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22 March 2022    |    Blog

Yin-Yang Leadership for a Better World

Before reading any further, take a minute to go to Google Images and enter “Leader” in the search box. Take a few minutes to scroll down through the images: What do you notice? What impressions of leadership do the images give?

You’re probably thinking along the lines of…

  • Mostly white men
  • Very corporate
  • Lots of pointing, arrows, goals, direction
  • Leader is separate or different from the rest of the group
  • Leader is at the front or the top

What does this tell us?  In our culture, leadership is portrayed as being very white, male, heroic, self-reliant, out in front, assertive, or dominant.  And it’s not just Google images – in history, literature, art, and the media, the dominant image of leadership is masculine, white, middle class, heterosexual, and physically able (Collinson, 2011).

People’s perceptions of what leaders should be like are shaped by these portrayals: Leaders adopt these “masculine” behaviours because they think this is how they are supposed to be and followers seek out leaders with these traits (Ford et al., 2008; Ford, 2010).

There is clear evidence that in today’s world the leaders who make a positive difference are those who display “feminine” leadership traits such as humility, compassion, collaboration, understanding, and emotional intelligence, but people don’t generally associate these traits with leadership.

We tend to connect the term masculine with men and feminine with women, but people of all genders and none can display both masculine and feminine behaviours so it’s helpful to talk about Yin (feminine) and Yang (masculine) to avoid assumptions about gender.

If we want to create a world where there is compassion, justice, sustainability and regeneration for people and planet rather than consumption and profit we need leaders across the gender spectrum who create balance and harmony between their Yin and Yang. Charities may be working for the greater good but they still have a long way to go in order to embrace a heart-led leadership style which is built on co-operation, sharing, and empowerment. Charity leaders need to…

  • Reject traditional patriarchal systems built around competition, hierarchy and power
  • Show compassion, heal divisions, and build trust
  • Be self-aware, authentic, humble, and able to show vulnerability
  • Make wise decisions and have the courage to do the right thing

Some steps towards achieving this include…

  • Developing recruitment processes which identify, recognise and value Yin leadership traits and are truly inclusive so that those who display these traits are able to shine.
  • Implementing leadership models, strategies and development programmes which challenge traditional leadership narratives, focus on self-awareness and inner development, and help leaders to balance Yin and Yang.
  • Adopting work practices, rewards systems, structures, and behaviours that reflect, support and promote Yin values and behaviours as well as Yang.
  • Improving leaders’ wellbeing (when people are stressed and burnt out they make short-term rather than long-term decisions and struggle to embrace or generate new ideas and solutions).
  • Encouraging and enabling everyone to be a leader regardless of their job role (leadership as a practice, not a position).

The world needs a shift in how we relate to ourselves, each other and the living Earth, and by developing a regenerative, holistic, heart-led leadership, charities can be at the forefront of this shift.

Nicki Davey, Saltbox Training and Events Ltd