Women in Leadership: part 2 – feminine vs masculine traits in leadership

This blog is follow up from a Women in Leadership conversation with Laura from the Vibrancy Hub. Laura is a well-being coach working with female leaders ‘who are ready to make a difference and shake up the world of business’.

Before interviewing Laura for this topic she coached me through some big transitions in my work and personal life, during this process I was introduced to the concept of celebrating feminine traits in business. I had never had the corporate environment framed to me as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ but after experiencing and exploring the concept it resonated deeply with me.

In this article, we explore the yin and the yang of leadership and how that plays out in Western society.

What is the yin and yang concept?

The yin and yang philosophy comes from an ancient Chinese religion, Taoism, which believes the Universe is built from energy, vibration and matter.

They believe that “everything contains the opposite seed” and so we are all built of yin and yang, feminine and masculine, light and dark.

For Taoists, something can be yin or yang depending on the context. Tao is known as ‘the way’, by living in balance with yin and yang it creates harmony.

In our western society, yin and yang are sometimes used interchangeably with feminine and masculine. This interpretation can lead us to believe that certain traits belong only to males or females, however, this isn’t how Taoism is intended. We contain each of these traits and can flow between the two.

How do yin and yang traits play out in leadership roles? 

Before becoming a coach Laura worked in the corporate world, she found she was hiding parts of herself that weren’t considered ‘appealing’ in the workplace. This meant holding back emotion, becoming more robotic, “flogging” herself in public and tending to herself in private. 

“I was abandoning huge parts of myself – amazing gifts that make me an incredible leader.”

Laura, The Vibrancy Hub

After returning to work from maternity leave I found it increasingly difficult to leave my caring, compassionate self at the door and swap out for an aggressive, forceful energy that just didn’t align. Why did Laura and I feel like we needed to abandon ourselves at the door to be successful?

Laura explains how typically, in western society, yang (masculine) traits are celebrated and valued over other traits. 

Yang traits include:

  • Strategy
  • Decision making
  • Action
  • Moving forward
  • Doing 

In balance these traits are all important in business, but not at the expense of others. 

“The problem is, there’s such an imbalance – yang (masculine) traits are favoured above yin (feminine) traits”

Laura, The Vibrancy Hub

Yin (feminine) traits include:

  • Intuition
  • Introspection
  • Nurturing
  • Creativity
  • Patience 

Speaking with Laura, I wanted to know – how do we flip the script on ‘masculine’ vs ‘feminine’ in leadership? How do we begin to change the narrative around what is ‘more valuable’? Not just in the context of men representing yang and women representing yin, but how do we each lean into the yin and yang. 

How do we change the narrative around masculine and feminine values?

“How do we begin to show that it’s not only okay but essential for men to lead into yin (feminine) traits?”

Leah, Confidence Club

This work starts with us first. Laura spoke to me about how women can support holding up the patriarchy as we’re moulded into who we think we should be. This is such a difficult concept to not only grasp but to grapple with – going up against a whole collective belief system. But it has to start with us first, especially if that belief system doesn’t resonate with you and is leading to burnout, stress and imposter syndrome in the process.

I asked Laura, how do you get people to lean into intuition when it’s not as tangible or measurable as ‘strategic decision making’? Laura passionately speaks about how the best decisions come from an inexplicable place – some call it the gut, but this is your intuition speaking. 

For Laura, it comes down to trust. “If I bring somebody on to work with me, I am there to direct, I am there to support and guide but I trust them to do the job.”

The more Laura trusts, she begins to see results and this proves that there is a way of doing things that work for you. 

“We can’t match patriarchy with patriarchy. We can’t prove it [feminine traits] to work in a patriarchal way, we have to show up differently.”

Laura, The Vibrancy Hub

Working with the divine masculine and feminine

When I eventually decided to integrate yin and yang and show up as my authentic self in the office, I could see the impact it had on not only me but my team. Prior to working with Laura, I was burnt out, I was showing up at the office physically but mentally I wasn’t there. This impacted how I showed up for the team and how they thought they had to show up for me.

If you lean into your strengths and unique gifts you are full and it spills over. It gives people around you permission to be their authentic self and they start to spill over to. 

“It’s a ripple effect. If you’re trying to lead in a traditional, patriarchal way and this doesn’t resonate with you, or work for you, it eventually breaks you. Your energy and impact stops.”

Laura, The Vibrancy Hub

It’s all about the beautiful balance Laura shares. She calls this divine masculine and the divine feminine. If you lean into the extreme at either end this can look like aggression and over-action (masculine) or deep procrastination and too emotional (feminine) – it’s about us playing with and dancing in the sweet spot of each. 

For me, it’s about having an awareness of both of the states so we can be present in where we are, and where we need to be. If we find ourselves in an overactive state – what do we need to do to shift this? I know I can get caught in doing, doing, doing which then leads to burnout, so I turn to yoga or meditation to slow down. Or when I’m in a hyper-feminine state and find myself procrastinating, I do something active – take myself for a walk or run, to shift up my energy. It’s finding what works for you so you can live ‘the way’, in beautiful harmony.

The Round-Up 

  • Taoists believe the Universe is built up of energy, vibration and matter. We are all built of Yin and Yang, feminine and masculine, light and dark. 
  • Typically, Western society places more value on yang (masculine) traits. Yang traits include; strategy, decision making, action, doing – all-important traits in business but not at the expense of others.
  • Yin (female) traits include; intuition, nurturing, creativity, patience.
  • In leadership, it’s important that we lean into both the yin and yang but this starts with changing the narrative.
  • Changing the narrative starts with yourself, giving yourself permission to lean into the divine feminine and divine masculine, working in perfect balance. By doing so, we are in harmony and this energy flows over, impacting not just you but your team and theirs. It’s a ripple effect.  

Thank you to Laura from the Vibrancy Hub for sharing her insights, thoughts and passions around this topic. You can find more information on Laura and The Vibrancy Hub on their website.

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