AthenaDoctrineOver July and August, I’m reviewing some books that inspire our approach to how we work together –big ideas that help us understand why we should seriously think about the skills we need to develop for collaborative working.

The first in the series is “The Athena Doctrine: how women (and the men who think like them) will rule the future” by John Gerzema & Michael D’Antonio.

The big idea

John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio believe that, in an increasingly globalised, fast-paced and super-connected world, the future of successful leadership lies in the qualities and characteristics more commonly associated with women – cooperation, communication and sharing. They undertook research across thirteen nations, to identify the attributes that individuals viewed as typically feminine and masculine.

Two-thirds of their 64,000 survey respondents agreed with their thesis, and Gerzema & D’Antonio called this the Athena model, inspired by the Greek Goddess who was “venerated for her intelligence, skill, civilising influence and fairness”. The authors then travelled the world to gather stories of leaders and entrepreneurs, both women and men, who displayed these qualities.

The main principles

From the list of 70 leadership characteristics that were categorized as typically feminine, the authors identified nine key virtues that sum up the Athena-style of leadership: connectedness, humility, candor, patience, empathy, trustworthiness, openness, flexibility, vulnerability and balance (see the full list of masculine and feminine traits- .pdf)

Gerzema and D’Antonio found organisations and projects that have made a great impact, headed up by people that display these attributes. The ventures were often those that involved the community, looked to address a wider societal challenge, and made use of networks. There were projects which demonstrated innovative responses to the financial collapse, and those that have helped to rebuild cities and communities.  Examples include:

  • In the UK: Zopa – an online peer-to-peer lending portal which offers more favourable terms on loans than traditional lenders, explaining fees in plain English
  • In Japan: Motherhouse – a fashion accessory store that produces high-quality fair trade goods by providing fair employment opportunities to workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • In Kenya: M-Pesa – a mobile payment technology which enables farmers to make transactions without fear of being robbed

You might recognise these as social enterprises, and indeed many of the examples throughout the book are. The authors focus on the mind-set needed to set up and run organisations like these – ethical and holistic, emphasising long-term thinking over short-term gain.

And… for collaboration?

Although “collaboration” is described as a gender-neutral attribute in the original research, it appears in many case studies as a vital element of the Athena-style of leadership. There are regular mentions of bringing together diverse minds, less individualistic behaviour, and the importance of teamwork – all key elements of effective collaboration. Efrat Duvdevani, director general to the Israeli president, explains how she champions this approach:

 “Today the workforce requires excellence and an ability to combine different fields, to work together and to put ego aside. My approach to management is based upon cooperation, brainstorming together and getting everybody’s input; it is an approach built for the complex environment in which we operate. The traits needed for this approach to work shine through with women”.

The sense is that these leaders, particularly younger generations, recognise that they need to build passionate networks and teams because “they can accomplish really great things only by working together”, and that this takes a specific leadership style and skillset.

Key takeaways

The Athena Doctrine champions many of the interpersonal skills that often get overlooked because they are intangible and hard to quantify, but present some good examples where emphasis on them has led to considerable success (where ‘success’ does not only mean financial gain). It’s clear that the Athena-style of leadership forms the fabric of a new approach to business that will become increasingly more important.

It’s certainly positive to be championing for more women in leadership roles, and for the value of men learning from them. It would be ideal to eventually see the skills described in The Athena Doctrine naturally appreciated at the same level of importance as those (or more) that we traditionally associate with business – there is a place for both. As Yosh Kanematsu, CEO of Japanese web-based magazine Greenz states:

 “A good life is both chikara, which means ‘power’, and ai, which means ‘love’. The masculine side likes to deliver on its promises and push forward, with tunnel vision. The feminine side is more inclusive and comprehensive in its view.  It is strong, but it is also perceptive and considerate”.