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Engaged HR is pleased to welcome guest blogger and DisruptHR speaker Karen Serblowski, Health, Safety, Organizational Development Manager with the Electrical Safety Authority in Ontario. Karen’s blog outlines her talk “The Men’s Leadership Crisis…Who Run this Motha?” at DisruptHR 2.0 with the full length video available below. 

The term “hitting the glass ceiling” is solely associated with women’s careers. So, what if I told you that men are hitting a glass ceiling of their own?

There is compelling evidence to show that this is, in fact, happening. Research is showing that men as a group are lacking in a key area of emotional intelligence – Empathy. The leadership style men have often cultivated is antiquated, and is holding them back from become stellar leaders.

Whether we would like to admit it or not, men as a group are getting left behind. Let me explain why I think this is happening.

We need to change the conversation, from “Man Up!” to “OPEN UP”! Twitter_logo_blue

The focus on empowering and lifting up one gender

Society has become hyper-focused on women’s empowerment, so much so that we are floundering when it comes to empowering men on a deeper level for their personal and professional growth. Men may dominate the ranks of C-suite and boardroom tables, but we all know that this façade of outward power has nothing to do with real power, which is the power organizations require to excel.

Our tunnel vision of exclusively focusing on “How do we lift up women?” has caused us to fail to include men’s development needs in the equation.

Who run this Motha? The qualities of stellar leaders

For many years now, emotional intelligence has been accepted as one of the critical determining factors influencing leadership success. Women and men are fairly well-matched in emotional intelligence scores, with the exception of empathy – where women score higher.

Women are naturally emerging as the organizational leaders of the future. In a study published by Harvard Business Review, women outscore men on 12 of 16 competencies that top leaders exemplify most.

Why empathic and compassionate leadership is essential

The nature of leadership is shifting, placing a greater emphasis on building and maintaining relationships and on social intelligence, which includes empathy.

Empathy and caring connection build a safe place to learn, take risks, and make mistakes. It is linked to psychological safety on a team, which in a monumental study by Google showed was a top predicator of high performing teams.

You NEED empathy to get the best out of your people.

Bridging the Gap

Men have been socialized to toughen up, and because of this they have what I call an “Empathy Gap”. Men have had to wear an emotional mask and lock down a powerful and meaningful side of themselves. Men are hiding natural emotions, primarily around what society categorizes as feminine – fear, sadness, empathy, and compassion.

The good news is that empathy is a skill that can be taught. We need to help men bridge the gap from logic to emotion, essentially building emotional capital. There IS business value in connecting on a deeper level, so let’s move beyond weather and sports.

We need to change the conversation, from “Man Up!” to “OPEN UP”!

We need to create organizational cultures where it is safe for men to be vulnerable.

I want to end with three simple take-aways:

1. Women: Revere your ability to be empathic. Empathy is a leadership skill set, not a disability. A leader who can leverage social intelligence has a tremendous competitive advantage.

2. Men: Embrace your emotional side. Emotions are just electrical impulses moving through the emotion centre of your brain (limbic system). You don’t have to fear them.

3. Organizations: Acknowledge that empathetic leaders are an asset. Review your leadership programs and make radical changes. Talk about empathy, teach listening skills, encourage perspective-taking, and cultivate compassion.

Make it a revolution of human relationships.

Learn more with Karen’s 5 minute DisruptHR Talk “The Men’s Leadership Crisis…Who Run this Motha?”.

Disclaimer: All content provided in this blog is the opinions expressed by the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of Engaged HR.


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