What is the Janus Effect? How can an understanding of it break us free of it? And perhaps most important: Why are men highly susceptible and women IMMUNE from it? The Janus Effect comes into play in business or politics the moment an alpha male leader makes a decision that is dead wrong. At this moment, none of the men he has hand-picked for his inner circle seem to be able to go against his wishes because, as his followers, they know exactly what he wants and expects. For those in his inner circle, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to go against the leader’s wishes even if he asks them point blank: “Give me your opinion!”
Decisions made under the Janus Effect by an alpha male leader such as Trump are so powerful because the team members will constantly reinforce the alpha male leader’s mindset. They are unable to make a different decision because they believe that to go against their leader carries the risk of becoming ridiculed, ostracized or even exiled from the team.
We need look no further back than our evolutionary history to a time when male hunting groups were led by a strong alpha male. In the same way that a wolf pack sticks together, members of an alpha male’s inner circle stick together. Their deepest fear is to be told point-blank by someone who is deadly serious: “John, You’re not being a team player!” The deeply internalized fear of the team turning against them, of being isolated or exiled, is too much to bear.
So what’s the solution? In an article in The Hill, Westen, Ph.D. and Former Congressman Steve Israel offered their ideas on how does our brain stands up against a brain like Trump’s.
In my work, I focus on a solution we call “trait balancing.” This solution requires a leader to surround themselves with an inner circle or cabinet that represents a 50/50 balance of masculine and feminine traits. Why? While men are highly susceptible to the Janus Effect, women are uniquely immune.
Historically speaking, a pregnant woman could not run with the male hunting group. When danger approached, she could not grab her children and run. Instead, her attention was focused was on ensuring the survival of her children her family, and by extension the members of her community. Women who became successful at “tending and befriending” the enemy could then pass along these natural leadership skills to others.
In a modern context instead of a rush to war, women chose negotiation and diplomacy first. It’s hard, for example, to image Angel Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany ever threatening another leader by stating: “We have a bigger nuclear button than yours!”
Highly empathetic leaders are also immune to the Janus Effect. When Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined together in July 2017 to resist the intense pressure and hard-knuckle tactics from party leadership over healthcare, the GOP forgot one thing: Collins and Murkowski were not “Good Old Boys.” An article in the New York Times referred to them as “heroines.” Likewise, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee was not acting like one of the “Gold Old Boys” with her bold release a transcript of Senate testimony by the co-founder of Fusion CPS. The Wall Street Journal reported that her move brought both criticism and praise. Immune from the Janus Effect, Feinstein was acting on her belief that the public had a right to know what was in the document.
“When gender equality becomes the “new normal” in corporations and Congress it will free us from the Janus Effect and return America to its role as a global leader.Next in this series: Creating A Safe, Collaborative, Prosperous Workplace1.Janus Effect: Why men are highly susceptible and women immune from it.2. Harnessing the power of Gender Equality to maximize human potential3. Creating the structural framework for a trait-balanced workplace: 50/50 by 2020.
Alexia Parks is a recognized global expert on gender equality and leadership. An author, United Nations Mentor who mentored the #1Award Winner at the Goldman Sachs/ Fortune “Most Powerful Women in the World” Summit (2014) and Founder of 10TRAITS Leadership, Alexia has appeared as an expert on national, international TV news, in TIME magazine, and formerly wrote for the national desk of The Washington Post.