Guys, We Can Do Better | Overcoming (Toxic) Masculinity in the Workplace

Guys, We Can Do Better | Overcoming (Toxic) Masculinity in the Workplace

I recently made a post on my LinkedIn page, an online space specifically designed to help us with virtual networking and career development.  In the past two years, I’ve tried to up my LinkedIn game, which is still well-below par, but I have noticed some common trends.  One of the most common I’ve noticed seemed blatantly obvious to me, and even to others when I showed them, after having made a post about one of our all-time heroes, the late Fred Rogers from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  If you’ve followed our work (and our personal) lives at all–you know how much we admire, respect, care for and about all of the things Fred Rogers represented in the world.  Fred helped to create the world we all long for in his magic of make-believe.  But also, as we know based on videos and documentaries created in recent years, Fred’s land of make-believe–wasn’t a land of make-believe at all.  It was a land he believed could be and would be made possible in and through each of us.  

For Christmas I received a very unexpected gift from the Someone To Tell It To team, a gift we will cherish for the rest of our lives.  It is a stained glass impression of Mr. Rogers’ iconic cardigan sweaters, knitted by his mother.  Knowing others would appreciate the gift, I decided to post a photo along with a quote and a caption: 

“Try your best to make goodness attractive. That’s one of the toughest assignments you’ll ever be given.” ~FR

What a great reminder (in our window) to look at every day. I wonder how Mr. Rogers may have defined goodness? #humility #generosity #kindness #unconditionallove #listening #friendship #community #acceptance #service #inclusivity

Anything else you might add?

#mrrogersneighborhood #mrrogerssweater

At first, I made the post on my personal Instagram/Facebook/Twitter accounts.  I let it sit for a few more hours, then decided to post the same photo and caption on my LinkedIn page.  It was not something I would normally post on a platform devoted to business ventures, connections, and resources.  However, I had a revelation – doesn’t the insider business community need more of Fred Rogers just as much as the outside world needs more of Fred Rogers?!  So I posted it.  Over the course of the next several days, I watched as several people liked the post, made a comment or two, and seemed genuinely appreciative of it.  But the bad news was that all likes/loves/shares were made by women.  Initially, I didn’t make much of the lack of engagement by those who share the same gender as I.  But I gave it a few more days to see if there might be any changes.  Sadly, no changes were made.  I decided to show the post and the responses to several others to see what they thought about it – and they, like me – came to the very same conclusions: males don’t seem to be grasping the depth of Mr. Rogers life and legacy and how the world, especially the business world, needs more of him and all that he represents.  

If you don’t take my word for it (I realize I might be merging two metaphors by two iconic figures here, because Lamar Burton, star of Reading Rainbow, often used this phrase), I invite you to read a recent article in Forbes magazine on the topic of empathy among leaders.  I believe, as the article makes clear,  that the days of toxic masculinity in the workplace need to be long-gone: 

Empathy in action is understanding an employee’s struggles and offering to help. It is appreciating a person’s point of view and engaging in a healthy debate that builds to a better solution. It is considering a team member’s perspectives and making a new recommendation that helps achieve greater success. As the popular saying goes, people may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel. 

Empathy, it declares, “is the most important leadership skill according to research”.  

If you’ve made it this far in my post, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for how to grow your empathy muscles.  Empathy, like those pecs so many men crave and spend hours pumping iron to achieve, needs to be strengthened.  But results, as all leaders painstakingly know, don’t happen overnight.  There aren’t many, if any, overnight successes.  What there are, are lots of sleepless nights, unforeseen circumstances (i.e. a global pandemic), questions, doubts, fears, curse words, prayers, longings – and some occasional wins – and so much more.  

Men, the good news is: we can help to encourage each other to be better and do better.  In Gandhi’s words, “We can be the change(s) we want to see in the world”.  

The world doesn’t need to be a place of make-believe.  Mr. Rogers believed it could be real and then modeled the way it could be.  We can create a real world of goodness, together, in our workplaces – and at home.  

We have a new book –  Listening 2by2: A Paradigm Shift for Leaders (That’s When the Magic Happens!).  You can order it on Amazon now.  Don’t take our word for it, take leadership expert and best-selling author Jon Gordon’s endorsement of the book:

The more time I’ve spent with some of the most successful teams, the more I’ve come to realize that listening is key to great results.  As I wrote about in The Energy Bus, if you want to achieve greatness, you have to love your passengers and those in your sphere of influence; if you want to love those in your sphere of influence, you have to listen to them.  Read this book and I promise you will be a better listener, a better leader, and accomplish far more than you could ever ask or imagine.  

Listening is the first step in growing your empathy muscles.  Empathy leads to great relationships, which lead to even greater results.  In the book, we use a modern day fable of two women who listen to a business leader (who happens to be a man) at a time when he truly needed to be heard.  That is where the magic truly happens!  How many of you men, have others in your lives you can ‘tell it to’.  Because if you don’t, I can guarantee you are missing out!  If vulnerability in your workplace is new territory, read everything by Dr. Brene’ Brown, while simultaneously finding someone outside your company who knows you, believes in you, has your best interests at heart, to whom you can ‘tell it to’.  

Read our book, which will offer some helpful and practical advice on how to create a caring, inclusive, creative, vulnerable, and safe place for all genders, races, and classes, to land.  

Let me give you a very stark example of what needs to change.  One of our (female) team members, recently walked past a conference room, filled with five or six males, who also happened to be caucasian.  She is also caucasian.  But she grew up in a foreign, more diverse culture.  When she entered our team meeting she stated: 

“I walked past (that other conference room) and immediately felt my heart skip a few beats, I started to almost have a bit of a panic attack.  I always feel that way when I see a meeting filled with all men.  I also feel a strong sense of empathy for one of my female peers if I see only one or two with a larger group of men.”  

If you don’t want to take my word for it, take hers, that our work environments need to be better.  More diverse.  More equal.  More inclusive.  We males need to be the ones who are more attuned to our work cultures and the need to be more sensitive, kind, caring, and yes, empathetic.  Even if it makes us somewhat uncomfortable.  The fact is, there is always more work to be done.  If you, leaders, aren’t uncomfortable with a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion, you probably aren’t attuned to these matters nearly enough.  We need to be able to see and feel the tension that a female peer may be seeing and feeling.  We need to give other team members, especially females, the chance to voice those feelings, openly, honestly, and safely.  We need to do better.

I’ll end with this.  Several years ago we spoke at a large men’s retreat.  After we finished speaking, a man in the back, looking very bored and disinterested, stood up during the question and answer time and declared: 

“What you are doing is kind of pink!  Feminine. Soft.  Why would men want to come to you and your organization for listening and emotional support?  You talk about empathy, kindness, and compassion.  Those words are pink.  Do you have men who come to you for support?”

Thankfully, others in the group approached us afterwards and said that they strongly disagreed with the man’s sentiments.  That he was out of line and inherently wrong.  Yet, it did and still does cause us to wonder, 

How many other leaders, especially male leaders, share similar attitudes?  

The lack of engagement, just on this one single post, does cause me to wonder?  

Guys, we can do better. 


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