Presenting leadership as a list of carefully defined qualities (like strategic, analytical and performance-oriented) no longer holds. Instead, true leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed… Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.
– Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

Today is International Women’s Day — a day when we celebrate the achievements of women and focus the world’s attention on the need to challenge bias. The International Women’s Day 2019 campaign theme is #BalanceforBetter, which is a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world. Women have made significant strides asking for and creating better gender balance in the workplace and beyond, and we should all be proud of that. We’ve done this not by conforming, but by embracing and expressing what we are: female.

As I have been thinking about what #BalanceforBetter means to me, I’m reminded of a book I read recently called the “Athena Doctrine.” Written by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, the book gave me an alternative perspective on feminine traits and why these traits can help balance our leadership styles and make us more successful. So, to commemorate International Women’s Day, I want to explore this idea a little bit and hopefully leave all of you — men and women — with the inspiration to embrace your feminine side!

Enter the Athena Doctrine…

“Grace is when your kindness and your character are radiant through your actions.”
– Athena, Goddess of War

After noticing that many successful leaders in today’s modern world were leading differently than those in the past, Gerzema and D’Antonio hypothesized that people, in general, are placing more value on the feminine side of human nature than they ever have. Not the attributes that historically constitute gender, but rather the aspects of human behavior that are traditionally labeled as feminine like nurturing, supportive and expressive (and to be clear, these traits can be shared by women AND men).

To test this theory, they surveyed over 65,000 people from 13 countries. They asked a myriad of questions, and in the end, their findings showed that two-thirds of people (66%) felt the world would be a better place if men thought more like women (men, I am only the messenger here, although I did make the statement bold….). And interestingly, this perspective was shared regardless of sex, age, income or nation; 63% of men felt this way!

My interest was piqued. Like many women, I’ve had moments in my career where I’ve tried to emulate the masculine traits traditionally associated with some successful male leaders: dominance, assertiveness, control and the other behaviors that come to mind when you hear the phrase “man up!” But, when I reflect and consider how I have found my own success, it is largely defined by when I fully embraced the feminine characteristics that come naturally to me. This is when I became my authentic self.

As part of the survey, respondents were asked to classify 125 characteristic traits as either masculine, feminine or neither. Here’s how participants responded.

And when survey respondents were asked to identify the top ten qualities they want in the ideal modern leader, eight were characteristics traditionally considered feminine. My mom was right all these years!

This data tells us what most of us already know: the world is changing in front of our eyes, and today’s global society is increasingly social, interdependent, personal and transparent. And in this world, the values and traits most often associated with women are ascending. Here’s a few of the classically feminine traits that really resonate with me, as well as some thoughts on ways to make them work for you and provide #BalanceforBetter in your leadership styles:

  • Connectedness – Build and maintain meaningful networks. Work on your network every day. Meet the person sitting next to you everywhere you go and listen to them, for real.
  • Humility – Approach life and relationships through listening, learning from others, and sharing the credit when credit is due, ALWAYS, no exceptions.
  • Candor – Speak with your colleagues openly and honestly and without degradation. They deserve straight talk along with compassion.
  • Patience – Recognize that sometimes the right solutions emerge slowly and keep at it until the right one is discovered.
  • Empathy – Be sensitive to the position of others and endeavor to understand it. This understanding will breed better ideas and ultimately better decisions.
  • Trustworthiness – Build a track record of doing what you promise. Strength in character will inspire confidence in yourself and your decisions along with the people who look to you for leadership.
  • Openness – Be receptive to all ideas and all people. Again, this approach will help you make better decisions and gain respect from your colleagues. And who knows, with an open mind, the most unexpected things can happen.
  • Flexibility – Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to change your mind; it is not a sign of weakness! Be prepared to shift directions and adapt. As you apply other traits like openness and empathy, you may find that pivoting is the best form of team building.
  • Balance – Have a well-rounded sense of purpose. Believe in it. Share it.
  • Vulnerability – Have the courage to be a human being behind the scenes and out in front. Being human is an amazing gift. We shouldn’t pretend to be anything else.

So, as you read this today on International Women’s Day, I hope you can find some inspiration to become better leaders, build stronger relationships, and leave the world a better place than we found it. You all have a #badass feminine side inside of you, go find her!

p.s. I also want to leave you with this quote from a woman who has always embraced her feminine side, Dolly Parton: “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”

Preach it Dolly.