Close readers of David Brooks’ New York Times column today will note that he made a sly pronoun transition. Brooks was writing about two different models of business leaders. One is a boardroom lion-"superconfident, forceful and charismatic." The other is a "humble hound" who "thinks less about her mental strengths than about her weaknesses." Brooks did not make this explicit, but the lion was always "he" while the hound was "she." We think he meant it as a compliment. The lion, after all, was overconfident, sometime to the point of thoughtless and reckless. And in fact there has been a growing trend of drawing on traditionally feminine traits as the new ideal for what’s known as the "transformational" leader-a good listener, fair negotiator, reads facial cues well.
But as always with these models, the more Brooks talks, the more it seems like gender stereotype and less like a compliment. The new "she" leader is modest, humble. She draws her lessons from the long-suffering Japanese. In the end, Brooks compares this mythical "her" to a stage hand, content to work behind the scenes while everyone else gets the applause. A stage hand? When has a stage hand ever graduated to CEO?
Photograph of David Brooks by Alex Wong/Getty Images.