Why Workplaces Would Improve If Men Had More Friends

Jann FreedLeading Leave a Comment

This post is for people who care about working in healthy workplaces and for living fulfilling lives.  There is not a quick fix for the issues that exist.  But the sooner we start, the better for everyone.

When I was writing my book Leading with Wisdom:  Sage Advice from 100 Experts, chapter 5 was titled Vulnerability is a Strength.  But my editor said men will not relate or like the word “vulnerability.”  While I was writing the book for all leaders, I wanted men to be readers and did not want to alienate them.  In fact, when I give talks based on my book, people often ask me if I interviewed primarily women because of the themes that emerged from the interviews.  The answer is no.  I interviewed mainly men because I was seeking people at the late stages in their careers and people at senior levels and most of the people at the top and best-selling authors are still male dominated.  So the chapter titled became “Leaders Admit Mistakes Fearlessly” and vulnerability is integrated in the chapter.

I was reminded of all of this as I read Jesse Lyn Stoner’s blog post titled “Why Men Don’t Have Friends and Why Women Should Care.” 

Stoner talks about an article one of her professors handed out in an Organizational Behavior course in the 80s that describes the difference between male and female definitions of friendship.  I honestly remember reading this article or a similar one when I was in college.  The theme as I remember was this:  Women have a variety of friends for different reasons.  But men often rely on their girlfriend or wife to be everything to them:  confidant, lover, best friend, partner.  These differences and dynamics affect interactions, conversations, perceptions, and much more.  Since the purpose of organizations is to help people work together to accomplish goals, you can see how all of this affects relationships of all kinds. This topic is trending now and being called “toxic masculinity.”  Stoner shared this recent article titled “Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden.”  This article describes what she learned in the 80s and I learned in the late 70s that women can’t play all roles all of the time for men.

When you read these articles and think about it, you can see the negative impact on the culture of workplaces.  You can understand why it took so long for the me-too movement to emerge.  It is easier to understand (not accept) all kinds of injustice because most discrimination (sex, race, age, orientation) is about power.  And when trying to redistribute power in any way, resistance emerges.  The dominant group prefers to keep the power and there is power in numbers.

Interestingly, Brene Brown is taking her message of vulnerability and shame (often considered more feminine messages) to leaders and workplaces.  She knows we culture must change and we have to address the people with power.  While this will not be easy to do, it is important work and I am integrating this into Beyond the Money.

As the articles point out, men are not to blame.  Society needs to change and we need to not stereotype people.  One of the chapters in my book is “Leaders Connect with Empathy and Compassion” and this message is for all leaders–male and female.

This topic reminds me of the older movie “Regarding Henry” with Harrison Ford.  Ford is an unscrupulous corporate lawyer, (Henry Turner) who will do whatever it takes to win a case, and treats his family with the same degree of ruthlessness. “After Henry gets caught in the middle of a robbery and is shot in the head, he wakes from a coma to find that he has amnesia and can’t even remember how to do the simplest of tasks. As he recovers and relearns how to function, Henry reveals a much kinder and more thoughtful personality, much to the surprise of his family and friends.”

A friend is someone who has our back.  Someone who lifts us up, not tears us down.  A friend is someone who has our best interest and wants us to succeed.  We can’t have too many true friends.  As we gain in years of life experience, our circle of friends naturally shrinks as people move away, retire, die, disappear.

How could you increase your circle of friends?

How are your perceptions of friends affecting the workplace? 

Would you have someone to call to help you move a couch?  

Let’s not wait until we are ill or on our death bed to be vulnerable, to show compassion and kindness, and tell the people who matter most to us how much we care about them.