Undoing A Century of Insider (White Male) Business Culture – Moe Carrick

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Inevitably the work I do with clients in the realm of leadership and culture ends up centering on the essential characteristics for leading a phenomenal company. In workshops and 1:1 work with senior teams, intact teams, and groups of eager individuals from Grad School candidates to middle managers, there almost always comes a point where I find myself talking about self-awareness, or quoting Brene’ Brown with the saying, “who you are is how you lead.” As intuitive as this seems, traditional business education historically has focused on the skills of leading as if they existed “out there” when in reality, leadership at its best is nothing more than a vibrant relationship between a leader and a follower.

Which is why it continues to surprise me that the skills for creating connection between people at work persistently seem “new” and “innovative,” as if they have not been around long. Unpacking this, it seems apparent that it is the legacy of Northern European and American business culture that has steadfastly emphasized characteristics that feel more masculine than feminine in nature, and this impacts men and women alike in the world of work.

Bill Proudman and Michael Welp, Co-Principals of the leadership firm White Men as Full Diversity Partners efer to business culture as synonymous with white male culture which remains today the primary way things are done at work (culture). Some of their studied attributes of this masculine insider culture are (Conscious Company Interview):

  • Rugged Individualism
  • Low Tolerance for Uncertainty
  • Valuing Action over Reflection
  • Rationality
  • Time as Linear
  • Valuing Status and Rank Over Connection

In contrast to the past, when we look at the future, the work of John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio in their global study of more than 64,000 leaders from around the world (The Athena Doctrine: The Rise of Feminine Values in Leadership) asked participants to define which leadership skills were essential for organizations tomorrow and which ones were traditionally feminine versus masculine. Their research revealed that two-thirds of people feel the “world would be a better place if men thought more like women.” That’s right, the qualities needed tomorrow are widely considered feminine and include:

  • Expressiveness
  • Future Oriented
  • Reasonable
  • Loyal
  • Flexible/Open
  • Patient
  • Intuitive/Emotional
  • Collaborative

In her blockbuster 2018 book, Dare to Lead™ Brene’ Brown clearly articulates the skills required for a leadership courage practice that leverages these feminine traits through four interconnected behaviors that invite vulnerability as the key ingredient for leadership and partnership (Rumbling with Vulnerability, Braving Trust, Living Your Values, and Learning to Rise.)

The dissonance between these two ways of showing up is palpable whenever I orient clients to these skills and to the practical mechanisms that they can use to build meaningful and sustainable relationships at work. At a feelings level, they almost always get it. They feel the trust building and the value of being real with one another and with employees in order to foster trust, connection, empathy, and real teaming. But cognitively, they are anxious and skeptical. They say things like:

“I’ve been taught to always be rational not emotional.”

“If I don’t have the answer, I will seem a weak leader.”

“Our company only cares about data.”

“This sounds fine and good, but it doesn’t make money does it?”

I’ve come to think about these comments as the naturally occurring resistance that shows up whenever there is a sea change happening. Insider culture, the historical ways of doing business, hangs on tightly to the way things have always been done here, and as a result it feels scary, odd, and uncomfortable to practice these new leadership skills, even though we know it is right.

And it is not only men affected by these changes, by the way, although white men do still hold the majority of senior leadership roles in organizations. Most women in the world of work have assimilated into and learned well the ways of the insider culture and can “do white guy” as well as many actual men. Interestingly, many traditionally outsider groups (women and people of color) report that when they demonstrate the same desirable qualities of traditional insider culture it is received negatively, and they are at risk of being labeled “the angry black person” or the “bitch.” White men have historically been lauded for demonstrating these attributes, and rewarded with pay, promotion, rank and status.

So, what can we do? Practice.

The research is clear. From Deloitte’s potent Future of Work studies to Gallup’s Research on workforce trends we have plenty of data that tells us that people are not machines and that the legacy insider ways of leading are not working for the employees of tomorrow. The road is paved for the creation of workplaces that work for people, and accordingly, leaders that can create relationships that matter over the long haul. Jennifer Simpson says it this way, “At the end of the day, the best leaders — whether women or men — are learning to hone the business-critical skills that we once called “soft, “and to harness the power of collaboration, authenticity, and deep listening to unleash the full potential of their teams and organizations.”

And as anyone who has tried to learn the skills of open-hearted and authentic connection, transparency, and trust, they are not soft at all, but rather very hard for most of us at work to learn and demonstrate in action. To get there, it is essential that leaders at every level become relentlessly self-aware, leverage both head and heart skills, prioritize noticing the potential in people, and treat those around them like humans not machines. There is no time like the present to understand, study, and materially alter the ways in which we connect, inspire, and engage the highest and best skills, ideas, and contributions of employees at every level.

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Biography: Moe Carrick, a best-selling author and Founder of Moementum, Inc., helps brave people do the hard things that make organizations great and benefit people, results, partners, the environment, and the community. Carrick seeks to help people thrive in the companies for which they work and grounds her approach in a unifying and undeniable truth: successful work is dependent on human relationships.

Moe holds a master’s degree in organizational development, is a Certified Daring Way™/ Dare to Lead™ Facilitator, a coach, and an administrator of a variety of tools in her trade. She is a regular blogger on topics related to people at work and is a contributor to Conscious Company magazine.

Moe’s book Bravespace Workplace: Making Your Company Fit for Human Life (Maven House) released in May 2019.