The missing leadership piece, defined

The following post is an excerpt from “Eve of Influence: Keys to unlocking exceptional leadership in women”. In this book, Leadership Zone Founder and Director Liz McCoy provides a practical guide to increasing leadership expertise and how to foster the development of compassionate, kind and connected workplaces. Eve of Influence is for the women who are fully committed to their leadership journey.  For women who are willing to go deep, and work on themselves for the betterment of those they influence and guide.  

In this post, Liz breaks down the ‘leadership gap’ and how organisations need to achieve leadership flexibility as it relates masculine (yin) and feminine (yang) leadership qualities.  

If you would like to read the entire book, I invited you to download it here.


Something I find curious, is that the call to women to step into leadership has not yet been met with the important question of, ‘what is the current gap that we expect women will fill?’ This text will serve to break down and expose exactly the nature of that missing piece.

What is it that women bring to leadership roles that is so vitally beneficial to their organisations and communities? If we could quantify it and bottle it – what would it be?

For a number of years I have worked with both women and men in leadership and the pattern is the same, the gap is the same, the conversation is the same.

It’s extraordinary, and I am so keen to share these simple observations with you.

But first, a confession. I know the pattern, I know the gap and I know the conversation; because it was mine. I know the confusion, I know the disconnection, and I know the pain. And it’s because I know those things, that I chose to explore a different way of being.

A number of years ago, I was employed by an International Company, and served on the Central European Executive Team. I was one of two women on that team, the remaining ten being Dutch and German men. My Dad taught me ‘if you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas’. Don’t get me wrong, my male colleagues were respectful, intelligent and visionary leaders; but their strong, direct, goal orientated focus was all consuming. And I got swept up in it. I am an independent, self-disciplined, high achiever at my best. And at my worst, I am also an independent, self-disciplined, high achiever.

I was a woman in an Executive role bringing my best and my worst, neither being enough for those whom I was charged to lead.

In my annual performance review, my boss (who I admired greatly) told me I was a ROBOT and I knew exactly what he meant. That comment hurt. I have loved leadership since I was a little girl, and I knew that no-one would follow a robot. That comment changed my life and I am forever grateful to you Mr Vidal for calling me out, and letting me know that my true value as a woman in leadership came from a far deeper place within me.

So what is the gap?

Many roads lead to Rome, but one clear way of illustrating the nature of these womanly virtues lies in the ancient Tsao principle of Yin and Yang.

Yin and Yang states that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites: Male and female; night and day; old and young – to name a few.

Each pair are opposites which both attract and complement each other.  Neither attribute is superior to the other – and an increase in one necessitates a corresponding decrease in the other. A correct balance between the two poles must be reached in order to achieve harmony.

On the surface it seems as though a gender-balanced board simply aligns with natural universal patterns and age-old teachings, so at a logical level is bound to succeed. The reality is that all-female boards succeed too, as do those that are all male so it’s worth unpacking what exactly is tipping the scale.

Traditionally, yang is the masculine.  It is the hunt: the space of hunger, determination and competition. It promotes division and individualism. It is assertive, analytical and has a bias for action.

Yin is the feminine. It is the nest: the place for nurture, understanding and compassion. It is accommodating and intuitive, with a bias for planning. Yin prioritises the space of connection, unity and collaboration between all.

Nothing however is completely yin or completely yang.

As individuals, we have both, sometimes weighted in favour of yin, sometimes yang. Organisations have both too, with our workplaces traditionally weighted in yang.

My European Boardroom, and I along with it, was nearly all yang.

But, as the child bearer of the species, women have a stronger, natural yin.

Our evolution, and immense privilege to continue as primary care givers means that yin is simply more accessible for women. Herein lies the gold – it is the yin, coupled with the wisdom of balance that women are bringing, and that is raising the bar of leadership expertise.

As mentioned, many roads lead to Rome.

A more modern flavor of the same thing can be seen in how task orientated vs relationship orientated leadership plays out.

Task-orientated leaders’ primary focus is on the accomplishment of necessary tasks or goals. They are typically concerned with finding step-by-step solutions to the inevitable challenges of meeting specific objectives; will actively define the breakdown of work and responsibilities of roles required; and display great structure in planning, organizing and monitoring progress. Deadlines tend to get met, and necessary procedures put in place to ensure everything is done in an efficient, timely and productive manner.

Conversely, the primary focus of relationship-orientated leaders’ is that of supporting, motivating and developing the people they work with. A leadership approach that encourages good teamwork and collaboration, relationship-orientated leaders foster positive relationships and great communication. They demonstrate a strong commitment to the welfare of everyone in the group, and will prioritise time and energy into meeting the individual needs of each team member. People feel cared for, and as such are motivated to do well in a positive environment.

Whether it is yin and yang, or task vs relationship, the challenge for us all is to access both, harness both and demonstrate the most appropriate qualities and attributes at the appropriate time. This is true leadership flexibility.

The master, will find the blend, the perfect merging of the two – steely calm, clarity in diversity and active compassion.  We see this so wonderfully demonstrated in the leadership style of Jacinda Adern.

As a leadership coach, my intention goes beyond simply growing and developing leaders, and extends to illustrating how a natural state of balance needs to exist in organisational leadership – for both men and women.

By becoming conscious to the importance of balance, and giving yin leadership qualities their necessary place, we can all bring about better collaboration, connection and compassion; better reason, calm and quiet assurance; and better bottom line results.