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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Art & Culture

Leading Like a Lioness in the Public Sector Jungle

Does Nature Hold the Key to Effective Female Leadership?

Though it is undeniable that women have made great strides in both the private and public sectors, it is also clear that many still struggle to break into management, or once there, to be respected and effective.

Willing cooperation and productivity from staff is not easy to achieve in the first place, but can be complicated even further by the unique environment of the public sector. Unlike its private counterpart, public sector management is often limited in its motivational tools to maximize productivity and job satisfaction. Promotions and pay raises, the traditional standbys for employee motivation in the private sector, are not similarly available in the public sector, where pay rates are traditionally more static and reflective of an employee’s classification rather than performance.  Beyond the challenges of limited motivational tools, female leaders in the public sector can also face more subtle barriers to management success: the persistent, subtle resistance to women in management, generally, as well as specific resistance when it is believed that a woman unfairly earned her leadership position simply “because” she was a woman.

So, how can women in public sector leadership positions succeed and excel within their departments or units in the face of such obstacles?  How can their staff become inspired, motivated and productive?  And how can female leaders themselves prove their worth, become fulfilled and proud of the work they do?  Surprisingly, it may be Nature herself that holds the answers to effective leadership and empowerment for women!  If we take a step back and acknowledge that human beings are, in truth, part of the Animal World, it encourages us to examine how Mother Nature’s animal leaders and influencers – both male and female — earn respect and cooperation while at the same time maintaining harmony and good will within the group.

Contrary to popular belief, the world is not intentionally prejudiced against women leaders. This would not make logical sense, for time and experience have proven that women are every bit as smart and talented as men.  When we look at the big picture from Nature’s perspective, however, we can see that resistance to accepting women as leaders could have more to do with deeply rooted instincts than reason or logic.  If this is the case, then the solution to overcoming the barriers that women face in leadership roles may lie not in railing against injustice, but in understanding these invisible, instinctive barriers and knowing how to maneuver around and through them.

Whether we realize it or not, humans are still motivated at our deepest level by the same types of instincts that drive and influence our animal cousins.  Most of these instincts are related to survival, which can explain why they are so powerful.  This means that staff instinctively feel things like fear and jealousy and distrust of the new or unfamiliar.  They are influenced subconsciously by the survival instincts that surround self-interest as well as the need for the security that comes from clear and trustworthy leadership that can protect and defend. Learning to harness these instincts and use them to influence others toward specific goals, offers an exciting “new” management strategy, though it is as old as Nature herself.

In Nature, males traditionally occupy the leader positions for purely practical reasons: because of their physical size, strength and ability to defend the group.  Females of the species are generally not in top leadership positions simply because they are not as big and not as physically strong, though they do have their own important spheres of influence within the group.

Understanding that this primal trust in male leadership is the true root of resistance to women in leadership positions, can be instrumental for women charting their path to achieving their prpfessonal goals or being more effective once in a position of power.  Instead of getting angry at the barriers to their leadership or advancement, women can learn from examples of how the smartest females in the Animal World manage to influence, even with similar barriers.

Without the obvious male attributes of size and strength, female leaders can become familiar with the many hidden instincts invisibly pulling the strings of those under their direction and guidance and learn to use them to not only influence staff performance, but understand them better.  This particular skill – understanding at the emotional level – can result in more empathetic management, which in turn can create greater trust and connection between the employee and their superior and all that flows from it, in terms of productivity and cooperation.  In the end, female leaders do not need size or strength or “maleness” to lead, if they tap into the power of influence through instinct.

Here are a few of the most common instincts that can play a role beneath the surface in staff performance and attitude:

  • Avoiding the Unpleasant or Difficult
  • Fear
  • Similarity Attraction
  • Jealousy and Envy
  • Rivalry
  • Classification (Profiling)
  • Hierarchy
  • Curiosity and Secrecy
  • Shyness and Sociability
  • Imitation
  • Desire to be Great, Important or Appreciated

Female animal influencers in Nature do not try to act “male”.  They do not demonstrably throw their weight around or challenge competitors to symbolic duals.  Instead, they rely on what we might call, “quiet power”.  They do not bully or lose their temper.  They are, however, clear in their expectations of others below them in the hierarchy and follow-through on those expectations without apology.  More importantly, however, is that they remain fair, friendly and easy to get along with throughout the process.

Women managers that are struggling to be taken seriously in their human leadership roles, those who may be disrespected by either their staff or their superiors – or both – or are being denied their requests for greater responsibility and higher classifications, might try leading Nature’s way, like a lioness.  If others doubt their abilities, the simplest solution is to prove them wrong by moving forward effectively with a winning plan, borrowed from Nature’s effective leaders and influencers.

  • Be fearless but fair about what you expect from those you oversee.  This confidence positions you as a legitimate leader within the hierarchy.
  • Lay out the benefits of complying with your goals and directives.  This answers the instinctive question in your staff, “What’s in it for me?”, and plays to their basic instinct to choose pleasant over unpleasant.
  • Follow-trough consistently, without fear of being disliked, but avoiding anger or frustration in the process.  Consistency and quiet courage are the hallmarks of Nature’s legitimate and most effective leaders at the top of the hierarchy.  Because of this, your staff are instinctively more likely to trust and respect this consistency and pragmatic fairness than to be upset by it. By contrast, emotional reactivity such as anger or intimidation is not respected in Nature.  In fact, anger and frustration are the hallmarks of weakness.
  • Praise where praise is due and recognize effort and good work.  The instinctive human desire to be great, important or appreciated cannot be overstated.  Take every opportunity to recognize staff members whenever they are exceptional.  This can encourage more of the same.
  • Develop and maintain good relations with your own superior.  Your own superior is more likely to help and advance individuals that they personally like and trust.  Be one of those.
  • Do not complain, blame others or expect that anyone owes you anything.  Nature’s leaders do not succeed because someone owes them something.  They excel because they look forward, not back, and focus on achieving the goals ahead.  Their performance creates their success.

These simple guidelines have been Nature’s proven path to leadership success for millennia.  It is how the lioness can rise and shine as a leader in her own right and how female leaders in the human world can motivate staff to greatness as well as clear the path to their own professional success, even in the public sector jungle.


Written by Camilla Gray-Nelson.
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Camilla Gray-Nelson
Camilla Gray-Nelson, Author, Cracking the Harmony Code: Nature’s Surprising Secrets for Getting Along While Getting Your Way (Double Dove Press; February 24, 2021) has been mentioned in the CEOWORLD magazine's Best Books List. She has spent her life living with and studying animals and their secrets to living together in harmony. With her uncommon perspective, she offers insights into our own Inner Animal and our ability to “influence through instinct,” instead of argument. Camilla Gray-Nelson is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. More information about Camilla can be found here.
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