‘Power of the Dog’ and toxic masculinity at work

By David M. M. Taffet 6 minute Learn

I couldn’t sleep after watching Jane Campion‘s Golden Globe successful movie, The Power of the Dog, an emotionally dense Western starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a Nineteen Twenties rancher in rural Montana. However the indisputable fact that my father’s household is from Montana, and that his father misplaced his thumb breaking a stallion, it’s the movie’s sickening, real-life portrayal of toxic masculinity that actually hit near residence. 

The movie serves as a stark reminder of how little has modified over the previous century, and how a lot work is left to be accomplished by leaders in each sector of life. Maybe most annoying is how precisely the movie depicts masculinity contest culture—a dog-eat-dog worldview which sanctifies stereotypically masculine traits similar to “emotional toughness, bodily stamina, and ruthlessness”—traits which proceed to pervade work tradition in the U.S. 


Consequently of the #MeToo motion, the enterprise world has undoubtedly develop into much less accepting and extra vital of toxic masculinity, however solely insofar as these behaviors veer into illegality (e.g., sexual harassment and assault). Campion’s movie is a chance to reignite a public dialog about the tradition that allowed sexual predation and harassment to go unchecked for thus lengthy. Most vital, it supplies a chance to debate options for eradicating masculinity contest tradition from the office. And it begins by flexing an unlikely muscle–one’s vulnerability. 

Cumberbatch’s cruelty

In the movie, Cumberbatch performs Phil, a cowboy and ranch proprietor whose A+ efficiency of hyper-masculine norms masks a deeply hidden vulnerability. Greater than only a grasp of the cowboy arts (i.e., horseback using, calf castration, lassoing, and many others.), Phil’s each motion is based on the tenets of masculinity contest tradition. He viciously torments his sister-in-law, performed by Kirsten Dunst, and her son (Phil’s nephew), Peter, performed by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who not too long ago gained a Golden Globe for his efficiency. Phil’s emotionally violent assaults on Peter’s “effeminate” air develop into the movie’s central rigidity as their relationship unfolds into one thing extra advanced. 

Peter’s bullying expertise introduced again reminiscences of my very own adolescence. As a delicate and precocious 5-foot-tall bookworm with desires of changing into a civil rights lawyer, I lacked the masculine trappings of my fighter pilot father who was killed in motion in Vietnam or my taller, athletic brothers; and, I received bullied for it. Though I grew 5 inches in faculty and now stand a whopping 5-foot-5, 92% of all American men are nonetheless taller than me. Consequently, my bodily, emotional, and mental energy is commonly underestimated. That being mentioned, I’m, in keeping with The Atlantic, half of an elite crew of lower than 8% of males who confidently married a taller girl!

Once I achieved my lifelong dream of changing into a lawyer, I wrongly assumed that I’d discover solace in a group of friends who had been in it for the proper causes. I’m positive you realize the place that is going. As destiny would have it, I used to be assigned to the agency’s three most notoriously cantankerous companions, one of whom was so troublesome that he burned via three associates in lower than a yr. Unbeknownst to him, I’d had observe warding off bullies all my life. Other than being my boss, he was no totally different than the others. 

I made a decision I might slightly lose than win with the bullies at the agency, so I stop legislation after simply 5 years to construct my very own enterprise. Almost three many years later, I’m sorry to say that masculinity contest tradition continues to be the accepted norm, each in legislation and most different industries. I’m pressured to fight it recurrently as a coach and fractional govt. 

When a corporation adopts and depends on masculinity contest tradition as a scare tactic for productiveness, dysfunction at all times ensues. Toxicity of this nature is commonly cloaked by false, shame-inducing monikers like “meritocracy,” which suggests that the means justify the ends, irrespective of their virulent nature or dangerous penalties. This habits could yield excessive returns in the short-term, however solely at the expense of organizational well being and well-being. 


Rewrite office norms

So, what can leaders do to root out this insidious foe? We should rewrite office norms collectively beginning with this: Significantly in troublesome conditions, put your insecurities on the desk as a substitute of hiding them and letting them weigh you down. I can’t overstate the energy of this one act. Folks will discover your method refreshing and endearing. They may respect you extra, drop their guard, and open themselves as much as extra genuine, related conversations. 

Really assured leaders know that they don’t have any market on proper. I’ve discovered that the willingness to acknowledge your uncertainty, vulnerability, shortcomings, and errors–not simply when pressured to, however as a daily behavior–dissolves egos and repositions your vulnerability as a energy–an avenue for connection by way of shared challenges. 

Main this manner creates a psychologically secure surroundings. It provides others license to embrace their very own vulnerabilities. In flip, persons are happier, collaboration is stronger, and execution is improved. Leaders who take this brave method truly garner respect, empathy, and assist, which humanizes them and promotes deeper emotional connection. This occurs in the movie when Phil begins to take Peter beneath his wing. The 2 kind a detailed bond, however, finally, Phil’s abusive habits is unforgivable. Regardless of the stress to bend, Peter stays true to himself via and via. 

Progress and vulnerability

Anybody who’s actually been via the ringer will let you know that progress comes via vulnerability and discomfort; embracing each is an indication of true energy. As for the “age-old” recommendation to maintain one’s private and skilled lives separate? On this context, it’s utterly bunk. As a frontrunner, sharing your genuine self in the office promotes the type of heat, familial surroundings all of us crave. It conjures up belief and engenders psychological security. 

On condition that my statuesque spouse is my enterprise associate, that we work full-time from our residence, and that our staff members are like household to us, you may say my pendulum has swung too far. Granted, that could be an excessive amount of for some folks. However, at a minimal, contemplate what would occur if you happen to dropped the ceremonial division between who you’re as a office chief and who you’re as a human being. By embracing your vulnerability and discomfort, I guarantee you that you just and your staff will really feel lighter, happier, and extra related by your frequent humanity–warts and all. 

In the context of Nineteen Twenties Montana, this kind of vulnerability would doubtless have yielded violence and mistreatment for somebody like Phil, which is why I’m not blaming his character for wanting to cover his genuine self. Nor am I saying that individuals ought to unnecessarily reveal private particulars which may put them at danger of hurt. However, in 2022, we have now the freedom and accountability as leaders to mannequin a wholesome degree of vulnerability that mirrors the fact of the human expertise. Doing so can carry us nearer collectively as organizations, colleagues, and associates. 

Lastly, I need to make it clear that I’m not making an attempt to assault the idea of masculinity or males as a monolithic group. I’m speaking about addressing the set of toxic behaviors that we settle for as “guidelines of the sport.” These guidelines had been traditionally decided by males, however they’re upheld and accepted by all of us, together with folks of all genders, races, courses, and skills. Folks like Ghislane Maxwell, who was found guilty of sex trafficking, are proof of that. 

Lately, Harvard Enterprise Overview recognized equity and fairness as the top priorities for executives in 2022. Start taking steps towards a extra simply and equitable work surroundings instantly by embracing your discomfort and realizing the energy of vulnerability–yours and others’. Neither one’s intercourse nor one’s gender can predict whether or not they may undertake toxic or predatory behaviors, and any chief is succesful of changing into a Phil or a Ghislane. All of us have the accountability to not. 

David M. M. Taffet is an govt coach, the cofounder and a enterprise builder at JukeStrat, a purpose-driven consulting group targeted on enterprise transformation, positioning, and social influence. He serves as a fractional C-level advisor and govt coach for a number of of its purchasers, drawing on his 30-plus years of expertise constructing corporations, orchestrating turnarounds, main profitable groups, elevating capital, and growing cross-sector partnerships for industrial and public achieve.