Male or Macho: The Stong Leader

I’ll begin this post with an open confession. My biggest, longest-standing struggle over my decades of life has been…becoming a man.

Being a male is a (roughly) 50-50 genetic toss-up. Being a man is a lifelong pursuit.

I believe masculinity is a very real, very crucial element to the health of families and societies. I believe in strong leadership as a positive good. I actively dislike the notion that is put forth (blatantly or sub-rosa) by many – that feminine traits are the answer to all the world’s problems, and that if only men would act more like women, we’d all get along.

Frankly, that’s crap. Men need to be real men; not women, and not exaggerated caricatures of men. Which is what I think the macho male image is.

In tonight’s #LeadershipChat on Twitter (8 pm ET – join us!), we’ll discuss the place of the macho male persona in business leadership. And, since one of our biggest challenges in every chat is semantics (what does this word mean?), let me try to define how I distinguish between real male strength, and an exaggerated version:

  • A real man is strong  and courageous in the face of opposition. A macho man is reckless.
  • A real man competes honorably to win. A macho man is compelled to aggressively conquer and dominate.
  • A real man treats (all) others with respect. A macho man only respects other macho men – the rest are there to abuse and exploit.
  • A real man exercises self-control. A macho man must control others.

In other words, a real man knows who he is and doesn’t have to prove himself. A macho man is perpetually seeking to do so, and the means is aggressive, win-lose dominance (physically, verbally, sexually, whatever). For a woman’s perspective on this issue, read my LeadershipChat co-moderator Lisa Petrilli’s post from yesterday (No Bull-Riding: Why Macho Men make Terrible Business Leaders).

I think people can be drawn to elevate macho types into positions of leadership because they are results-oriented. They get things done. People are a means to an end, or obstacles to be plowed out of the way. Now, let me make a careful distinction here – there are places where hyper-masculinized leadership is not only tolerable, but necessary (think of the field of battle, or a football middle linebacker). Fighting terrorists, or taking Iwo Jima – give me a Jack Bauer or a Sgt. Stryker (John Wayne) any day of the week! But in the boardroom or the meeting room? – maybe not so much.

Of course, it is true that business is about winning, about results, about team pursuit of goals. But we’re leading multiple types of people into a very different kind of battlefield, not trying to motivate a bunch of fellow warriors to overrun enemy trenches. Strong, masculine leadership is desirable, but hyper-masculinized leadership in business may pose serious problems over the long haul.

It’s enough to prove yourself to be an honorable, controlled, respectful, aggressive, strong man. Men need to tone themselves down or ratchet themselves up to get there. But any insecure fool can trample others to try to fake it.


Now, I’d like to point out something that irks me, based on a news article spotted this morning. In this piece from the Wall Street Journal (please read it to get the tone), a hyper-aggressive macho-type woman is fawned over as some kind of model leader. Think for a minute – how would this have been portrayed, if it was a male who said, “It’s only (wo)men that I strip and flip. My companies I hold long and close to my heart.” If it was a man‘s office described with, say, stuffed moose heads on the wall and pictures in macho poses? If a man‘s gladiator or Rocky-like wardrobe was described in glowing terms like this gal’s “all-woman” who is “faithful to her inner truth” aggressive and provocative outfits?

Any male leader like this would be ripped to shreds as some kind of bizarro macho misogynist. Do you see the double-standard here?

If we’re going to talk about unhealthy, exaggerated characteristics that are demeaning to others, what do we make of this when it is not applied to both genders? What’s good for the moose is good for the (other) gender, I say! ;>}

(if you haven’t yet taken a seat at the #LeadershipChat table, please join us. One very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat; or by creating a column with the #LeadershipChat hashtag in a Twitter client like TweetDeck. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions.).


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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

One Response to Male or Macho: The Stong Leader

  1. When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of an article I read in the WSJ last week – “To dress well, a woman should dress like a man”

    I will be interested to discuss this one tonight – I have a feeling there are going to be more than a couple heated feelings about it 😉

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