others; a healthy use is the ability to set and hold personal boundaries. And dysfunction of ‘the collective’ in feminine energy can be martyrdom; a healthy use is looking at the greater good. We need a balance of both styles and an understanding when to leverage either to get the best outcomes for ourselves or our businesses.

If we look at a potted history of business, we can see that we have worked hard to leverage processes– think lean, six sigma. We’ve also leveraged assets – think asset management systems and the cloud in more recent times. We’ve worked on leveraging supply chain through ERPs and procurement practises, and we’re now working furiously on leveraging data with our big data strategies and techniques. At some point we are going to have to work out how to best leverage the life blood of our organisations – people.

Processes, assets, supply chains and data can all be improved by a linear logical approach and by doing this we have massively improved working conditions, productivity, and the bottom line over the years. And we have become very good at rewarding (consciously or not) the individual in organisations. So much so, in some businesses individuals spend more energy competing internally to ‘win’ against each other, than putting that energy into winning externally in the market.In general business so far has been driven by masculine energy, from both genders, and not all of it has been functional.

If we go back to the statistic of 50% disengagement we can see that although we’ve made great progress in some areas of business, something is not working with our people.

Could this be because people are not linear? Just think about what goes on in your head every single minute of every day. Would you describe it as linear and logical and structured!

We need a different approach to our people. This is where feminine energy can provide another perspective or lens. If we take the qualities of focusing on the collective, receptiveness, intuition and comfort with uncertainty or formlessness, we are more likely to engage on a level which makes a difference.

Imagine how this helps a conversation - receptiveness is about listening and understanding without feeling the need to direct or ‘fix’ or ‘have an answer’, intuition can show up as EQ, comfort with uncertainty means we’re ok wherever the discussion goes, focus on the collective means we are looking out for others. The ability to ‘Be’ rather than ‘Do’ is a wonderful gift to give in an interaction with someone.

And what about idea generating or brainstorming. Again receptiveness is critical, as is creativity and formlessness to allow tangents and connections to form. Being ok with not knowing the outcome and building something together, i.e. the idea is not ‘owned’ by an individual, means that everyone has something valuable to contribute.

These are very different conversations and interactionsthan directing, asserting and following a structure to fix.

Now in business we do need both. There will be times when directing and asserting is completely appropriate, but if it is all we do – the only tool in our toolbox – then we are missing an opportunity to truly engage with our people.

And let’s be really clear, both genders can do either. It’s an energy style. We may have a tendency towards one, and it maybe that in business at the moment we are unconsciously (or consciously) only rewarding one style, but true self leadership comes from the ability to behaviourally flex our styles to different situations.

So I would encourage you to stretch both these muscles. Use this as one frame to look at situations in your business. Determine when there is function and dysfunction. Look for opportunities in your working world where getting comfortable with feminine energy means that you can make a big difference with your people. Let’s see if we can move the needle on engagement by embracing a balance of both.

*Report References

  • Gallup 2013 State of American Workforce report: 70% of workers are not engaged or actively disengaged
  • Aon Hewitt 2014 Trends in Global Engagement report: 39% employees not engaged (globally)
  • Gallup 2012 Meta Analysis on the Q12 assessment: Work units in the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability, and 21% in productivity. Work units in the top quartile also saw significantly lower turnover (25% in high-turnover organizations, 65% in low-turnover organizations), shrinkage (28%), and absenteeism (37%) and fewer safety incidents (48%), patient safety incidents (41%), and quality defects (41%).

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