Sustainable Medical Leadership Style of the 21st Century: Embracing the Divine Feminine

Vol 10 #11.  August 2021

Ana Hategan MD1,✉,iD, Caroline Giroux MD2, Alan B. Eppel,  MB, FRCPC


Author information

1  Clinical Professor, Geriatric Psychiatrist, Division of Geriatric Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada. ✉ [email protected]iD:

2  Associate Clinical Professor, Psychiatrist, University of California, Davis Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Sacramento, California, USA

3  Professor, Psychiatrist, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada. iD: 



This article reviews the theme of contemporary leadership in medicine from the perspective of gender attributes and practical approaches to promoting a more sustainable leadership style for the future to come.


Current underrepresentation of feminine attributes in leadership: The need to rebalance

Our social, cultural, and economic landscapes have significantly changed over the past decades. This is also reflected in demonstrating certain gender attributes in leadership styles across professional activities. For example, recent literature has suggested that “masculine” leaders may adopt a more autocratic behaviour and are more task-oriented, whereas “feminine” leaders demonstrate a higher people-orientation and participative style of management [1]. Similarly, results from a meta-analysis by Eagly et al. [2] have shown that masculine leaders may often demonstrate transactional leadership style (i.e., leaders demand compliance by teams through both rewards and punishments), whereas feminine leaders tend to embrace transformational leadership style (i.e., leaders work with teams beyond their immediate self-interests to identify the necessary change, creating a vision to guide the change, and executing the change through inspiration while engaging with the committed group members). Eagly et al. [2] argued that the implications of their findings are promising for female leadership because other research has already established that all of the aspects of leadership style on which women exceeded men related positively to leaders’ effectiveness, whereas all of the aspects on which men exceeded women had null or negative relations to effectiveness [2]. There is a significant difference between these two leadership styles. Unlike transformational approach which focuses on collaboration, empowerment, and engagement, leaders using transactional leadership style aim to maintain the existing state of affairs, they monitor teams’ work in order to find deviations and faults, and they are not looking to change the future. Although this school of thought has been mainly concentrated on gender, earlier research has shown that female leaders working in a male dominated sector often demonstrated masculine leadership style [1]. And so, some leaders have been over relying on masculine attributes and dismissing feminine traits.

Healthcare delivery is complex and effective medical leadership necessitates an appropriate leadership style and approach to context and emerging challenges. Understanding of personal leadership style is essential to fostering an effective medical leadership practice [3]. What makes those considered to be “great leaders” so successful, remains elusive. Are male and female leaders “feminine” and/or “masculine” enough in order to achieve true effectiveness? For this, we need to explore the perception of feminine and masculine sides of leadership.

Humans are represented by both masculine and feminine attributes, irrespective of gender [4]. The feminine attributes (or the so-called, by some, divine feminine traits), represent values such as nurturing, compassion, intuition, inclusion, renewal, receptivity, and creativity [4-8]. It is the “yin” side of human nature, with restoration, intention-setting (i.e., the act of stating what one intends to accomplish through their actions), and not attached to the outcome. It is flexible and fluid rather than rigid or linear. By contrast, the masculine side of leadership (“yang” attitudes) can be manifested by drive, action, focus, determination, goal-setting and achievement, logic, and order. It is the animus and anima of Carl Jung’s theory of collective unconscious, where the animus is described as the subconscious masculine side of a female, and the anima as the subconscious feminine side of a male [9]. Based on the premise that every individual possesses both feminine and masculine principles and potentials, many of these female qualities (e.g., nurturing, compassion, inclusion) may be perceived as less valued (7, 8). While we need to find the right balance of masculine and feminine attributes in ourselves, the two halves should not be rivals or overwhelm the other in order to be effective. And yet, there remains an imbalance between the expression of masculine and feminine attributes, with an overemphasis on the masculine and a suppression of the feminine [10]. In other words, as long as we associate leadership with masculine traits, individuals who predominantly foster and demonstrate feminine attributes, may be overlooked.

We need to rebalance and bring more of the feminine principles into our leadership style. In this view, we have recently started to witness a refutation of intransigent gender roles, racist mindsets, and hierarchical systems. We are witnessing a rise in heart-centred business and communication, acceptance of emotional expression, non-binary gender identities, self-accountability, diversity and inclusion, and a global health alliance in combating climate change, to name a few. The men in our society are now being invited to show their true inner vulnerability. Men are compelled to examine and challenge their habitual masculine patterns and, together with women, to try to raise their offspring with a value system that promotes healthy masculinities [7, 8]. This is empowerment of the feminine traits for the benefit of all people.

Embracing the feminine attributes: Nurturing and self-care as more nuanced world values

Healthcare systems in Western societies are undergoing a rapid socioeconomic change where healthcare is for profit, and in which physicians and hospitals perform in a competitive environment [11]. Treating healthcare as a commodity rather than a right will only exacerbate the problem of access to healthcare. This suboptimal system can only intensify clinician burnout, a work-related stress syndrome resulting from chronic exposure to occupational stressors, an often repeated infliction by a profit-driven system [12].

However, the feminine attributes also include the desire for self-care. The need for self-care, more than the fear of not belonging or of being destitute or disadvantaged, has been the paramount factor in pushing many healthcare professionals, including physicians, to break out of the current organizational system. It represents our deep-seated need to become whole again and to care for our priceless self. When one individual starts to change, others start to notice. A transformation from the inside out has begun, one that places self-care at the top of the priority list. Phrases like mental health wellness and wellbeing, psychological safety, diversity and inclusion, reconciliation, work-life balance, and gender equity and equality, are no longer just slogans. “Surviving” one’s workplace should no longer be acceptable to organizations; “flourishing” should be the goal. So taking care of one’s physical and mental health is presumably becoming their new mantra. Organizations are challenged to make efforts to decrease labour pipeline drain, disengagement, boredom and loneliness in the workplace, and to increase retention and professional development. This can only increase their profits by preventing a health crisis [13].

We all witness this transformation of further embracing the inner abundance that comes from the feminine attributes by increasing awareness and starting to take action to combat disempowerment, discrimination, and poverty of vulnerable communities. We need to do better at making the world work for everyone. This cannot happen without a balanced integration of the masculine and feminine polarities.

In practice

We previously discussed that action, determination, drive, and focus are qualities of the masculine leadership style. These are important qualities and necessary for humanity’s evolution. But, somewhere along the way, the qualities of the feminine leadership such as inclusion, intuition, empathy, nurturing, collaboration, and engagement, became less appreciated. This oversight created a critical imbalance. To counterbalance, we propose the implementation of the flowing steps (see the acronym ELLA). Allowing ourselves to feel and be empathetic means letting the world touch us. And then we listen. Listening is a receptive skill, when we receive and understand the language by means of an intuitive capability. Only when we listen to our feelings, and receive their intuitive signals of what is really going on within us and in the world around us, can we liberate our core truths and beliefs. And then it is appropriate for us to act. Remarkably, most leaders still act first, ignore the listening phase, and neglect the resultant feelings of distress that any of their actions may have caused, contributing to work-related stress or burnout. This is an old-fashioned way of living in a new-fashioned world. However, this is the time to turn this around and reconnect with the deep wisdom of the divine feminine.

We must allow our empathetic, compassionate, receptive, and inclusive abilities to come through, and to balance our more masculine, action-based skills. But it is our discreet, inner actions taken in subtle ways that have the most impact in helping individuals rise to their maximum potential. People need to be cognizant and see the glory of the person in front of them, for all the good deeds that they have created and the good words that they have said, for the small changes they made that added up to great reformations. Everything they have done in silence, has not always been understood, but has had a great value for the whole. It gives rise to a voice of reason within us, to joy and meaning, to a desire for unity and engagement with purpose in the world. We must keep on expressing our glorious feminine self, regardless of our gender. Be yourself, remain yourself, and let others see your authentic self. In order to access authenticity, one must learn to be comfortable with what seem like polar opposites. Integration over polarization. Seeing phenomena as a cycle, not a straight line. Seeing success as internal peace because it is limitless, rather than a straight line of titles. Seeing strength and transformative possibilities in all vulnerabilities. This is what the feminine, that is in all of us, is about. Being empathetic – listening – liberating – acting through communal synergies (as opposed to egotism and competition) is the correct order of the recipe that will generate more unity and accountability, and could help transcend the global prejudices and inequalities through our shared humanness.

In summary, if the leadership roles belong to more individuals who are prepared to foster and advance their feminine attributes, we will continue to see a more fundamental and meaningful cultural change in medical leadership.


Conflict of Interest Statement: The authors declare no direct conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.



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