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Harvey Weinstein, and others, have drawn attention to the dangers of "toxic masculinity" in management. But the word "toxic" and their outrageous actions can be distancing. There are other issues about masculinity and work we need to address as well.

In saying that, of course, it's important to stress not all negative behaviour at work comes from men and not all men behave poorly. But again, that can be distancing – a defence. Masculinity affects us all, men and women, since it's rooted in our culture.

The impact comes in work-life balance. And it comes in counterproductive management behaviours, which is why increasingly we are seeing studies suggesting a more feminine leadership approach – collaborative and less concerned about ego and power seems to be more effective.

Masculinity is hard to define. The explanation I like the best when talking about work – please hold on, it's a long one – comes in the opening of Marc Feigen Fasteau's 1975 book, The Male Machine:

"The male machine is a special kind of being, different from women, children, and men who don't measure up. He is functional, designed mainly for work. He is programmed to tackle jobs, override obstacles, attack problems, overcome difficulties, and always seize the offensive. He will take on any task that can be presented to him in a competitive framework, and his most important positive reinforcement is victory.

"He has armour plating which is virtually impregnable. His circuits are never scrambled or overrun by irrelevant personal signals. He dominates and outperforms his fellows, although with excessive flashing of lights or clashing of gears. His relationship with other male machines is one of respect but not intimacy; it is difficult for him to connect his internal circuits to those of others. In fact, his internal circuitry is something of a mystery to him and is maintained primarily by humans of the opposite sex."

Men have changed since that was written, of course. But the impulses he highlights are still driving many men. In a sense, we have been swindled. Torontonian Michael Kaufman, who co-founded the White Ribbon Campaign and has been working on behavioural change with men around the world, wrote in Cracking the Armour: Power, Pain and the Lives of Men that masculinity is a collective hallucination, since men can't live up to the ideal and it harms them to try.

If you're a male machine, work is heaven. It's where you excel – where you feel best. Work-life balance is, in a sense, a threat, although so is burnout at work and complaints on the home front. With men ruling corporate bureaucracies, the male machine ethos holds sway, even before the need for profits enter the picture and the belief that if everyone works around the clock we'll be more productive and profitable.

When we think of bad bosses, we think of leaders who fail to listen. They are arrogant. They wield power with relish, often uncaringly, if not cruelly – aloof from others. They are competitive beyond belief, always having to win. They are fickle or even volatile, often because of emotional instability.

You can add to that list but I suspect, like the items I pick, they hark back to Mr. Fasteau's description, and to the upbringing masculinity imposes on men. They are what most of us would agree are male rather than female traits.

That doesn't mean every man succumbs to them. Take ego and arrogance, often cited as the big derailer for managers. The opposite would be humility, which Jim Collins highlighted as a key trait of the 11 top leaders in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap and Others Don't – all male leaders.

Think of it as a continuum, from masculine to feminine, or if that is too off-putting, from good to bad managerial traits. Individual men or women can be anywhere on that continuum. Since Mr. Fasteau wrote his book, as a society we have been moving towards a better balance. But the behaviours that irk us at work – the behaviours tied to bad management – do not come out of the ether or spring solely from personality. They stem from a view of leadership that, given the role men have played in our history, is tied to masculinity.

Men feel under siege – or at least, are wary – these days. But the real issue is not Harvey Weinstein. It's the male machine within us.


  • Donald Trump has reportedly lost faith recently in Chief of Staff John Kelly and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the latest in a long list. How do you handle situations where you lose trust in a subordinate? Does expressing your ire encourage motivation and a desire to improve, or reduce motivation and encourage grousing, job hunting or sabotage? Studies have shown that people in whom we show high expectations rise to those levels. How could you use that info?
  • Join the big-name tech companies that will no longer ask job candidates about their salary history, since knowing it can continue gender discrimination.
  • More on improving decision making: Ask your team, “What information do we wish we had?” That counters the tendency to fixate on what is generally known. It can encourage people to share private information, not widely known.

Mark Mortensen of INSEAD discusses his findings about teamwork and how knowing what teams others are on can improve workflow

Special to Globe and Mail Update