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July 2016

D'Aquanni & Associates

Women Mentoring Men

By | Leadership Development | No Comments

The comment was recently made on a LinkedIn Change Management site that Male Senior Executives need to mentor female high-potential employees. While I assume that the intent of the suggestion was positive, and the logic of it (people in power coaching those candidates emerging into power) obvious, it immediately struck me as somehow off-the-mark.

A female friend of mine just completed an “Iron Woman” Triathalon. It was, of course, an all-women event. When I asked her how it was, her first comments were not about her performance. She had much more to say about the feel of the event than she did about her performance. She was impressed with how fellow participants related to each other, how, for instance, when they were passed by other participants, everyone cheered for and supported each other. She was touched and inspired by the spirit of everyone being in something together as opposed to competing against each other. I found myself thinking, “That would never happen at an all-men’s event.”

Do you agree? Most people I’ve shared this with agree. How, do you imagine, a “men only” event would be? Fiercely competitive, no doubt. Focused on winning, Being the individual best, for sure. Would it be an environment where a new participant was as moved by the support and comraderie that the event exuded? Not likely.

In the drive to be gender appropriate, it is important that we don’t ignore the ”reality” that women do often think, act and interact differently than men. Whether culturally derived or in some other way determined, women and men are different. Having worked in many corporate environments over the last 25+ years I would like to share a few observations, and make a few generalizations.

Men tend to control and take control, accumulate and defend personal power, build fiefdoms, hold onto and tightly manage the flow of information, think and act in terms of hierarchy, hard results and position and title. Men tend to look for what they can achieve and how they can win. They expect and crave competition and, often, conflict in the process .

Women, on the other hand, tend to think and behave consistent with values of team, winning together, building community, sharing information, creating a healthy culture or environment and mentoring and developing people. Women demonstrate a bias to achieving results through communication, collaboration, creativity, harmony and with social impact.

Putting aside debate about the total accuracy of this set of distinct values and perspectives (“I know women who don’t behave like you say women are” and “I know men who value communication, people, and culture”) can we step back and look at the “fact” that there are differences and tendencies for men and women, and consider that the tendencies are in the direction I’m indicating?

Aside from that there are differences, what is perhaps most significant is that the male orientation could be said to represent the currently dominant, but fading, corporate culture we see all over the world, and the female orientation, the emerging and rich, full corporate culture of the future.

As a rule, corporations today suffer from excessive emphasis on hierarchy, unproductive competition and individual drive for power, a me versus you, win/lose attitude and the fear and greed which are a necessary consequence of organizational cultures built on those biases. Some of the most creative, imaginative and successful organizations are being established on an alternative model, one of collaboration, team, mutual support, sharing – the same qualities that my friend observed and felt so strongly in her all-women athletic event.

I want to suggest that successful organizations of the future will, quite simply, be built more on the values of collaboration, trust, team and sharing than those of power, hierarchy and “me versus you” winning. Women leaders exhibit a natural bias toward many of the values that organizations desperately need to embody. These “female” values stand in contrast to the traditionally “male” values that are no longer working well in the organizations of today.

The notion of reverse mentoring is gaining popularity especially in high-tech environments where the “younger generation” has a facility with and knowledge of technology far superior to those of us who did not grow up with that technology. And because technology is developing and evolving so quickly it is often those coming right out of school who hold the keys to invaluable and leading-edge technology solutions and trends. Their superiors are wise to access that knowledge and expertise as much as possible. Reverse mentoring, in this context, is happening with a younger generation educating Senior Management in breakthrough technologies, innovative solutions, even entirely new ways connecting with customers, marketing products and developing innovative solutions to current and emerging customer needs. The value of this kind of knowledge transfer is dawning on companies as a value-added exchange worth having. Reverse mentoring is happening now in this context.

I am proposing that a similar exchange could occur, not in the area of technology, but in the area of “culture”. I am suggesting that high-potential female women leaders could mentor male Senior Executives in those skills critical for building the successful cultures and organizations of the future, those skills having to do with building community, valuing people, sharing information, effective communication, being vulnerable and open and promoting collaborative, creative environments – and delivering great business results in the process. Not only could they mentor Senior male Executives on these skills but they could even design and co-lead interventions with the intent of shifting the culture of their companies in the direction of these values.

At the same time, male Senior Executives have a wealth of experience and capability to offer emerging women leaders. Traditional strengths in producing satisfactory business results, being focused on the things that move the business and understanding financial needles, how to be strong in challenging situations in front of analysts or media attacks would be natural topics for male Executives to share with emerging female talent in their organizations.

What a beautiful and productive balance that could be! A series of relationships built on a premise of recognizing and valuing mutual strengths, developing leaders “up” and “down” the organization, powerfully evolving the culture of an organization and strengthening the organization’s capacity for delivering superior business results, all at the same time.