Wise Leadership Isn't a Gender Issue
Whether women, or men, or both invented it – empathy, even in adversarial relationships, is invariably the wisest approach.
Jason Gots is a New York-based writer, editor, and podcast producer. For Big Think, he writes (and sometimes illustrates) the blog "Overthinking Everything with Jason Gots" and is the creator and host of the "Think Again" podcast. In previous lives, Jason worked at Random House Children's Books, taught reading and writing to middle schoolers and community college students, co-founded a theatre company (Rorschach, in Washington, D.C.), and wrote roughly two dozen picture books for kids learning English in Seoul, South Korea. He is also the proud father of an incredibly talkative and crafty little kid.
What’s the Big Idea?
Women in prominent leadership positions frequently get asked about gendered differences in leadership style. Are women more collaborative? Is an aggressive negotiating style a more “naturally” masculine trait? Susan Schwab, who negotiated complex, high-stakes international trade agreements during the Bush administration as deputy US trade representative, says that experience is far more determinative of leadership style than gender.
Possibly, maybe, for what it’s worth, Schwab says, men tend to escalate negotiations more hastily toward a zero-sum situation, while women tend to prefer win-win outcomes. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that a negotiation style in which each party fully understands the other’s goals and limits, and seeks a mutually agreeable outcome (with the maximum benefit for her own side), is more likely to yield positive results than a Mexican standoff or a brawl.
Even good faith negotiations can break down, and when they do, says Schwab, there’s an art to knowing when and how to walk away. Knowing when is a matter of recognizing your own limits of compromise – the boundaries beyond which the deal is more harmful than beneficial to your cause. Knowing how is easier: don’t burn your bridges. No matter how tense and difficult negotiations get, it’s better to walk away with mutual disappointment and the possibility of returning to the table later than to let things devolve into drama and recrimination.
Former US Deputy Trade Representative Susan Schwab on one of the tensest, most high-stakes negotiations of her life, and how she walked away gracefully when the deal broke down.
What’s the Significance?
One of the most valuable reasons to move the conversation away from gendered differences in leadership style, is that it obscures the real question of what works best, when.
In politics, perception often rules the day, and Americans tend not to like their leaders “wishy-washy.” This leads to all kinds of trouble, as demonstrating the kind of “backbone” that keeps you in office can easily translate into making stupid – yet definitive – decisions. There’s a good chance that our lingering love of certainty (well-informed or otherwise) is a hangover from old, gendered notions of what’s “manly” and what isn’t, which continue to be reinforced in our most successful action movies; these haven’t evolved much beyond John Wayne Westerns in terms of the basic notions of what constitutes strength and weakness. Strength is beating people up. Weakness is getting beaten (or not fighting at all).
Yet a sober analysis makes plain the fact that successful leadership means arriving at the best possible outcomes in the long-term, which often involves a subtler and less martial approach. Whether women, or men, or both invented it – empathy, even in adversarial relationships, is invariably the wisest approach.
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Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In their findings the authors state:
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
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