shopify analytics



December 2013


The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future


by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio (Jossey-Bass 2013)


What are the big take-aways?


Gerzema and D’Antonio argue that “traditionally feminine” leadership traits, such as those embodied by the ancient Greek goddess Athena, are the leadership traits which are most valued by the majority of sixty-four thousand people in thirteen countries (representing about 65% of the word’s GDP) whom the authors recently surveyed.  Gerzema and D’Antonio say on page 22 of the introduction that Athena was


[v]enerated for her intelligence, skill, civilizing influence, and fairness…[and was] a goddess of industry, arts and crafts.  It is Athena who gave the Greeks the olive tree, which sustained their economy and culture.  When conflicts arose, she responded with clever strategy and wise tactics, whereas her brother Ares acted in violence.


Further, the authors argue, it is these traits that will characterize the most successful and effective leaders of the 21st century.  They support their argument with statistics from their massive survey, and a trove of anecdotal evidence they collected on the lengthy international tour they personally undertook to search for proof.  Gerzema and D’Antonio were no doubt biased by a clear determination to seek out these examples of the “Athena Doctrine,” but – to give the authors credit – they found an abundance of fascinating stories that fit the bill.


Why do I like it?


While I chafed somewhat at the ironically “traditionally masculine” tendency to unnecessarily dichotomize what are – essentially – universal human qualities (which, furthermore, are culturally expressed in vastly differently ways around the world), I nonetheless think the authors’ overall conclusions about the future of leadership are solid.  Their survey results that successful leaders in the 21st century will be collaborative, intuitive, reasonable, passionate, empathetic and plan for the long-term (in contrast to being aggressive, analytical, decisive, proud, and independent) certainly comports with what I am seeing in my leadership development practice.  The examples of the Athena Doctrine they highlight – from nations as diverse as Iceland, China, Israel, Colombia, Peru, India, Kenya, Sweden, Germany and Belgium, Bhutan and Japan – are enlightening.


Probably my favorite aspect of this book is the collection of inspiring stories of creativity, innovation, multiple-bottom-line thinking and societal-level transformation initiatives that are happening in so many places.  It was surprising.  This book made me feel particularly hopeful that a future with less poverty, destructive isolation and disease is not as far off as it sometimes seems.


In what situations would this be useful?


I would recommend The Athena Doctrine as a worthwhile introduction to international trends in technological and business-model innovations that have a social service bent.  As a leadership development tool, the Conclusion – which reads like a tacked-on piece that had been drafted for some other purpose – is one of the most powerful elements of the whole book.  In it, the authors organize the lessons from their investigations in a way that feels less rigidly attached to justifying the Athena Doctrine framework, and more oriented to simply conveying wisdom about what they learned about effective 21st-century leadership.  The Conclusion structures their findings in terms of key take-aways about leadership, innovation, organizational management, career management and change management.  (It’s so well-presented that I wished I’d been offered this information first, before the rest of the book.)  There is also a useful portion of the Conclusion that addresses “The Athena Doctrine and the Next Generation.”


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


In my recent Leadership Book Group, we read The Athena Doctrine along with Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (both of which I’ve previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library).  I thought the trio worked well together as a way to play with ideas about leadership, gender and “work-life balance” in the United States and beyond.


For a more practical and business-oriented perspective about – specifically – change agility in the 21st century, you might take a look at John P. Kotter’s recently revised edition of Leading Change (Harvard Business Press, 2012).  For a more of a social and spiritual reflection on personal and professional transformation in the 21st century, perhaps Margaret Wheatley’s So Far From Home: Lost and Found in Our Brace New World (Berrett-Koehler, 2012) would be a good choice.


Return to Leadership Library