Hormones and Leadership- Understanding the Roles Our Bodies Play Professionally
“Hormones” and “leadership” are two words you wouldn’t generally picture being found in the same sentence. However, these two words are a very hot topic in the business world! Now trust me, I’m not talking about the hormones you think, like hot flashes and whatnot. The hormones I’m talking about fit into a different category.
To paint a better picture of what I am talking about, let’s go back a few years. In older leadership models, a leader had to be a “man’s man.” They had to be a man who was tough, who was a bit of a lone wolf. This man’s aggressive nature was key to getting him to the top of the food chain, so to speak.
Flash forward years later, and the world is a much different place. That type of man is already a dying breed (which isn’t a bad thing). However, as this breed of “macho man” disappears, and as more women step into positions of leadership, we begin facing a new issue. These women working their way up to positions of leadership are becoming no better than the men they have replaced. There is a genuine concern that many of these women do not, and will not, bring the best of being a woman to the role. Instead, they are trying to prove their strength in the business world by trying to out-macho the men who lead before her.
In my opinion, working with a female boss like that would be an unequivocal disaster. The last thing we need as we look for new models of leadership is women trying to out-testosterone the guys!
Before we continue, I would like to clarify something. I completely welcome and anticipate the day when women dominate leadership positions, or at least equal out to the number of male leaders in the workforce. However, these need these leaders need to be women who embrace their own power without having to imitate some of the overly aggressive men that came before her.
I recently I posted a blurb on Facebook about hormones and moods. A lot of buzz has accumulated around my post, causing the readers to ask questions. What truly surprised by though, was how little both men and women actually understood about the impact hormones have on their mood, behavior, and ultimately on their leadership.
In order to help fill that gap in hormonal knowledge, let’s clarify some information about testosterone and estrogen in the body.
The Roles of Testosterone and Estrogen in the Workplace
Although it seems to only be pictured when describing over-sized body builders flexing their massive biceps, testosterone is actually present in both men and women’s bodies. (Men do carry much larger amounts, of course.) To completely understand the role of testosterone though, we have to discuss women’s hormonal systems first.
We as a society like to poke fun at women’s mood swings and changes during their menstrual cycles. However, what many people don’t realize is that women aren’t the only ones who go through monthly mood swings. Men also go through their own monthly cycles, called “andro cycles.” This cycle can cause men to become more aggressive and moody.
Now the same thing occurs to women right before the menstrual cycle. A woman’s body produces more testosterone during PMS, and can last through ovulation. During this spike in testosterone, woman can come off more aggressive and angry. However, (despite the ignorant beliefs) moods improve almost immediately after their menstrual cycle starts. This is due to a flood of other hormones, which I won’t go into here, that help cancel out the access amount of produced testosterone. (Although let’s not forget, a woman may still be suffering menstrual cramps and a myriad of other issues no man would be able to cope with. So if she is still a little grumpy, just know why and that her feelings are valid.)
As I mentioned above, men also experienced a jump in testosterone levels during their android cycles. However, this isn’t the only hormonal change men experience once a month. Men also experience a polar spike in their levels of estrogen at a different time of the same month. Just like how women have testosterone spikes, men have estrogen spikes. This hormone is likely to make men more empathetic, compassionate and nurturing when levels rise in the body.
To put this in context, of leadership…
During the spike in testosterone , both men and women naturally become more aggressive. When men are affected by high testosterone levels, they can either be portrayed by society as violent/angry, or as being assertive and determined. In women however, the increase in testosterone can lead them to be portrayed as a “ball buster.”
Nonetheless, just because someone’s hormones help portray then in a certain light for most of their lives, everything can change as we age. These changes can switch the way we are seen as leaders in the business world.
Aging and Hormonal Changes
As I am sure you are aware, women can become perimenopausal and then menopausal due to a change in hormones. Lower levels of produced estrogen and an increase in produced testosterone cause vaginal fluids to dry and cause an increase in facial hair present.
Now, you might be thinking, “Okay Dov, I know all that. Where exactly are you going with this?” Well, here’s something you probably didn’t know:
As men get older they become periadropausal and then later andropausal. This is the opposite of what happens to women as they age. Their levels
of testosterone decrease and their estrogen levels increase. This can cause men to become more lethargic, experience erectile disfunction, lose their sex drive, and develop gynecomastia (enlargement of the glandular tissue of the male breast causing “man boobs”).
However, along with the not-so-nice physical changes, there can be some very beneficial emotional changes that occur within the male body. During these changes, we are likely to see a softening of things as the once hard exterior suddenly starts to melt away. For instance, we may see it x
in a father who has never shown any remorse or “soft” feelings to his family, who will suddenly allow himself to cry in front of his adult children.
Changed Perspectives in the Business World
It is my hope this has cleared some things up and put both male and female hormones into perspective.
So the next time you are feeling particularly aggressive for no apparent reason, remember that it is perfectly normal, no matter what your gender is. It’s Mr. Testosterone flowing through your blood stream, making you feel differently. So go give him a healthy outlet. Go punch a bag, beat a pillow, or write a scathing letter in your journal. Finding a harmless way to release that aggression is a better outcome than screaming at a co-worker!
And conversely, if you are feeling more emotional, that’s normal, too. Just realize that it’s Ms. Estrogen paying you a visit. So accept her presence and allow yourself to feel those softer, gentler feelings. Again, your journal is a great place to let it all out.
Remember, both emotional states are normal, and both play a role in new (and old) leadership. Learning how to recognize and utilize these hormones to your advantage is the key to being a worthy leader!
*side note* Just because these things are happening in the body doesn’t give someone a “get out of jail free” card. We are all responsible for our moods and behaviors, even if they are a result of increased testosterone or increased estrogen.
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