Redefining Leadership for Men
I was shocked when I felt a sharp smack upside the head and a gruff voice yelling “What the fuck are you doing? Give me that phone!”
After all, I had finally mustered up the courage to make that phone call! I was very proud of myself!
Clearly, I still had a lot to learn when it came to the art of the cold call. Clearly there might be a need to be redefining leadership here.
My boss had been listening to my call and did not like what I was saying to this new prospective client so he took matters into his own hands. This was the epitome of what I would call fear based leadership. I cringe writing the word as I now know this is not what leadership truly is.
This type of tactic is rooted in the belief that fear and intimidation are the primary methods to lead and motivate those around you. That moment in the sales bullpen happened over 25 years ago. I still feel it viscerally today. I was new in the role, I was young, dumb and eager to impress my new boss. I was not naturally adept at picking up the phone and calling prospects out of the blue. Fortunately for me my desire to become a successful business man outweighed my fear of picking up the phone.
I continued to summon the courage to pick up the phone and make those calls even after that incident. I can assure you, however, that there was an awful lot of shame internalized that related to that incident. It brings to mind the lesson I learned from my 8th grade vice principal on ‘hurt’ vs. ‘harm’.
I was a man! I was supposed to be strong and know my shit. I was supposed to be able to make those calls and connect with clients the way my peers did. Instead I was berated and humiliated for not being able to do that well. Internal interpretation, “for not being man enough”. The anxiety that encounter produced every time I subsequently picked up the phone was certainly not good for productivity.
This is one of many examples I have experienced in my career. It is one of the reasons that I am on a mission to redefine leadership for men. When I started my business leadership journey over 25 years ago I was exposed to some pretty horrendous leadership. In fact there’s enough that it informed a few chapters in my book.
I was taught that, for men in particular, leadership meant competition, it meant domination, and ultimately it meant conquest. Every sales call was a win/lose proposition. If you weren’t first you were last.
“Second prize is a pair of steak knives. You know what third place is? Third place is ‘You’re fired!’”
If you are in sales then I am sure you know the reference. This was an old school mentality. As I continued to climb the ‘corporate ladder’ over the next 4 years I witnessed more and more of this style of “leadership”.
I knew in my gut that it was wrong. I knew in my core that there had to be a better way. Yet everyday I strove to play the game as it had been taught to me. I sought to earn approval from my peers and those in positions of power. That started to change when my two bosses eventually went to jail for what turned out to be one of the largest Ponzi schemes in the history of the province. That however is a tale for another day.
When I eventually founded my own firm I still took many of those “leadership traits” with me. The heavy handed approach was never my style yet there was still a longing to fit in. I sought to fit in with the leadership crowd that valued profit over people, that valued dominance and power. I really wrestled with owning my own “style” of leadership. There weren’t any solid alternate examples in my universe.
I could never fully embrace that hyper masculine leadership style but still never really took ownership of my own “style”. This mixed up, quasi hybrid version of leadership that I ended up employing led to material “success” for sure.
However, it ultimately came with a cost. The price I, and many like me, pay is that of isolation, disconnection and feelings of inadequacy. Constantly questioning your own self worth is fucking exhausting. The truth is that it cost me my marriage and fractured many relationships along the way.
Over a decade ago I made the decision to stop setting goals. Instead I shifted to a framework of setting values first, then intentions and finally milestones. One of my intentions this year is to be BOLD. This one is not always easy as I struggle to balance that with the value of humility. However the message is much more important than the messenger. This intention is why I share this with you today.
I am on a mission to teach men the power of vulnerability, connection and empathy in leadership. I long for men to experience the value of deep connection while recognizing the ongoing cost of the patriarchy to themselves and their families.
If you are anything like me then the word patriarchy is a little bit triggering. I still flinch as I write it today. The word ‘patriarchy’ often brings up a lot of guilt, shame, defensiveness and even anger. This is why it is all the more important to explore in the context of leadership. There are many scholarly articles that explore the patriarchy much better than I could ever articulate so I won’t try to here though I suspect this may be a topic of a future article.
For now let me leave you with the reason I am so passionate about teaching men the art of emotionally connecting with self and others.
Emotionally connected men make better leaders.
- They make better partners/spouses.
- They make better fathers.
- They are secure in who they are and are not afraid to elevate those around them.
- They create cultures of safety, transparency and trust.
- They are champions for diversity, equity and inclusion.
- They seek help when needed and value curiosity over judgement.
This became very personal to me when my girlfriend was murdered in 2015 by an ex-boyfriend. It was then I also recognized that emotionally connected men do not kill people. They do not kill themselves. They do not seek to do harm in the world.
Emotional disconnection is the number one threat facing humanity today. As leaders we have an opportunity, dare I say obligation, to change that. My hope is that this article will at the very least have you examine your own personal leadership philosophy. At best it will challenge you to sit down and write out what your own personal leadership philosophy is. It will prompt you to get very clear on what your leadership philosophy and style is.
Are you able to articulate it?
I know for me, the first time I was asked this question in a podcast interview it really caught me off guard. I was dismayed to find it very difficult to articulate. If you take the time to sit down with intention and really think about what you believe around leadership you can start to challenge those beliefs and ensure that they are actually aligned with the kind of man that you strive to be.
If we haven’t met yet, my name is Mike Cameron and I am a work in progress. I have learned many lessons through my leadership journey and I thrive on helping others become more impactful, purposeful and intentional leaders.
If you would like to be notified of future articles please consider subscribing to my community mailing list. If you would like to talk about really defining your leadership philosophy let’s chat. Book a time with me here.