Leadership Tactics: New Meaning of FEMA

February 21, 2011 by Sylvia Lafair
Career Development

The title of my almost finished book about women and leadership keeps changing, while I continue to search for essential concepts about partnering with our male colleagues in new and highly productive ways.

A recent thought about a merger of the feminine and masculine aspects of our natures made me chuckle. Looking at a synthesis of female-male leadership qualities, I started to call it “FEMA”. It turned out to be a great fit with our present government agency.

Let me peel this back a bit. The responsibility of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington is for disaster mitigation, preparedness, and response recovery; all necessary for the right management of crises and chaos in any setting.

It sure does seem like change hits us at a more rapid fire pace than ever before and we all need even better skills in our lives and workplaces for disaster mitigation, preparedness, and response recovery.

In researching the differences in male and female leadership there is good documentation that some of the factors that separate the way we lead comes from anatomical brain differences, socialization and hormones.

How leaders handle stressful situations definitely impacts the way employees will respond (not so different than how children look to their parents or caretakers when times are difficult). More than anyone else, the boss creates the environment that determines ability to work well with each other and handle crises/conflicts appropriately.

How do we behave differently under stress than our male counterparts? And is there a better way that we can all learn to respond? Is what Freud said so many decades ago true, does biology dictate destiny? And if this is true what can we really do about it?

The women’s movement rightfully took a swipe at Freud’s comment. Psychotherapy was stilted and tilted in a specific way to keep women at the mercy of their hormones. And yet, there are biological differences that really do need new consideration, especially when it comes to stressful and emergency situations.

New research about the hormone oxytocin is fascinating. This is what floods through a woman’s body when she is giving birth and is what makes most women into “mother tigers” if anyone attempts to hurt their young.

A rise in oxytocin in the brain causes an increase in collaboration and trustworthy relationships even with complete strangers. One research project indicated that women‘s oxytocin levels increased more significantly when watching an emotional video than did the levels in men.

Here is my initial thought about women, oxytocin and leadership. Men and women working in partnership can share the powerful responsibilities of leadership during times of crises and conflict. It may well be critical to “fight for right” in the beginning of the fray; that is an initial important response; the male contribution. Then the “tend and befriend” response will kick in and that is where female executives can lead with the empathy needed to get from crisis to collaboration more quickly.

That may be how partnership, the new FEMA can create a true win-win for all of us. 

Sylvia Lafair

Sylvia Lafair, PhD, is President of CEO – Creative Energy Options, Inc., a global consulting company focused on optimizing workplace relationships through her exclusive PatternAware™ Leadership Model. Dr. Lafair is the author of Don’t Bring It to Work: Breaking the Family Patterns That Limit Success published by Jossey-Bass. As an executive coach and leadership educator, she has more than 30 years of experience with all levels of management from leading corporate officers of global companies to executives of non-profits and owners of leading family-owned businesses. She is now offering GUTSY Women Weekends, giving women the opportunity to dialogue and clarify next steps.

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MLB February 23, 2011 at 10:59 am

Great article. I’m in the midst of a leadership course and am enjoying learning about the different styles of leadership employed by men and those by women. Interesting stuff.

Michele

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