Laser vs Radar: Do Women Downplay Their Strengths to Get Ahead?

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In our efforts to be politically correct about gender, are we glossing over the richness and benefits of our differences? By Camille Preston (Founder & CEO, AIM Leadership)

I believe that men and women are fundamentally different. (Gasp.) We are built differently, we are wired differently, we learn differently, and we are acculturated differently. And, we provide different benefits to the world. Skeptical?  Did you know that when women multitask their IQ drops by five points, but when men multitask their IQ drops by 15 points.?

In all our well-fought initiatives to promote equality, have we neutralized our unique strengths?  Have we minimized our value?   Have we diluted the benefits of diversity?

To paraphrase Sally Helgesen in a 2010 Leadership Excellence article, men are like lasers, women are like radars.

Of course, men and women can operate in both capacities.  And, any strengths overused become weaknesses for both genders.

The oft celebrated laser like focus of masculine energy narrows decisions, simplifies data and delivers results. However, this laser focus can be short term, can overlook relevant information and can result in significant costs. In contrast, feminine energy is more fluid, creative, and intuitive.  Like a radar, feminine energy scans the environment, absorbs diverse information, links current information to past similar information, and generates more questions. Overused, radar detection can take in too much information, such that prioritization and filtering information becomes challenging.

Everyone has both masculine and feminine qualities. We can be creative, as well as execute on results. There are times when laser-like focus on execution is essential. At other times, we need radars to ensure that we are considering all the relevant information. Individuals need to have both.  And, even more essential we need men and women at all levels of the organization to be able to access these qualities within themselves, and to choose when to utilize them.

Today, because we are so focused on the bottom line, workplace "success" can be reduced to results.

  • Are women who leverage their "radar capabilities" considered “too slow or indecisive”?
  • Are women who over-utilize their "laser capabilities" considered "too tough?"
  • Are these "successful" women over-compensating, adapting to a hyper-masculine results oriented work place?
  • Has corporate America conditioned women that to be successful, you have to be more "laser" or more "masculine"?

And, if so, at what cost?

I believe that not only are "feminine" radar-like skills becoming more important, soon they will be vital.

Business is changing.  We operate in a virtual world that is faster, with more moving parts, and where collaborators are less familiar with each other.  In this virtual world, women’s innate radar-like strengths - their capacity to scan environments, to tune into emotions, to intuit opportunities - are particularly valuable.  The more virtual collaborations there are, the more powerful and important it becomes for leaders to be able to see the forest (radar) and the trees (laser), and for the more well-positioned women to excel.

Women 2.0 readers: Do women have to downplay their femininity to get ahead?

camille-bio-260About the guest blogger: Camille Preston is the Founder and CEO of AIM Leadership, a coaching and training company focused on improving individual, team, and organizational effectiveness by developing leadership capabilities from the inside out. She serves as an adviser, guest speaker, and mentor for Compass Partners, a nonprofit collegiate organization that helps develop responsible entrepreneurs. Camille holds a BA from Williams College and a PhD in Psychology from the University of Virginia. Photo credit: FortGirl via Flickr