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4 ways to redefine strength in the workplace

So-called masculine energy has traditionally gotten all the glory: To be tough, assertive, competitive, and driven are all traits associated with success—and masculinity. But elevating one narrative of success—of what a leader embodies—can lead to a lack of diversity. And for many, it can mean suppressing individuality.

What could it mean to encourage a broader range of traits, particularly ones traditionally labeled, often derisively, as feminine? Research shows that both women and men want to work in environments where values like compassion, collaboration, and the freedom to be yourself are part of the culture. A December 2017 Harris Poll found, for example, that 53 percent of millennials valued having a compassionate supervisor, as opposed to 35 percent of those over age 36. Read on for ways in which these qualities can help everyone find balance in work and life.

Channel emotion into strong leadership

Data collected by John Gerzema, author of The Athena Doctrine: How Women (And The Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule The Future, showed that of 64,000 participants and 125 different human characteristics, 8 out of 10 of the most important traits for an ideal leader to possess were considered feminine. Qualities such as being patient, loyal, intuitive, collaborative, and expressive were also essential to leading.

What could it mean to encourage a broader range of traits, particularly ones traditionally labeled, often derisively, as feminine?

Consider channeling emotion into a deeper understanding of yourself and others, and harnessing emotion to foster your ability to respond appropriately in tough situations—these are powerful skills to have. Amy Stanton, co-author of The Feminine Revolution: 21 Ways to Ignite the Power of Your Femininity for a Brighter Life and a Better World, says that sensitivity allows her to read a room during a meeting, as well as to be nurturing and understanding when an employee is facing difficulties. There’s both the struggle to lean into emotions billed as feminine, but also the friction that comes with repressing innate qualities that may have been previously underappreciated in the workplace.

In the same Harris Poll, 39 percent of respondents wanted freedom and acceptance to be their true selves—a number that rises to 48 percent among those aged 18-44. Giving yourself permission to explore emotion will not only encourage balance within yourself but also help to create a culture that accepts and normalizes care and kindness.

[Related read: Do more of what you love by being all of who you are]

Lean into your strengths—all of them

Stanton and her co-author Catherine Connors say the first step is to be aware of where you might not be allowing all your strengths to shine through. From there you can start to incorporate those characteristics into the way you lead your team or how you work with others.

This is also something that leadership coach Carolina Caro tries to incorporate into her work. In a conversation with me, she shared how cultivating awareness helped her to identify some of her own blind spots. She had focused on engaging and leading others using mostly aggressive tactics, and often found herself stressed and overworked—and not always supported by those around her. After being called “intense” one too many times, she started to shift perspective on her habits.

Qualities such as being patient, loyal, intuitive, collaborative, and expressive were also essential to leading.

“Previously, I always believed I was right in what I was doing,” Caro said. “With mindfulness came the question, ‘What if there’s another way of doing what I’m doing?’ I asked myself, ‘What are the behaviors of those that are leading from a more heart-centric space that I might want to embody?’”

Simply asking ourselves these kinds of questions can open the door to new perspectives and tactics.

[Related read: 5 ways to bring your human(ity) to work]

Move the needle slowly

We often imagine drastic overnight change, but rarely is that feasible. Start by taking a few minutes a day to slow down and step back. “The first thing people notice is the shift from being reactive to responsive. The mindfulness piece introduces the gap to see things differently.” Caro added. “I’m seeing company cultures shift from command and control masculine energy within leadership to becoming servant leaders focused on compassion and empathy.”

"I'm seeing company cultures shift from command and control masculine energy within leadership to becoming servant leaders focused on compassion and empathy." - Carolina Caro

Mindfulness and self-exploration open the door to opportunity and curiosity. They allow us to become more aware of our thoughts and emotions, and most importantly, to start asking more questions about how we show up in the workplace and in life. Caro has also noted that a mindfulness practice has allowed her and her clients to find more compassion for themselves as they begin to dive deeper into parts of themselves that have often been closed off for a very long time due to societal conditioning.

Become a detective in your own life

Mindfulness creates space for us to slow down and see the bigger picture. Caro recommends coupling this with a practice she calls “Becoming a detective in your own life,” in order to further understand ourselves and find areas where we may be lacking or holding ourselves back.

“We move so quickly that everything we do is often a default. Behavioral patterns are being repeated over and over and we often don’t realize whether they’re working for our own good, or sabotaging us. Things like work-life balance behavior, the way we treat our employees, and even how we treat ourselves and families after a stressful day,” Caro said.

“I was moving so quickly that asking questions and reflecting was not even a part of my life,” Caro said. “But it can be as simple as asking, ‘What behaviors are not working in my life?’ or ‘What am I contributing to this situation? This reflection piece is what really changed my life and now my clients.”

"But it can be as simple as asking, 'What behaviors are not working in my life?' or 'What am I contributing to this situation?'" - Carolina Caro

[Related read: The power of women-built brand experiences]

It’s not an either/or situation

While it’s important for us all to embrace the feminine qualities in ourselves, it’s not an either/or situation. It’s about accessing and highlighting both masculine and feminine energies so that we’re not overemphasizing one or the other.

Acknowledge that a broad range of values are needed for balance and harmony within ourselves—and within our workplaces. In fact, accessing most parts of ourselves might be exactly what is needed to create a happier and more productive work life.

Mariana Ruiz is a freelance copywriter & content marketer using stories to connect with people. She writes for small businesses and entrepreneurs on customer success, marketing, lifestyle and travel topics. Her hobbies include traveling to tropical beaches as often as possible and contemplating what it means to be human in this wild world. Connect with her on LinkedIn or say hello on Instagram.