AST month, Harvey Weinstein cut a sorry figure in a New York courtroom, dishevelled, handcuffed and in a wheelchair. The once-powerful Hollywood producer was sentenced to 23 years in prison for sexual misdemeanours that fuelled the global #MeToo movement.

He once again drew attention to the dangers of toxic masculinity.

Consider this, HR refers to workforce requirements as “manpower”. A courageous leader is one having the “balls” to stand alone. Being combatant is often an admired trait. A display of weakness reduces your chances of vertical ascent.

Underlying masculinity breeds a type of a leader that excels in command and control.

Research shows women are set up to lose in this scenario. Many women who do attempt to compete in the masculinity test, putting work ahead of home are often hamstrung since they are also responsible for a disproportionate amount of caregiving and emotional labour, at work and home.

If they wear the proverbial pants and demonstrate the “maleness of power”, it will probably be viewed negatively. A woman who demonstrates decisiveness and is seen as bold often endures perceptions that she is overly ambitious and curt.

Only the ability to lead and motivate others positively should matter.

What does it take to lead?

A tough work ethic, the ability to forgo work-life balance, willingness to put in long hours, dedication to one’s career as well as the ability to motivate by fear characterised by “old school” leaders. However, research shows that the small number of women who occupy corner offices, often possess leadership traits different from those associated with successful men.

A study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that women outscored men on 17 of 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones. The ability to balance assertiveness and ambition, lead with empathy, inclusiveness and a willingness to share power and spotlight make women better leaders.

Successful women executives often downplay their contributions to the success and focus more on the contributions of others.

Influence others through empathy.

Female executives influence others through empathy. Most successful executives take a collaborative approach to work, leading from behind and helping everyone feel they are relevant and valued stakeholders.

Female executives often take a holistic view of planning. They may be suited to seeing new problems and challenges coming before others do.

Women understand exclusion from experience and can position their interactions to best connect with others. Women who lead successfully also pay attention to how they show up – relateable. They work to make others comfortable.

By sharing power with others, female executives create a results-driven environment without being emotionally draining. Power-sharing also flattens corporate hierarchies, fostering trust, and creating networks of collaboration and communication between teams.

Many aspirant and resident male leaders would do well to reflect on and internalise the distinguishing attributes.

(Published in The Star early edition, 3 April 2020)

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