In a new book, The Athena Doctrine, John Gerzema makes the case that classic feminine traits are critical to effective leadership today. Gerzema, who does extensive consumer research with Young and Rubicam, surveyed 64,000 people in 13 countries about what they wanted most from leaders. They were also asked to classify 125 traits as male, female, or neutral. Findings from the study showed that two-thirds of respondents identified female traits as more desirable. Key qualities associated with females that serve leaders of both genders are: empathy, vulnerability, humility, inclusiveness, generosity, balance, and patience. Gerzema suggests that these traits are especially relevant in today’s business climate because employee engagement is critical to success. Engagement has a significant impact on productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction. The amount of discretionary energy employees put into their work can make or break a business, and yet it’s not something an organization can buy. The youngest generation of employees, the Millennials, want to be mentored, given a voice, and offered work that is meaningful.
Gerzema looks at the last three decades, tracking leadership trends and effectiveness. The 1980s represents the “Age of Autocracy” where leaders like GE’s Jack Welch, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, and Disney’s Michael Eisner led by cuts in workforce, fierce competitiveness, and micro-management. The 1990s is deemed the “Age of Empowerment” in which Oprah Winfrey, eBay’s Meg Whitman, and Starbuck’s Howard Schultz emphasized employee involvement and autonomy in decision making. Gerzema refers to the last decade as the “Age of Nurturing,” where organizations embraced the link between engagement and productivity. He cites David Neeleman of JetBlue, John Mackey of Whole Foods, and Tony Hsieh of Zappos as leaders who focus on giving back to employees and the community, leading from core values, and focusing on transparency and honesty.
Gerzema suggests that effective leaders today must embody female traits less common in the workplace like empathy, vulnerability, humility, inclusiveness, generosity, balance, and patience, while not losing site of traditional masculine qualities such as decisiveness, resilience, and confidence. Balancing these feminine and masculine traits is the key to succeeding in this new era of business.