Calling on the Feminine in the Face of Complexity

March 23, 2015

I’m always so excited when science finally proves human intuition right.

In the western world, our perceptions of masculine qualities equaling strong leadership are deeply rooted. Independence, decisiveness, linear thinking, assertiveness and goal achievement are strengths that have assured mostly men of leadership positions throughout the twentieth century and earlier. And many of the behaviours associated with these qualities are still important as we’ve rounded the bend into the 2000’s. But at the same time, for reasons which we can now begin to understand, feminine strengths are necessary for leading us into the future that’s presenting itself.

Feminine strengths include qualities like emotional intelligence, empathy, relational skills, collaboration, intuition, compassion and active listening. While these attributes have traditionally been downplayed and considered soft in business, they’re now in high demand and sometimes lacking in established leadership. Men who once tried to lead with more feminine strengths were considered weak. Women were, and sometimes still are, called out for being too emotional. These perceptions are etched in our history and belief patterns, making them hard to shift.

Those in leadership today who lead with primarily masculine qualities will share the fate of the dinosaurs if they choose not to adapt. Women who have learned to abandon their natural feminine traits in favour of more masculine ones, would do well to drag those qualities out of their closets and wear them to work. Both men and women who represent a blend of the hard and soft, the melding of the masculine and feminine energies— are today’s most striking models of leadership.

In a future that will be more complex, connected and interdependent, feminine qualities will become even more powerful in leadership. Evidence of this is arising in a new complexity science seeking to understand the effects of complexity within all systems, including human systems. Complex adaptive systems (work teams and organizations, in this case) are like neural networks of interacting, interdependent agents (people, in this case) who tend to bond cooperatively and dynamically, united by common goals, values, needs, perspectives, etc.

Examining work teams and organizations as complex adaptive systems, complexity science discovered that the nature and quality of their interactions determines what emerges from that system. Challenges to adapt within complex systems require exploration, new discoveries, resilience and re-adjustments; these types of challenges demand strong positive interconnections and communities.  Complex adaptive systems solve problems more creatively and are able to learn and adjust more readily.

Simply put, according to Birute Regine, Ed.D, science now provides evidence that how people relate to one another reveals the organization’s culture, creativity and productivity. For positive emergence to occur there must be trust, respect, sharing and affinity. Positive trusting relationships lead to constructive cultures.

Doctor Regine further offers that the interactions within complex adaptive systems can lead to a collective group intelligence that is, in fact, far greater than the sum of its parts. Interestingly, the collective intelligence is not driven by the highest IQ in the system or an average of the group’s intelligence, but rather by the inter-relational dynamics that exist within that system.

The evidence connects us with why feminine qualities are so critical. With a focus on relational savvy, interpersonal dynamics, empathy, emotional intelligence and collaboration, surprising and exceptional results can emerge.

Studies in complexity science also suggest a new paradigm for leadership— one that looks at it as a complex interactive dynamic from which learning, innovation, and adaptability emerge. The right fit for today and tomorrow’s leadership roles could trend toward men infused with feminine strengths, or it could trend toward women just being their true selves.

This five minute video provides a brief introduction to overall complexity theory that you may find interesting.

Happy Monday!

Warmest regards,



Sources: Leading Women, chapter by Birute Regine, EdD

University of Nebraska, Leadership Institute

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