Looking at how male vs. female psyche works, there is no doubt they are different. In fact, a popular analogy to describe these differences is “Men are like Waffles and Woman are like Spaghetti.” Coined by bestselling authors – Bill and Pam Farrel, their analogy provides imagery of how men create boundaries around issues and areas of life, where woman approach decision making and life like a plate of spaghetti – no defined boundaries and one issue can blend into another.

Often, the discussion around differences between men and woman are focused around dating and building strong marriages; however, as a succession consultant – of sorts, I’ve had countless experiences observing just the opposite. Men and woman pit these differences against each other in the workplace – especially in the family business environment where loved ones become partners and emotions run high.

Having the chance to visit with Loyd last month, we recounted some experiences within leadership teams where managers were falling back on stereotypical gender roles as a scapegoat to dysfunctional communication, collaboration, family harmony and underwhelming performance. Loyd had promised he would check back in with me when he had a free moment, and he did not disappoint. My office line rang and I answered to a voice on the other end that was familiar, but with no pleasantries, just this question:

“How do you coach men/woman to move beyond stereotypical scapegoat judgements to build trust and collaborative teams?”

Of course I chuckled at first – the ol’ stereo-type of men over compartmentalize and woman are easily dismissed as being over emotional. Loyd enjoys trying to catch me off guard in hopes that he will see a little crack. What he was really asking me was a varied version of how we left our discussion last month, just Loydified. In my normal pattern, without a pause, my response was simple,

“Business is business, emotion is emotion, take the touchy feely out of it and focus on the real problem.”

Men/woman we are different and that is o.k. As team members and a society, we need to recognize those differences and lift them up as strengths – not shut down, dismiss, or cut down one another because it is different than one another’s genetic make-up or communication style. Get over the mutual bias, stereotypes are boring and create limits – see beyond gender and be team members. One is not better than the other – just different – and together can create the strongest bond and team towards generating results. Both sides can do something to be more tolerant and adjust to each other’s natural communication style.

To be fair, I know that my response was a little abrupt, but the point of it was to start a dialogue focused on the business aspects versus going into a rabbit hole of how men and woman are different – because we are! Simply, from a coaching perspective, the goals should be to become aware of our strengths, understand our differences and practice teamwork to support each other towards the common goal. Based upon our genetic make-up, men have a strong tendency to focus on the bottom line, take action and be objective; on the opposite side, woman are more intuitive, considering the emotional, business, and social impacts of decisions. Likewise, when out of the office, the gender is known for being able to “turn it off”, although not a perfect science, they are able to do it much easier than a woman. Do you see how the puzzle pieces can create a great team if we learn how to support and leverage our strengths?

Here is the truth. Both men and woman are emotional analytical beings. However, our societal norms influence our behavior to believe if a woman is strong and decisive, removing the emotion from the situation, then they are simply being inflexible and difficult. And, if a man shows emotion, he fears he could lose respect and power.

As I considered my initial response to Loyd’s question, I felt it important to digress a bit more to offer additional depth to my initial knee jerk reaction:

Loyd, whether we are working with a man or a woman in the business, the special sauce of success is passion. However, passion without control is an emotional dump that makes everyone wish they were somewhere else, and I’ve seen both men and woman guilty of this behavior.

To lead or manage you must care; and to intensely and consistently care is to be passionate. It’s that passion that gets someone to work early, keeps them late, maintains their focus and bonds them to the business and their management team. When you intensely and consistently care, everyone around you gets it, everyone around you understands that if they don’t care they are going to be exposed.

Whereas passion motivates, fanatical inconsistent emotional dumps distract, intimidate and even scare those around you. The key is understanding who you are, passionate or uncontrollably emotional. Do you need to avoid the dumps or dial up or down the intensity? Passion is what you want; in fact you’ve got to have it because in light of the challenges, passion is the only pathway to success and succession.

As Loyd and I talked through this scenario, we remembered a few clients with whom we had partnered to address very similar issues. Essentially it boiled down to coaching them, collectively, on their roles in the business and how to leverage their natural born strengths and recognizing areas in their communication patterns that could be enhanced – i.e. listening and providing bottom line scenarios to collaborate over. This involved clearly communicating, to each of them together, what was expected of them, what the future looked like for them, and in turn, what management was going to do to help enable them to view each other as peers. In addition to these ongoing dialogues, we consulted on the development of healthy and proper boundaries to be used both when at work, and when out of work. The critical part here was making sure they understood and embraced that boundaries are a very healthy, normal, and when applied correctly, successful tool in strengthening relationships. 

We also worked to create integration meetings whereby the siblings worked together on a variety of strategic projects that directly impact the sustainability of their business. This helped to place them on the same playing field, regardless of their individual roles in the business, therefore empowering them to believe that they were both equally vital to the future of the company.

To sum it up, an hour later, Loyd let out a little chuckle of his own and reiterated something I had said to him at the beginning of the call, “Business is business, emotion is emotion. Take the touchy feely out of it, and focus on the real problem.”

We both took a big sigh and celebrated a small victory in working through some diversity as we realized we have helped clients through a challenging situation. As we wrapped up the call, Loyd did have to do what he does best. He threw out one last zinger, “But what if the siblings in business together are not willing to recognize each other’s strengths/weaknesses, respect each other’s contributions and put in the work to build strong partnerships?” He followed that up with, “Think on that one Doc, and let me know!”

Thanks Loyd! We will tackle that one next month!

Don’t forget, if you have a mind-boggling question for Dr. Merlot, please don’t hesitate to ask: drmerlot@rawlsgroup.com


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