A Touch of Yin
April 2009

The best-selling Built to Last, Successful Habits of Visionary Companies written by James Collins and Jerry Porras has become a cult book for me. I read it about ten years ago and it still haunts me. Supported by a number of analysis, interviews and comparisons, the authors established that enduring companies had certain constants and recurring policies. The discovered that these companies tended to be a haven for two types of opposing yet complementary forces: forces that preserve core ideology and values, but also forces that stimulate progress and innovation.

Preserving the core and stimulating progress: that’s what we need to remember. And to make sure we remember, Collins and Porras use a recurring theme throughout the volume, the ancient Chinese symbol of philosophical duality, the Yin-yang, that famous circle where dark and light divided form a single tandem whole. The yang portion bears the inscription “Preserving the core” while in the yin portion is written “Stimulating progress”. However, we know that in this philosophy yang constitutes the masculine aspect of nature and yin is its feminine counterpart. For Collins and Perras, preserving the core comes from a masculine principle and change, is a feminine feature. This is not an insignificant detail to be dismissed, keep reading.

I’ve just finished reading Leadership and the Sexes, by Michael Gurian and Barbara Annis. It’s a recent publicationand just came out. Companies such as IBM, Deloitte & Touche, Nissan and IKEA have taken heed of Gurian and Annis’ advice to maintain their competitive edge. Throughout the book, the authors explain the influence of biology on leadership style. They explain why men and women behave differently in their professional and the private spheres. The main reasons: several hormones and a few brain particularities highlighted by digital imaging.

Gurian and Annis remind us that testosterone, just like oxytocin, commands very different and distinct responses to external stimuli. That’s why men and women usually develop totally different strategies to best meet their needs and those of their surroundings. This means that when a company is faced with all kinds of situations, it needs to have access to all types of available strategies.

Gurian and Annis demonstrate how masculine and feminine abilities are both complementary and essential to the success of a company. For example, men are believed to be more focused on results. And when a company is wavering, men are generally the ones to stand together to support it, to stand watch to preserve its culture, its reason for being. Notice the connection with “Preserving the core” as stated by Collins and Porras. As for women, they are seen to be more interested in the processes leading to results, to the chosen path, to the adequacy of the human and environment relationship. Being connected to the process, women would have a natural ability to flow with change, to discover new pathways. This concept undoubtedly reflects Collins and Porras statement of “Stimulating progress”.

I agree. It’s not that simple. We are complicated beings. Each one of us has masculine and feminine abilities. Nonetheless, statistics clearly show, without necessarily providing an explanation, that companies that perform best are those in which there is a heavy concentration of women at the top. Let’s put all this together and make our own conclusions. I’m all for a plan of action to interest more women cooperators to join our network. Come one, come all! If La Coop network can seek out and interest the best leaders from both biological worlds, more power to us. We’ll be in business, so hang on tight!


Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
and Board Secretary Assistant
La Coop fédérée
Email: colette.lebel@lacoop.coop
Fax: 514 850-2567


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