Female Archetype and the CIO Leadership!

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Much of what has been written about leaders and leadership builds upon the male archetype. Charisma, courage, leading from the front etc are all considered as male characteristics. Even if a woman becomes the leader, she is expected to display these male attributes. For example, the Queen Isabella of Castile was admiringly described by her contemporaries as a mujer de ánimo varonil (a woman of manly temper).

Though there are leadership perspectives, which diverge from this popular stance, they are new and less mainstream.

My interaction with CIOs who have really done well in their organizations makes me think, ‘Is building the CIO leadership based upon the popular male archetype a correct approach?’ There are many ways in which I believe it may not be. Defining the CIO leadership based upon the female archetype may be a better way of explaining, understanding and further developing it.

Before I proceed any further, I must clarify that this debate is not about male versus female; here I am talking about archetypes (a bundle of attributes or a statement, or pattern of behaviour, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated). It can be exhibited by both males and females.

And I am in no way suggesting that one is superior or the other is inferior.

Female archetype can be of many types- the Faerie, the Wise One, the Lover, and the Queen. All of them may be relevant for a successful CIO. It’s pertinent to define the successful CIO as one, who has been able to

understand the CEO, by developing a one-on-one strong relationship,

negotiate a win win with the peers by assuring them that they will not lose control, and

convince the lower staff that she is acting for their well being by understanding their needs.

Without these it’s not possible to manage the expectations of the multiple stakeholders a CIO has to deal with.

A form of female archetype known to all of us is the housewife. Though she is not the head of the family and many a time does not earn, she still has immense powers. Think, where does her power comes from?

Her power come from her being the supreme authority in the household matters (as Queen), from her proximity to the husband or the head of the family (as a lover), from the dependence of her children on her for food, affection and safety (as a mother), and if it’s a joint family (as prevalent is the Indian culture) it comes from others’ e.g. her brother or sister in law or her aged parent in laws acceptance of her in that role (as a wise woman). And acceptance comes when she is able to negotiate (may not be the right word in a family metaphor) or work out an acceptable formula. And I will leave it to your imagination what happens when any of these relationships become dysfunctional.

The female metaphor also explains the inherent difficulties in playing the CIO’s role. It’s complex as the housewife is a queen, a lover, a mother and a wise woman, different for different individuals and all at the same time. This demands adaptability and adaptability demands lowering of the ego. More often than not, that’s why there is no vent out for the resulting internal commotion many CIOs feel.

Think of the male attributes and it may not work in fulfilling the demands on a CIO to meet the expectations of a wide variety of stakeholders. I have seen a few CIOs, who are aggressive in their stance and fail miserably to build the relationships necessary for their success, as trust, affection and mutually workable solutions are the first casualties of that approach.

One also wonders that the basic grooming of the CIOs, rooted in their technical education, prepares them more on the male attributes of thinking, rationality and logic than the female attributes of feeling, affection, trust and empathy. Their development as a CIO leader needs a new perspective which builds these new characteristics in them.

I think, we must explore and develop the perspective of the CIO leadership in its own right and not just borrow from the existing models, they may not be adequate to explain the complex phenomenon of CIO leadership appropriately.

Read more blogs at Leading Digitally.

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