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Case Analysis: Feminine Leadership

Why the feminine paradigm of leadership must gain force

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There is a difference between  assertive, aggressive and uncivil behaviour; and the acceptability and unacceptability of each depends on the context in which it is used. Context in turn is determined by time, place and role of agency in a given situation. For example, while defending oneself from physical assault, there is no need to worry about civility and incivility; but if one has to condole with someone’s loss, then assertiveness is wrong.

In the third part of the case, we hear of yet another nasty comment that Taarika makes with regard to the ailing father of a junior colleague. Taarika’s behaviour not only crosses limits of human decency, but also falls short of fulfilling key leadership duties like culture building and managing Photogen’s reputation. She has no idea what values her conduct will strengthen at Photogen, and the collateral damage to its image, when Malhar, would talk about it, outside.

Corporate executives paint an image of corporate life that is akin to walking a tight rope, with hard schedules, fast pace of growth, in a high risk and reward environment. This naturally produces another imagery of justifiable behaviours: dominating/ macho style, flying off the handle easily, using rough language and pushing people, accepted as agentic leadership traits, justified in a stressful environment, where there is no time for niceties. It shows that men are at work!

Conversely, feminine and community traits like compassion, warmth, and civility are stereotyped as effeminate and therefore symptomatic of ineffective leadership. Globally, hyper masculinity is pervasive everywhere – from politics, to international conflict, policing, domestic violence and interpersonal relationships. An ideology of warfare is the script of  hyper masculinity, where the macho warrior, through different forms of violence holds dominion, compelling the vanquished to submit.

It is unfortunate that a competent woman like Taarika has not been able to bring a new genre of  leadership, that is more natural to women. A style that allows holding on to human qualities when performing the tightrope act amidst rambunctious and negative cheer leaders (bosses, superiors and competing colleagues). Feminine leadership is a new paradigm, but not a short cut method – as it requires spiritual agentic attributes that women by virtue of  their biology and socialisation are endowed with, more than men are. Women hold more in their arms, care more about surroundings, and can endure much less returns without feeling they have lost. Attaining excellence in a hostile masculine environment, depends on women’s restraint, collaboration, ingenuity and never losing the sense of community. But often, quick to get accepted and included and counted, women ape male role models, not understanding that this does not sit well with the way they are wired. Men have their own subculture, complete with cuss words and sexual innuendos, and women are definitely not a part of this.

India has many women top leaders and it would be worthwhile to see not just their leadership style, but also their demeanour – the likes of Roshini Nadar, Arundhati Bhattacharya, Indra Nooyi among others. It is there to see that they leverage on exalted feminine qualities, with masculine attributes only as buttress. None of them follow the macho approach. In the gravitation of  leadership evolution one moves from a gendered to an agender identity – from the low order masculine attributes to higher order feminine qualities to highest state of the ‘androgynous’ ardhnareeshwar (feminine and masculine in a perfect fit). It is pertinent to note that, it is through feminine attributes (right hemisphere of brain) that one can transcend individuality and move towards inter-connective and holistic way of thinking, and develop empathy and receptivity to the greater collective field. A WHO report on Violence and Health (2014) indicates there is increasing prevalence of hyper masculine culture globally, which is contributing to exponential increase in death and injury due to aggression. Clearly the feminine paradigm of  leadership must gain force.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Magazine 14 October 2017 leadership case study

Mala Sinha

The writer is Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Business Ethics at Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi. Her research interests are women issues and Eastern spiritual philosophies

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