Mar 15

SXSW: Femininity x Leadership = The Future


By Jordan Ho

You’ve no doubt heard lots about what went down at SXSW. There’s already been a lot written about Elon Musk, Shaq, Rachel Maddow, Al Gore, Google Glasses (or the lack thereof), Uber Lux, Vine, big Brands, and of course the parties. But SXSW is very much about serendipity. In this case, I’m talking about finding a session that didn’t get a lot of hype but has continued to rattle around in my head since the fog of SXSW has cleared.

Anyone who cares about leadership should learn more about “The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like them) will Rule the Future.” The soon-to-be-released book, authored by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio (along with a friend of mine, Amy Choi) studied people around the world and discovered that feminine traits are more highly correlated to leadership than masculine terms.

The researchers and authors surveyed 64,000 people in 26 cities across 13 countries all over the world. In the first study, they surveyed 32,000 people and, along with other questions about the state of the world today, had them classify 125 different human traits as masculine, feminine, or neither. Subsequently, in the other study, the same behavioral traits were presented to the other half of the sample. These people were asked instead to rate the importance of each trait on leadership, success, morality, and happiness.

The two studies were then statistically modeled out to see how feminine and masculine traits related to leadership. A strong consensus emerged on both what traits are feminine vs. masculine, and which of those traits are more vital to leadership.



Some important points and direct quotes from the authors:


  • Most innovative leaders are breaking away from traditional structures to be more flexible, collaborative, and nurturing. Both men and women are adopting this style, which emphasizes cooperation, long-term thinking, and flexibility.


  • “People see expressive leaders, who share feelings more openly and honestly as well as have the patience and reasoning to break gridlock. The more masculine qualities like decisiveness and resilience are important, but so is being flexible in order to build consensus and get things done.”


  • Masculine traits like aggression and independence trail the feminine values of collaboration and sharing credit.


  • “Also, being loyal (which is feminine) is more valued as a leadership trait than being proud (which is masculine), which points to being devoted to the cause, rather than one’s self. And that we want our leaders to be more intuitive (also feminine) speaks to the lack of many leaders to have the capacity to relate to ordinary people and their points of view.”


So, what does Athena Leadership look like?


More Flexibility. Less Pride. 

Don’t take it personally:

Being a good leader requires you to know that you will fail. Probably every day in some way. The ability to ignore your own pride and be flexible to change when something you thought was right and spent time working on fails is the sign of a truly forward thinking leader.


More Patience. Less Aggression.

Working together can be hard:

Collaboration is not just doing stuff together. It’s when the end result is actually more than the sum of its parts. Getting there effectively requires that you hear and understand other perspectives (co-workers, customers, future customers) and not just push your own. It also requires patience as you bring people with different personalities together. Really, it’s about the long term benefit vs. short term pain.


More Empathy. More Passion.

Motivation through fear sucks:

Keeping teams focused and engaged when things get crazy requires that you show you’re also personally invested in what’s going on and empathize with those who are working on the issues at hand. When you can communicate your passion to everyone, it helps everyone believe in the mission of the team or company.


To be a successful leader, entrepreneur, innovator, and collaborator, you will need to embrace these traits or risk being a leader who has lost touch with how to lead. To be clear, it’s not men vs. women. Your gender is who you are; the Athena Doctrine highlights what you can be or how you go about leading.



Jordan Ho is a digital strategist at Zócalo Group.  Follow him on Twitter at @sneakstar. Zócalo Group is an award-winning word-of-mouth, social and digital marketing agency focused on one thing: To help our clients become the most talked about, recommended and chosen brands in their category.