Is Positive Leadership Language Inherently Masculine?

March 21, 2019

When you think of leadership, what are some attributes that come to mind? Brave? Confident? Level-headed? All are important, but they’re not all encompassing. Qualities like compassionate and enthusiastic are gaining more and more traction when it comes to leadership these days, and the data is there to back it up.

 

According to Forbes, a new approach to leadership called Compassionate Leadership is on the rise. This style aims to transcend traditional measures of organizational performance and incorporates the human condition at its very core.

Great news for anyone working in the corporate space, but it’s not all transcendence and kumbaya. The word itself – compassionate - is a prime example of gendered language, which is often used in leader evaluations. The hidden disadvantage is that women are often assigned significantly more negative attributes than men.

 

While we all like to think of ourselves as objective in our evaluations, if you were faced with two equal candidates, would you be more likely to promote someone who is described in their performance evaluation as confident or compassionate?

 

The language we use can have a significant impact on how business decisions are made, but our word choices and patterns of speech become engrained long before we ever set foot in the office. These subtle nuances take shape as we grow up and are influenced by our environment.

 

For me, as a kid, I spent a lot of time outdoors. I was confident and athletic, I cut my hair short and played on my brother’s hockey team. In fact, I was sometimes mistaken for a boy. The words that surrounded me reflected typical “masculine” language. As I grew up, I realized that confidence and athleticism are not the antithesis of femininity. I learned that I can be everything at once, whether I’m under a scoreboard or under the halogen lights of my corporate office.

 

The attributes I embody and the language that surrounds me has remained a constant throughout my life. Being aware of my own personal attributes, language that’s spoken and heard, and the accessibility of different leadership styles empowers me to lead mindfully, exactly as I am.

 

By leveraging compassionate leadership and practicing genuine empathy, we can help others fulfill their own potential and unleash it in those around them, no matter where we sit in an organization. It all begins with empathy - the intention to see and feel as others do and use language that resonates. It's the key to effective leadership, individual professional development and strong team building. 

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