Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What's a Man to Do?

Last weekend my church sponsored a men's retreat. The weekend promised to be a bit more grounded and pragmatic than many such excursions I've embarked upon in the past. The idea behind the weekend? Just what is the masculine design?

I was one of the first to say, "What a great idea!" And one of the last to sign up. My late commitment wasn't because I had any doubts about whether it would be valuable. I've done my fair share of retreats and men's retreats (some of which were memorable for all the right reasons and some of which were... well... memorable.) Instead, I wasn't sure I wanted to invest the time.

As it turns out, I went... and found the investment more than worth the time spent. The topics covered are far more detailed and complex than a simple blog post can handle, but suffice it to say that I learned some things, had several great insights, and enjoyed delving into deep topics with a bunch of guys who may yearn for such conversations, but typically don't find the time or place to engage.

To give you just a little flavor for some of the topics explored, here are two simple elements from the workshop that might serve as food for thought (or which could spark heated debates -- you choose):

While the masculine and feminine roles are equally valuable, they are different;

Women (or the feminine aspect of God) our facilitator suggested, are the warriors of relationship (i.e. part of their strength and knowledge is knowing how to create and maintain such bonds);

Men, on the other hand, (or the masculine aspect of the divine) are the warriors of order whose duty it is to engage the chaos in order to create environments where loving, life-giving relationships can flourish.

Interestingly complimentary roles, wouldn't you say? And, such a partnership, were it created, would seem to be off on the right foot.  If you buy the premise, at least.

Now, for one who has spent a significant amount of time helping corporations embody both right and left brain skills effectively, I found that the two roles just described do tend to be accessed by different sides of the brain, as well.

Case in point... right-brained skills include such abilities as relationship building, creating rapport, creating group consensus, qualitative analysis, creating entirely new ways of seeing things, holistic thinking, and tactile learning (learning by doing things).

Left-brained skills include such abilities as organizing and bringing order to complexity, sequential or linear thinking, quantitative analysis, consistency, and descriptive learning (learning by hearing or reading).

Curiously, whether men and women actually tend to be right or left-brained dominant has a lot to do with the culture in which they are raised. For example:

In the U.S., 70% of men who are strongly influenced by Northern European culture (i.e. their primary heritage is from Germany, Netherlands, England, etc.) tend to be left-brain dominant. Women in the U.S. who are influenced by the same cultural background, tend to be equally balanced between right-and-left-brain usage.

In Latin-based cultures, on the other hand, both men and women tend to be slightly more right-brain dominant. Asian, African, and Indigenous cultures also tend to skew more toward right-brained dominance. (It's important to note that while  a culture may generate tendencies among a population, it does not define an individual, nor dictate their left-or-right-brain dominance.)

So what's all of this have to do with the price of tea in China? (One of my paternal grandfather's favorite questions to ask.)

Recognizing what skill sets are natural strengths for us can allow us to focus on and leverage those skills independently or in league with others. Understanding where I am not as strong can help me understand who my best teammates or partners might be and should lead me to the opposite end of the continuum to find someone whose brain dominance is quite different than my own.

It is possible, some say, that such attraction of opposites is actually biological (in other words we naturally seek out companions who fill in our gaps so that together we might approximate the whole or complete realm of human capacity). This seems to make sense.

The challenge, however, with pairing opposites is that while it may make sense, it can also present some real difficulties. The secret to effectively leveraging differences, though, as opposed to allowing them to create a divide is simple: value the difference. Easier said than done, you might say. And I would agree. But after more than a decade of coaching and consulting in this area I've found a very simple secret to this process. Mindset drives behavior, which drives results.

More simply stated, if I think your method has value and you think the same about my different approach and we take on the challenges we face with that same level of mutual respect, our likelihood of solving the difficulties life may present are exponentially greater than if we spend our time fighting over who's right and who's wrong. Truth is, in most cases, there's truth and error in both approaches and our willingness to situationally combine our methods is the way to win together.

So what's a man or woman to do? Trust in your strengths, but realize they are also your potential weaknesses because we tend to rely on our way of thinking too much. And, listen with an ear tuned to hear the value and benefit of another person's different approach or solution. I've seen this simple formula lead to major breakthroughs in organizations large and small; and in families and friendships. Perhaps it's worth giving it a try next time someone your living or working with sees the world through very different eyes. It might not work at all... or, it just may lead to a breakthrough neither of you had considered possible beforehand.

Peace, Love, and Good Health to you,

Chris Harding
Chief Community Officer
Our Health Co-op, Inc.

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