Do you seek to be part of the group or do you like to set yourself apart? Some see the advantage of ‘safety in numbers’ while others would rather rely on their own instincts. Neither is wrong and there are advantages to doing both. We need to be recognized for our individual contribution, but we also need to find a tribe, as no woman or man is an island.
Generally, little boys are encouraged to be independent and self-sufficient while little girls are conditioned to include everyone. Thus, we tend to believe that female executives will be concerned for the collective while male executives will focus on taking care of themselves. This bias encourages both to get carried away and overdo it. Women become so overly concerned about the group that they lose their personal identity and men who are so self-reliant suffer from human detachment. Ultimately, ‘too much of a good thing is a bad thing’.
General Electric’s former CEO Jack Welch certainly lived up to the “I am an individual” mantra. He promoted himself, often at the expense of his company by sharing his personal philosophies on such topics as university tenure, the country’s tax rates, work-life balance, people’s wealth expectations, and even chewing gum! And while Steve Jobs was known as a ‘lone wolf’ he used his individual celebrity to advance the collective, demonstrating the value that comes from using both.
Jobs came back to a failing Apple Inc. eleven years after having been fired. The company had only 4 percent market share, had incurred losses of over $1 billion a year, and was just a few months away from insolvency. It would have been easy for him to walk away; instead, he gathered the Apple employees together and told them that while the company made boxes very well, that wasn’t who they were at their core—they were all about people with passion coming together to change the world for the better. With those words, Jobs inspired the disheartened Apple employees, and they collectively rose to the occasion: within a few short years, working in concert, they made Apple the world’s most valuable publicly traded company.
When we only use one side of the equation we are likely to dial our preferred way of doing things up to the extreme. That’s when strengths become weaknesses. I watched this happen with an independent CEO, Bob, I once worked with. At one point, he purchased an expensive membership for himself at a men’s only golf club. Then, without board approval, he arranged for the head of the compensation committee to sign off on it as a company expense.
Bob had strategically placed his long-time friend, confidant, and godfather to his son on the board and unfortunately, the board had made Bob’s pal chair of the compensation committee. This gave him some leeway in signing off on such expenses, even if it were a gray area. The board wasn’t happy with this ‘smelly expense’ but they eventually gave in and approved the membership.
As a woman in management, I could not fathom a good business reason for our company to be paying for a golf membership at a course where women couldn’t play. This meant that not only women from our company were excluded but also our women suppliers and investors. It set a very bad precedent.
This injustice really irritated me; it was just one more situation where women would not be dealt a fair hand as we sought our place at the table. Our CEO already had a golf membership at a well-established and prestigious coed club that met the company’s needs, and I strongly felt that our company should eliminate all systemic prejudice, including men-only clubs.
You can see the issues that develop when executives are out of balance. Our CEO, operating only from an individual mindset did not appear to consider or care about the ramifications of his decisions on others or the diversity policy that was established to serve the organization as a whole. He was only interested in serving himself.
Although there were a few emerging women leaders, at the time, I was the only senior woman executive. We were all keenly aware, however, that our male colleagues were invited to golf while we were often excluded. Not long after the board meeting, Bob invited some investors and analysts to golf at his men-only course, which meant that I was not included even though they were my clients.
This was not only dismaying but also discouraging: it left me feeling far less enthusiastic and committed to the company. While it wasn’t enough for me to quit and walk out the door, he certainly eroded my trust and enthusiasm. If our CEO had infused his individualism with some concern for the collective, he would have been far more effective in his role.
When you become more cognizant of energy you operate from, you’ll be aware of the value of not only taking care of yourself, but always doing it with consideration for the organization. In my recently released book, Gender Physics, Unlock the Energy You Never Knew You Had to Get the Results You Want, I advise those who operate from a more collective Feminine Energy (70% of whom are female) to stop and identify their own needs and make decisions based on their own well-being to develop their ‘me’ energy. I advise those with the more individualistic Masculine Energy (70 percent of whom are men) to pay attention to coworkers by learning to read verbal clues and body language. This will develop their ‘we’ energy.
Developing and using both ‘me’ and ‘we’ energies will not only assure that you will be perceived as a confident, caring leader it will make you a more well-rounded and whole human being. You’ll be recognized for your individual contribution but will also find comfort in your tribe and it all comes from Gender Physics!