Lead Like A Goddess: “The Athena Doctrine”

The moment I finished readingThe Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, I wanted to stand up, cheer and find friends to form a human pyramid.

This isn’t about gender wars. It transcends gender. It’s about changing our perspectives. It’s about becoming stronger leaders, and creating 21st century communities and businesses that are more transparent, collaborative, and productive.

Published this year, The Athena Doctrine has quickly received high acclaim and just debuted at #2 on the New York Times’ Best Sellers list. Its authors and the study’s results have been featured on TEDx talk, Huffington Post Women, NPR and The Daily Beast. It’s easy to see why—the book’s data contains a fresh viewpoint on the transitioning of global gender perceptions.

The authors, John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, formed a team of seven to travel the planet (thirteen nations) and survey 64,000 people. They collected details on how people perceive masculine and feminine traits, and of those traits, which ones they felt made a strong leader. The conclusion they discovered is remarkable and powerful.

You ready for this? Get ready to cheer. . .

According to their objective study, two-thirds believe our world would be a better place if men in leadership exhibited more attributes perceived as “feminine”, such as compassion, humility, flexibility, loyalty and patience. YES, HONEY CHILD. Many surveyed also felt “feminine thinking” was crucial for an optimistic future – one that would be defined by more trust and less conflict.

This information was collected from a balanced ratio of men and women in the US, Canada, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, the UK, Indonesia, South Korea, France, Germany and Chile. Several of these countries have a long history of patriarchal societies where women, and traits that are regarded as “feminine”, have historically been devalued and considered inferior in terms of leadership skills.

The book contains a wealth of hard-core data to support its message; I’m not able to encapsulate it all, so I HIGHLY recommend everyone pick up or download a copy.

According to The Athena Doctrine, the paradigm has shifted due to many factors, including increasing cynicism and distrust of traditional business practices, in addition to the progressive views of Millennials in each country.

The message is clear: There is a cultural revolution taking place that is fueled by a global hunger for positive change, innovation, and balance.

Again, this book does not elevate one gender above another. On the contrary, it’s helping break down the partition that so often segregates and assigns the traits of a great human being into gender-spheres. On a broader scale, the study dismisses bias, consequently promoting equality for women on an international level. Pretty amazing.

I had the honor of discussing The Athena Doctrine in-depth with one of its authors, John Gerzema, and journalist Amy S. Choi, who contributed to the global study for book.

Hi, John. You titled the book The Athena Doctrine. Why Athena?  

There are two sides to Athena that we thought was fitting to our book. One, she was the goddess of war, who preferred wisdom to resolve conflict. Similarly, the innovative people we met were attacking seemingly intractable problems by being flexible, collaborative and nurturing.  They didn’t play to the conventions of success through aggression, command and control. Yet like Athena, they were no less ‘fierce’.

What inspired the research for the book?

Denise Morrison, the CEO of Campbell’s, was hosting a mentoring event for young women and asked me to speak. And the room was filled with all of this positive energy of nurturing and collaboration. And it occurred to me you probably couldn’t put sixty men into a room like this and get the same result. I realized that I had spent my entire career working for women (and one man who thought like one). The first true ‘man’ boss I had was when I was 46 and it was a complete shock!

What would you say to critics who argue referring to these characteristics as “feminine” is only perpetuating a gender division?

John: Women and girls get these signals from society that the way they think is somehow less important, when the exact opposite is the case. We’re saying that “feminine” values don’t belong to one gender – they are a form of innovation and competitive advantage inside us all. In our surveys, 81% of peo­ple said that man or woman, you need both masculine and feminine traits to thrive in today’s world.

Amy: I echo what John says. Also, we want to make it clear that we’re not saying that women are “born this way” or that they are “naturally” more empathetic or open. Rather, these are skills that have been traditionally segregated or labeled as part of women’s domain, and thus have been historically undervalued. When in truth, being “feminine” actually make all people more human, and helps them become the best version of themselves.

Are you concerned cultures and businesses will just adopt “feminine” characteristics while not directly valuing women in the workplace? (i.e. increase in higher-paid positions, salary, etc.)

Amy: Yes, it’s always a concern. But we’re here to demonstrate — and advocate for — a change in culture, both within the workplace and without. We believe both male and female thinking is inherently valuable. But The Athena Doctrine is not panacea for all of the structural issues and changes that need to take place to achieve true equality for women and girls.

Our goal is that with this book we can partner with organizations that can attack these problems from all directions, from top to bottom, CEOs to grassroots organizers, from left, right, and center. Creating a fair world will require participation from everybody.

John: I’d add that we advocate for women and girls when men model their behavior. Based on our data and interviews, feminine values drive results. They are an untapped form of competitive advantage. And as corporations, governments and society realize this, we’ll have more promotions of women into senior positions and more men treating women and themselves with greater respect.

What surprised you the most about this study?

John: I think that the world clamors for more humanity in business, politics and society and that many of the most innovative men and women we met around the world were leading (and thriving) by being vulnerable, empathetic and collaborative. These are traits that people in our global surveys (not us) described as more traditionally ‘feminine’. Amy, what do you think?

Amy: I was thrilled to find out how universal these ideas were, whether we were in China or Peru or Israel. Certainly, not everybody in every country we traveled to believe in the Athena Doctrine, otherwise there’d be no paradigm that we were pushing against! But among the change-makers and social entrepreneurs and great leaders, embracing feminine traits was an obvious, common sense choice.

How do you think we, on a community level, can help foster the appreciation of feminine traits?

Amy: I think Hello Giggles is already doing it! We interviewed extraordinary people launching truly life-changing businesses and non-profits around the world. But equally important to do is to live Athena on a daily, human basis. If you have the opportunity to be kind instead of rude, do it! Reward empathy instead of considering it a weakness. Be transparent and embrace that as a strong communication tactic, not worry about it as a weakness for somebody to exploit. Be both the masculine and feminine side of yourself, and demonstrate to others how these are desirable qualities. The rest follows.

John: Many of the amazing Athena leaders we met around the world were running small community projects, NGO’s and other companies that relied on sharing, empathy and collaboration. They were changing the world with small and patient projects. In Kenya, we met Rose Goslinga, from Kilimo Salama, who is helping small-scale farmers get access to affordable crop insurance through inexpensive automated weather stations that measured wind, rainfall and temperatures and pay out claims via text payments through M-Pesa. In 2013, enrollment in the program is expected to reach twelve thousand small farmers. Starting programs like this is something everyone can do.

Finally, what is the one message you want “The Athena Doctrine” to convey to your readers?

Amy: Gender rules don’t apply to the modern world. Be human.

John: Feminine values are the operating system of the twenty-first century.

You can read more from John and Amy on Twitter: @johngerzema and @awesomechoi

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