For this week’s LeadershipChat, Steve Woodruff and I thought it would be fascinating to take a look at the “Macho Man” image and how it relates to leadership today. 

We’re not talking about men or male leaders in general; we’re talking about those who embody the “macho man” persona in their role as leaders.

We’re thinking members of the LeadershipChat Community probably have strong feelings associated with this type of leadership in the business environment – some positive, some negative – depending on whether they’ve experienced it themselves (as I have), and we want to hear and learn from everyone’s perspectives on it.

Well, I decided to do a little research into the formal definition of a “Macho Man” so that we’d all be on the same page for the chat, and came across some “light reading” in the form of an article entitled, “Scripting the Macho Man: Hypermasculine Socialization and Enculturation” from the February, 1988 Journal of Sex Research. (Lucky me!)

By the time I finished reading the 25-page article I was honestly disheartened by most of what I read.  At the same time I do have to say, a lot of business experiences with men exhibiting “macho” personas were put into perspective.

Here are some key points from the article that I believe relate back to the topic of the “Macho Man” and leadership:

  • The “macho personality constellation” as defined by the article consists of belief in (a) entitlement to callous sex, (b) violence as manly, and (c) danger as exciting. I think ‘entitlement’ is a key word here that resonates in other ways with leaders.
  • Masculine affects such as excitement and anger are considered superior whereas feminine affects are not only considered inferior, but the feminine is associated with words like distress and fear (damsel in distress). Thus, can a “macho” leader really respect a female colleague and see her as his equal?
  • The “ideological script of machismo” descends from the ideology of warfare – victor and vanquished, master and slave, head of the house and woman as complement, patriarch and children.   In reading this I started to see how all of this may play out in hierarchical business organizations if enabled.
  • And this quote really struck me: “In his dangerous, adversarial world of scarce resources his violent, sexually callous and dangerous physical acts express his ‘manly’ essence” (and yet the Old Spice Guy expressed it with humor, a well-placed towel and some body wash…!)
  • I harkened back to negotiations I’ve been in that were led by men with a battlefield mentality (e.g. they wanted to “win”) when I read this sentence, “the major dynamic…arises from perceived scarcity and a reliance upon violence to reduce such scarcity by allocating the scarce resources disproportionately to the victors of adversarial contests.”   

And ultimately the gist of the macho man persona is embodied in these points:

  • The ideology of machismo is a warrior’s ideology.  The macho warrior holds dominion over all he has conquered
  • To maintain that dominion, the macho man must be prepared to risk all by acts of great daring.
  • He must compel enemy men to submit through violence, and to dominate female adversaries through callous sex. (Perhaps a relation to how women leaders who begin to grow in power are often brought down by being sexualized in the media?)

Finally, the article states, “Not just a male, and not just masculine, the macho must be hypermasculine in ideology and action.  The essentialist claim is made that that’s just how ‘real men’ are.”

What was most disturbing for me in reading this article was that I came away with the understanding that in the macho man’s world women are truly considered subservient and submissive – and in many ways victims.  If translated to the business environment this becomes a wholly revolting thought.

After all, the women I work with and gravitate toward are powerful in innumerable ways.  And as I stated in my post for LeadSwag’s Women’s Leadership Month, embracing our divine femininity – our goddess power – rather than suppressing it is a critical part of being our authentic (and most powerful) selves as women leaders.

So if, given the article’s definition of “Macho Man,” his persona translates in business leadership to any of the following:

  • Being somehow entitled to treat the women on your team callously in any way, with disdain, contempt, or simply as inferior to you in any way…
  • Believing that as a leader it means you have “conquered” those below you in the organization and that they are under your “dominion”…
  • Perceiving competitors as adversaries who must be not only vanquished but submissive in order for you to become victor, perhaps even at great risk taken by you on behalf of the organization (for your manhood and excitement, of course)…
  • Hostile-dominant interpersonal goals…
  • Or entitlement to homage in any way…

…then I say Macho Men should stay in John Wayne westerns but have no place leading businesses.

Whereas chivalry will never go out of style, when it comes to business leadership, machismo will never be “in.”

What’s your opinion? 

PLEASE JOIN Steve Woodruff and me Tuesday night, January 11th, at 8:00 pm Eastern Time on Twitter for #LeadershipChat where we’ll discuss your thoughts on the role of the macho man in leadership.  Bring your insights and questions and please don’t be afraid to share – we learn so much from each other every Tuesday evening!  Looking forward to seeing you then…

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Photo is Bull Riding by Randy Kashka.