Women are circular, Men are Linear :)

Have you noticed that a lot of developmental models are linear? Erikson’s stages of human development are linear, and women researchers have pointed out that women’s lives, and probably many men’s lives!, don’t follow those socially-predicated stages. We don’t all follow the sequence of go to college, graduate, get a job, get married, raise children, and their associated skills : developing trust, autonomy, intimacy, etc. Many academics who work on developmental theory, tend to think of human development as circular – we go through one stage and accumulate some knowledge and skill, and move on to another stage – and we often circle back through those stages, gaining new insight from the lens of our current level of maturity. So it’s a lifelong revisiting of those stages, and a cumulative building of those skills.

In a nod to circularity, I was fascinated to come upon the book “The Female Advantage”, by Sally Hegelsen (1995). From her research with male and female organizational leaders, it turns out that many of the men whom she interviewed structured their organizations in a hierarchical way, whereas many of the women structured web-like, circular structures.

At the same time, the trend towards flattened structures, focusing on innovation and information exchange has meant that many organizations have moved away from the hierarchical model. There is also more stress nowadays on the interrelatedness of all things, which fits with the female model. That trend notwithstanding, the research shows a distinct web-like structure that women managers have developed. In that web, the leader is in the middle, the management team is the next ring, and so on, moving out in concentric circles. The idea reflects the reaching out and sharing information across the circles, rather than reaching down, and hoarding information at the top.

Frances Hesselbein is famous for her role as director of the Girl Scouts from 1976-1990. She describes a circular management chart, in which the wheel of jobs spins – management jobs are rotated every few years. This job rotation works well with team building – teams are formed as needs arise, and then disbanded. People serve on different teams and in different positions, which leads to a feelings of common enterprise, and “cuts down on the tendency to form cliques and fiefdoms.” The leaders in the middle see their role as transmitting information – their senior staff are not so much reporting to them, but sharing ideas and projects with each other, and disseminating information outward. This kind of sharing highlights group affiliation over individual achievement – and shifts concern to the group or the whole.

That’s just a teaser for this book. Does this web structure resonate with you?

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