C-Suite Agenda

Workplaces Are Designed for “Alpha Males.” It’s Time to Change It. Here’s How.

Let’s face it. Workplaces revolve around alpha males.

Most large organizations have been created over the decades by men for men. This shows up in all sorts of work practices, such as the qualities that are looked for in recruitment, the way power is measured, the way meetings are run, how feedback is given, and so forth—all of the practices that combine to form the culture of the place we call work.

In order to get ahead, many women are expected to be the best men they can be. And men whose brains are both male and female are expected to behave in more alpha-male ways.

Clearly, this doesn’t create the ideal conditions for the brains of these women and men to thrive. Being good corporate citizens, they will do their best, of course. But they aren’t able to give the best of themselves. A good deal of their energy goes into being what is required, not maximizing who they are. And that’s a loss to organizations.

The best organizations set out to harness the best of all the brains in the business. Getting the best of the most male brain in the building all the way through to the most female brain not only makes for better performance—it creates an environment where people willingly give it their all. That’s a priceless competitive advantage.

So how do you get there? Here are two ways to start:

  1. Give every brain airtime. The left and right hemispheres in female brains are highly connected. This interconnection between analytical and intuitive processing (including gut feelings) means women are more likely to take a broad, multidimensional approach to almost everything. Women will analyze the many facets of the problem at hand—and how these problems relate to other issues—which can make them appear slower in moving an action forward.
    This iterative, intuitive process can frustrate a more male-brained man. Defining the world in a male way, he finds it inefficient and verbose, especially when his brain can see his highly direct route to fixing the problem. A man has a greater drive to “fix it now.” After all, this is business, isn’t it? We’ve found the mammoth and cornered it; let’s just kill it!
    As a leader, you need to give both strategies ample airtime. Understanding these male-female brain approaches, especially under pressure, can save a situation and strengthen productivity.
  2. Remodel your meetings. Research reveals that most company meetings are 30 to 40 percent less productive than they could be. Why is this?
    The main culprit is the combination of company culture and the meeting format. In my experience (and it’s long and varied), it’s rare that leaders actively seek out the opinions of all the people in the meeting. They want to get to solutions too fast.
    In most meetings, people rarely get the proper time and space to express their opinions and be deeply listened to as they do so. Meetings are too often focused on speed and getting through an agenda. Leaders and managers set a tone of transactional efficiency, rather than an open space where minds can meet and reflect together.

To fix this, utilize the 4C meeting model:

Connect first. Checking in and asking how your people are feeling may sound time-consuming, but, in my experience, it’s the best investment of time for the whole meeting.

Our limbic system settles down when we feel safe. Connecting with all the brains in a meeting before the substance of the meeting starts allows participants to be fully present and ready to contribute.

Engage with compassion. As humans, we can sense when someone is judging us. And we can feel when we are genuinely heard. Both situations create a neurochemical response.

When people feel judged, cortisol and adrenaline turn on the “survive” response—and people shut down. But when someone feels validated and valued, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine create a “thrive” response instead, which increases learning and the capacity to contribute.

Be curious. Curiosity is king—or queen. Ask each brain in the room for thoughts and opinions. Be curious. If a person is in the meeting, there must be a point in them being there, right? If not, your meeting structures really do need refreshing. A diversity of views makes for better business decisions.

Relinquish control. As your people share what’s going on in their brains, give them the power to express their thoughts fully. People need time to think and time to speak. Allow them to control their own air time so they won’t be interrupted.

Creating the conditions for all the brains in your business to come to the party—and be asked to dance—will improve your business performance observably. Try it. It’s a proven fact.

Written by Kate Lanz, author of All the Brains in the Business: The Engendered Brain in the 21st Century Organisation. Paul Brown is an independent consulting psychologist and professor of organizational neuroscience. He is the co-author of All the Brains in the Business: The Engendered Brain in the 21st Century Organisation.
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Kate Lanz
Kate Lanz is the founder and CEO of Mindbridge, a UK-based global leadership company specializing in the power of modern neuroscience and releasing latent brain potential. She is the lead author of All the Brains in the Business: The Engendered Brain in the 21st Century Organisation. Kate Lanz is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn.