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All genders try to be macho

ITM's Ulrika Georgsson about TRYING TO BE herself at work

Business man in the dark, from behind.
Photo: Drew Hays on Unsplash
Published Nov 13, 2020

When was the last time you were genuinely interested in a colleague's ideas? And can you be yourself at work? Maybe strange questions, but crucial for your wellbeing and performance at work.

"It's not just men who are macho”, says Ulrika Sedell in the webinar I listen to during lunch. “Many of us have copied the norm from the 18th century industrialism when strength, rigidity and efficiency were ideals for leadership. And for everyone, men as well as women and non-binary, it is important to question these norms in order to feel well, perform at work and create societal change”.

Ulrika Georgsson, Communications Officer and member of one the the school's JML groups

Apparently, many men are hit hard by the macho norm they are born into. Of all Swedes who commit suicide, 7 out of 10 are men *. More boys fail in school than girls do. Why? Sedell, a Behavioral Scientist and one of the authors of the book Manlighetskoden (The code of masculinity), says that one explanation, among others, is the fact that boys have not learned to listen inwards, ask for help and talk about emotions.

Sure, bring up something new, I think spontaneously when I listen to the lecturer's words. As the webinar goes along, I realize that many women fall into the macho trap too. I am also stuck in it. During countless meetings, I have done everything to show a strong facade, and of course had answers to all questions. I have more often wondered how my female colleagues feel than my male ones. And of course I have been rewarded in situations when I have managed myself and solved things on my own.

Like Sedell, I think that is both tiring and inefficient always trying to be perceived as strong and capable. It creates distance in working groups that make cooperation less fruitful. We miss potential innovations because we do not listen to all the people in the room. And in the long run we will have more people who feel mentally ill.

So what does it mean to be yourself at work and break up with the macho ideal? In the book Manlighetskoden, you can read about 16 Swedish leaders who describe occasions when they fell into tears at work or stood up for a colleague, and about how new leadership methods paved the way for a more inclusive work culture. You can also read about the 7 virtues of leadership, which according to the authors can change the personal leadership. Here I just have to suggest a couple of virtues, which you may be able to start following today.

Ask for help

It is so easy to go on and adapt to everything from new corona recommendations to digital tools. So easy to say, "Yes sure, I'll solve it." Harder to admit that you do not understand or have time. Maybe you can start with the question "What do I have to deliver?" and then consider "What do I need to do it?"

Be curious

Someone has an idea at a meeting and you are stressed and does not listen. You think that you already tried so many ideas that usually do not work. Try to meet impressions with curiosity, both impressions from within yourself and from other people. Maybe it will be a little more fun, a little more exciting to respond to the idea with "Tell me more" and "Explain what you mean".

Show compassion

Did you know that your body releases endorphins when you show compassion? The same hormone that makes you alert and happy from sex and exercise. You do not have to bear the actual feeling of your doctoral student's stress before a deadline, but you can show that you care and ask how it feels.

Stand up for yourself and others

We call it civil courage and it is in many ways what gives us the courage to make a change together. React if anyone practices ruler technique on someone else. Take the word back if someone interrupts you at a meeting. Listen to what your personal values ​​tell you to do.

Yes, both you and I are probably a bit macho from time to time. But maybe we can take off the macho costume every now and then and show our true selves. Wow, what a wonderful nude shock it can be!

Text: Ulrika Georgsson
Communications Officer at the ITM School and member of the JML group for Professional Support

On (swe)  you can read more about the 7 virtues and also test if you are macho or authentic.

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