There have been ongoing debates about what leadership is, how it should be transformed, about the sort of leadership the corporate or political world needs for the future. There have been endless discussions about whether styles of leadership vary according to one’s gender. There have been books, talks, coaching gurus praising the unrecognized value of a so-called “feminine leadership” that could heal the world and make it a better place – sorry Michael, couldn’t help it. A leadership filled with love, empathy, care, gentleness and all sorts of wonderful vanilla skills that were desperately lacking in the grim masculine ego-centered world of power. As a gender specialist, I could never quite understand how the supporters of “feminine leadership” were not able to see the danger of a theory based on stereotypes. At the same time, how on earth can we ask for more diversity and the presence of more women in spheres of power as an essential and extraordinarily positive driver, without acknowledging that they bring something “different”?
It does indeed seem quite contradictory. Yet, it isn’t. It is fundamental to understand that diversity does not mean appointing people of different age, gender, culture, religion, sexual orientation, etc. because of who they are, but because of what they have been through. It is life experience that makes the difference. I remember a speech from a famous CEO who said it was important to “hire more women because they think and act differently”. As usual, if you replace the word “women” by “Black people”, you see rather easily how discriminatory, stupid and unacceptable this sentence is. Women are not a homogenous social group who thinks and acts in a particular way, and men are not either. As long as we believe there are masculine or feminine qualities, masculine or feminine styles of leadership, we remain in a traditional and rather dusty vision of leadership.
Indeed, the model of leadership that has been built throughout history has carved a very narrow and exclusive perspective of what a leader should be and how they should act. This model is based on ego, power, hierarchy, authority, competition, the rejection of emotions and the separation between the private and the public spheres. It has been built by men and for men. But it does not mean men feel at ease in that model. The education boys still receive today is meant to prepare them for survival in that world of competition and power, but at what cost?
Challenging the existing model of leadership is vital. However, the point is not to make it less masculine or more feminine, thus reinforcing a binary division of nature, qualities and roles based on biases. The point is to make it more inclusive, enabling everyone to be true to themselves. Here is the one quality that makes a good leader: authenticity. When you are authentic, you can use both your emotions and your rational mind, both your empathy and your authority, you can be assertive and vulnerable, you can rule and accept to be challenged.
The people who exemplify inclusive leadership are not that many. Barack Obama is one of them. The recent tragedy in New Zealand and the current follow-up have showed us how Jacinda Ardern fully incarnated it. The media emphasized how she “naturally” empathized with the victims while remaining a strong leader, how she cared and led at the same time, how she did not seem to be preoccupied by how she should react, but simply grieved with people, as one of them. To become Prime Minister of New Zealand as a 37-year old woman, Ardern surely demonstrated ambition, authority and a taste for competition. Yet, it never meant for her abandoning who she is as a person, getting rid of her emotions and adopting the usual manners of a politician. The way she dealt with her maternity while in office was a total innovation. She never tried to underrate what she was going through in her personal life, she simply showed it was perfectly ok to be off for a few weeks without jeopardizing the government’s stability. If Jacinda Ardern makes a difference, if she does not fall in the traps that lie ahead of any female politician, it is because she does not pretend to be someone else, she does not try to fit in a costume that has not been designed for her nor for anyone who wants to be an authentic and human leader.
Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/eglantinejamet/2019/05/16/jacinda-ardern-or-inclusive-leadership-exemplified/#381fe402384a