The CEO Coach: Leadership and toxic masculinity

On the back of a shock election, the CEO Coach looks at the relationship between toxic masculinity in the world of business
The CEO Coach: Leadership and toxic masculinity
By Tom Young
Wed 14 Dec 2016 09:24 AM

As the world is slowly coming to terms with the reality of President Trump, I thought it valuable to set out some of the behaviours typical of ‘toxic masculinity’ in the world of business leadership.

Masculine energy and its resulting behaviour is critical to the flourishing of any system or relationship when it is balanced or in overall harmony with the feminine. In Mr. Trump the masculine traits of decisiveness, determination, clear goals and committed action are exaggerated to a point where it/he polarises the parts of the systems in which he moves thus he is either loved or loathed. These masculine strengths are overused and thus become weaknesses.

Toxic masculinity shows itself in ways that are both blatant and subtle and can appear in women as well as men. It is often power-driven and displays an independent mindset which sees the world in dualistic terms where there is black and white, winners and losers. It shows up in a variety of ways:

Talking over people: Leaders can get  used to talking while others  listen and many have learned well what Margaret Thatcher called “holding the floor” -  continuing to talk/make  a point despite  signals that others would like to interject.: Indeed, I often witness  speakers increase their pitch and  volume to drown out  any potential opposition to their broadcast. Trump did this consistently during the TV debates with Clinton. These leaders don’t have conversations (meaning talking with ) they just have, what Susan Scott calls ‘versations’.

Taking advantage of their position: We coached a UAE hotel group’s senior team and when an individual blatantly broke an agreed rule of the workshop by answering his phone, when confronted his response was “I’m the GM” i.e. the rules don’t apply because I’m the most important person here.

Negative emotional impact: The belief can be that as a senior the pressure and expectation is greatest here so licence may be taken to express oneself without sanction creating negative emotional impact on others.  These people leave an aftermath rather than an afterglow.

Needing to be right: A CEO said to me “I have an abundance mentality. My colleague doesn’t”. He was oblivious to the oxymoron. This behaviour stems from fear and a desire to control and is often accompanied by refusing to ask for and use available assistance.The four phrases I hear least often when working with seniors are: "Sorry, I was wrong","I don’t know","I made a mistake" and "I need help".

Courageous leaders learn to use them as they accept interdependence as a truth and that collaboration is the defining principle of leadership. Avoiding them betrays a deep fear of failure and can lead to toxic masculinity being employed to mask vulnerability.

Trump appeals to a deep need for the hero leader; the yearning for a (male) saviour, a knight in shining armour who will rescue us. Make us great again. Toxic masculinity though is rooted in a zero-sum mentality so likely a few will ‘win’ and many will lose. The masculine energy at its best combines confidence and inclusion with getting things done through   ‘purposefully caring’ for all.

Mr. Trump represents a version of a leader that contradicts the vast majority of research as to how people like to be managed and what creates sustainable results; that “happy cows produce more milk”. Time will be his judge, of course and  I look forwarding  to writing a future article reporting that  Mr. President has a embraced responsible masculinity, does right by his people, is globally respected and admired and is breaking down walls rather than building them.

Tom Young is the first executive and leadership coach in the UAE to attain the Master Certified Coach accreditation from the International Coaching Federation. More information:

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