Against all odds: feminine leadership

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Dr Mamphela Ramphele | Co-Founder | ReimagineSA | mail me |


“The world would be a better place if men thought like women.”

This is the conclusion of John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, the authors of The Athena Doctrine, published in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial meltdown – the direct result of testosterone on steroids!

We have an incongruous situation in the world today. Women are the majority in the population yet their visibility and audibility as leaders is undermined by a male dominated culture. The suppression of the feminine in both men and women is robbing the world of the Athena energy that flows from the traits that are today recognised as Emotional Intelligence. 

How does one explain feminine leadership against all odds?

Women like me are not what we are against all odds. We are who we are because the long-term odds are in our favour. We are swimming against the tide, but the currents are turning in our favour. We may not be as successful as we could have been in a society not dominated by a masculine cultural orientation, yet we have scaled many barriers in our paths. A lot of negative energy has, and is being expended not to push for greater excellence, but just to ensure survival.

The loser is society, the future and next generations. Women leaders are sabotaged at many levels by the male dominated society to fulfil the stereotype that they are under-performing. Too much energy is lost to dealing with unnecessary distractions, but those distractions cannot be ignored. They present opportunities for learning the lessons about how to deal with perceived winners and losers in the transformation process.

Harnessing the energy of potential winners creates greater momentum for change. Understanding and minimising the damage that losers can do to a process they perceive as undermining their interests is a critical success factor in any transformative process. Failure to harness these lessons would put the whole transformation agenda at greater risk.

We need to look no further than the sad state of global politics today where leaders who are characterised by toxic masculinity are in charge of key nation states:

Donald Trump in the USA; Vladimir Putin in Russia; Boris Johnson in the UK! Closer to home, state capture is the ultimate display of total lack of capacity to think beyond the self and short-term as national resources were pillaged under successive governments over the last two decades. State capture is modelled on the colonial model of governance that enables those in public service to appropriate public goods for their own benefit and for those close to them – the party and its patronage networks.

It is clear that the majority of leaders we have had, especially over the last decades at all levels of government lacked the emotional intelligence needed to think beyond the self, their patronage networks, and the short-term, in order to lead effectively in the 21st century. The same applies to some big corporations in the private sector, both here and abroad, as demonstrated by the factors that led to the 2008 global financial crisis where greed and short-termism drove a feeding frenzy.

As Women’s Month has now drawn to a close, we need to remind ourselves that traits that are associated with the feminine in us that have enable women from ancient times, and over many generations to lead with purpose, are now sought after in the 21st century. These traits have been found to be exhibited by successful entrepreneurs, leaders, organisers, and innovators.

They are: honesty, empathy, nurture, putting others before self, inclusive decision-making, patience and capacity for communication and collaboration.

The good news is that there are a significant, and the growing number of men who have allowed their feminine side to grow alongside their masculine personas. These men are at peace within themselves as they fulfil their purpose in life of being partners with women in a complementary way. They have no need to prove their masculinity through throwing their physical power around, but use that power to protect their partners, families and communities.

Drawing on the wisdom of the ancients

Our ancient ancestors – men and women – understood that our humanity is inextricably linked to that of others:

umtu ungumtu ngabanye abantu’
[There is no me without the we!]

Our understanding of what it means to be human is enhanced and enriched by our connectedness to others. That connectedness becomes visible and tangible with a rising level of consciousness or awareness of the impact of our emotions and feelings (positive and negative) on other people.

Our ability to manage our emotions, especially under pressure is a measure of our capacity to lead ourselves and others. Leadership always starts with the self. A higher consciousness of our emotions enables us to develop the desirable traits of honesty, empathy, collaboration and communication. Women across generations and cultures have been socialised to be the anchors of essential human relationships that have ensured the survival of humanity as a species.

The question that was a common refrain throughout our upbringing when you did something that raised eyebrows was:

Batho ba tla reng?
[What will people say?]

One was socialised to be sensitive to the views of others, without being subservient to those views that go against the grain of ethics and morality.

Unfortunately, the socialisation of men in most cultures has tended to discourage the importance of acknowledging and managing one’s emotions. Little attention is paid to helping boys and young men to develop a higher level of awareness of the appropriate management of one’s emotions to minimise hurting and undermining others.

The majority of boys grow up being discouraged from showing emotions and end up bottling their feelings only to explode in violent anger at great cost to the self and others. My own father used to say to my brothers:

“moshimane ke draad, ga a lle”
[A boy is like a piece of wire, he does not cry.]

I am grateful to have had the space as a girl to cry my heart out, and to laugh heartily!

Psychologist, Nick Duffell, a product of British public schools, in his 2014 book warns us about the dangers of Wounded Leaders who emanate from such environments:

“Men prematurely separated from home and family, from love and touch, they must speedily reinvent themselves as self-reliant pseudo-adults. Paradoxically, they then struggle to properly mature, since the child who was not allowed to grow up organically gets stranded, as it were, inside them. In consequence, an abandoned child complex within such adults ends up running the show.

The Entitled Brain is one that is over-trained in rationality, has been trained away from empathy and has mastered and normalised dissociation in its most severe dimensions; it is consequently incapable of recognising the fault in its own system.”

Transforming relationships between men and women cannot be done without addressing the root cause: the manner in which men are brought up. Institutionalised forms of upbringing for men in most cultures have focussed attention on the assertion of masculine traits that are the antithesis of feminine traits. The clash of cultures between men and women is what lies behind the frightening levels of gender-based violence in our society. The bewilderment of men who are not adequately prepared for a world of equality between men and women drives many to substance abuse, and brutally violent language and social relationships.

Our nation is in crisis due to our failure to build on the legacy of our struggle that was enhanced by the cultivation of a higher consciousness of what it means to be human. My generation that founded the Black Consciousness Movement in the late 1960s, learnt from our conversations, introspection, and reading of banned books including Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that freedom starts from within. We realised that psychological freedom opens the way to mental, physical and political freedom. We realised that one cannot be free if one’s mind and spirit is trapped in the inferiority complex born of a culture of racist, male-dominated oppression.

We unmasked the justification of socio-economic exploitation using colour coding that has left deep scars on our psyches – black and white. We challenged the differentiation between oppressed people based on ethnicity and colour coding and actively built black solidarity to undermine the ‘divide and rule’ tactics that perpetuated minority dominance over the majority. We challenged white hegemony on all fronts. We reclaimed our African names, pride in our culture and languages. We promoted self-reliance and community development to model black solidarity and collaboration.

The projects we started then are still standing in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo Provinces. They are a source of pride for the poor communities who co-created them. These communities have in many cases resisted the dependency syndrome plaguing other communities across our society.

Raising the level of human consciousness is critical

The good news is that the imperatives of the 21st century and the 4th Industrial Revolution are turning our attention back to the importance of Emotional Intelligence.

As artificial intelligence drives automation and complex machine operations, there is a greater realisation of the importance of the traits that enable better communication, collaboration and empathy. These traits foster teamwork that enhances creativity and even greater innovation.

These increasingly desirable traits favour the feminine in human qualities. Women leaders need to be bolder in leading with a greater human touch for which they have a natural flair. As women, we have to be bolder in encouraging our brothers, sons, and grandsons to open themselves the feminine in them as a source of strength. The future belongs to those who have high emotional intelligence that is characterised by traits historically associated with the feminine.

We should actively resist the temptations of masculine styles of leadership in order to fit into the current establishment. The future of leadership is feminine. This is the new normal as we prepare for the 22nd century. The odds are turning in our favour.

Eleanor Roosevelt reminds us that:

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”.

Welcome to the future. It is here.


 

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