Randy Flood, psychotherapist, and Director of the Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan assists men and boys to move beyond the limits placed on masculinity by outdated stereotypes and notions. Much of his work involves equipping them with the insight and tools they need to more fully develop their strengths and positive masculine energy in order to thrive and succeed in an evolving world. In his conversation with Dr. Andy Atwood for the Revealing Men podcast, it’s clear Flood is talking with a kindred spirit. Dr. Atwood has spent his career in the study of human development and is, among other things, a licensed marriage and family counselor and an advisor and consultant to family-owned businesses. The two men sat down to discuss how we develop and grow as human beings, which, in turn, led to a conversation about the twenty-first century economy in which men are encouraged to cross-train and develop “soft” skills and traits in order to succeed and thrive. Highlights of their conversation are excerpted below (edited for length and clarity). Listen to the entire back and forth between Flood and Atwood on the podcast.
Studies in Human Development
Flood: So, welcome, Andy! …There are plenty of philosophers, psychologists, theologians, thought-leaders who have written about how we grow and develop as human beings. You know, back with spiral dynamics; Kohlberg, with moral development; Piaget, cognitive development; Fowler, faith development, and then you had Ken Wilber come along and say “here’s a theory of everything,” right? You understand this, and you even do a more simplistic version of like the Sam Keen model . . . [Atwood: “That’s the one I use the most with people when I’m working with them.”] Talk a little bit about it.
Atwood: Anthropology — I mean the study of human development — has gone on for a long, long time and I have been interested in all of this since college. …It was in 1995 when I read Ken Wilber’s big fat tome Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (ya know, it’s got 250 pages of footnotes. I mean it’s a big book!). And what I realized there is that this guy was a genius and he had a theory of everything—I kind of liken it to like a Dewey Decimal System for organizing books in the library. …In the process of digging into all of that, I started to learn about different theories of development.
Flood: So then, what, [in]a Sam Keen model, he would do what? He’s got the child, rebel, adult, outlaw, lover [Atwood: “And then I add ’enlightened lover’ on top of that.”].
Atwood: So Keen, I like him because he has language that is easy for people to understand. We all start out as a dependent child and then we move along and, somewhere in pre-adolescence/adolescence, we become a counter-dependent rebel, where we learn to say “no” and flip the bird to things, and just kind of go in the opposite direction, right? [Flood: “Right.” Laughs] Ideally, we grow through that and we take our place in the adult world where we learn about rules, and roles, and creeds, and codes, and doctrines, and dogmatism. We become good, card-carrying members of our church, and our community, and the scouts, and whatever.
But then the next step is to become the outlaw, to step beyond the laws of the community that you belong to and to begin to think for yourself [Flood: “But you’re not breaking the laws like the rebel. It’s different.”]. No, the rebel is pushing against authority, the outlaw is principle-centered so there’s a huge difference…and beyond the outlaw then is the lover who really has learned to embrace the child, the rebel, the adult, the outlaw, and the lover. The enlightened lover really has experienced oneness with the divine and is really encouraging growth and development through all those stages.
The Goal of Creative Leadership
Flood: One of the things that I want to try and help our listeners understand is the amount of discipline and courage and vulnerability it takes to do this thing called human development. …What is it about developing ourselves into a higher person?
Atwood: I’ve been at this for pushing 50 years now, frankly. The research on leadership today is so clear that we don’t need reactive leaders. We need more creative leaders who have figured out how to have great relationship skills: Who know how to have a lot of self-awareness. Who live with a lot of authenticity. Who have large systems perspectives on things and, who can push ahead and marshal resources in order to achieve something. Those kinds of creative leaders, we need them today, in order to survive and adapt in the world that we’re in.
Flood: Right, so these leaders in a twenty-first century kind of economy—I’ve heard like, Seth Godin is a person who talks about a connection or a service economy—that requires these newer skills that are relationship-based that have a level of emotional intelligence. So, that’s what you’re saying you’re seeing. These are the guys that can thrive if they’re buying into that kind of development.
Successful Leadership Traits
Atwood: The data is clear. …We need to have strong people skills, we have to be visionaries, team builders. We have to be personable, approachable, attractive (we gotta attract other people). We have to be able to lead by example, have passion and drive around purpose, good listener, develop people, empower people, and foster a positive attitude. …And so, my appeal to people is, if you want to thrive in this culture, in this work environment, in your business, you gotta figure out how to develop these capacities, capabilities.
Flood: When you have a guy that says, “Why should I take the time to clean myself up? Why should I take the time to develop those emotional skills?” I mean, what do you say about that?
Atwood: So that you can be in more effective control of your life. So that you can make a larger contribution.
I’m a fan of conscious capitalism, that really supports organizing businesses around a noble purpose. Where there’s meaning involving all stakeholders in an organization and having highly evolved conscious leadership and conscious culture. If you want to be more competitive, it’s not just having bigger muscles. That may be in some businesses and industries, ya know. If you’re gonna be a mason, I think you wanna have big muscles. But if you’re gonna be the guy that owns the mason’s company, then you gotta have a different set of skills. On top of, you still may need to know how to lay brick.
Flood: Yeah. It’s not as though those economies will go away completely, it’s just that we’re in a tremendous shift in what is needed to be able to be fit.
Atwood: Yeah, correct. …We need people who have the mental agility to be able to process the changes that are coming on…It’s a different world coming our way.
Cultivating Masculine and Feminine Skills
Flood: You said something to me in one of our conversations: “Nothing as strong as real gentleness, nothing as gentle as real strength.” That was coming out of this conversation about gender roles and how things are mixing and mashing.
Atwood: Correct. The old ideas about just strength and dominance. You read things in the way the military has moved and other literature. That it takes the soft skills which are really hard skills to develop. They’re necessary in our world today.
Flood: I think what we’re running into today in society is that there’s a fear of emasculating men or softening men, making men weak, making men like women, and so when people start talking about emotional intelligence and being vulnerable and having compassion, the fear is that we’re going to make men weak and we are going to lose masculinity. So how would you talk about how we can continue to hang on to all that’s good and all that’s wonderful about masculine energy, while at the same time we’re moving, evolving, and developing?
Atwood: I’d say you transcend and include. You don’t want to get rid of anything that’s ever really worked for you, but you need to add to your repertoire all the time. We know this in systems theory, right? [Flood: “Right.”] In the family systems work, the part of the system that has the most options available to it is the most powerful part of the system. So, the encouragement is to men and women—I don’t want to just talk [about men]—to cultivate as many of the natural strengths that you have. Cultivate those strengths. And we do know that we need in our world today people that can; that have the strengths that are the soft skills, our interpersonal relationship skills that are hard to acquire.
Lessons from the Women’s Movement
Flood: So, it’s a cross-training. And, I think, for women, when they were moving through the Women’s Suffrage Movement and then the Women’s Movement, there was some encouragement for women to learn how to develop masculine skills and energy. To learn how to debate, to learn how to play sports, to learn how to get credentialed, and so there was an encouragement of cross-training. Now if you take men, and you’re going to have a men’s movement and you’re going to cross-train them it gets seen as you’re emasculating, you’re weakening them. Rather than seeing them developing their repertoire.
Atwood: Yeah, okay. But that’s not. Not in my world!
Flood: I know that! But that’s why I have you here to try and convince people that this is a good movement and we get lost in binaries. We get lost in zero-sum games.
Atwood: A lot of women made a serious effort in trying to be male-like and what the research is indicating today is that women have these softer skills more naturally than men do. The research is indicating [they] oftentimes make—more often than not—better leaders than men do because they have the capacity to build teams, build communities, listen to people, do the soft skills, relate to human beings, and create environments that are safe for people. And it changes.
Evolving Work Environments
Atwood: I work a lot with construction companies, which is obviously a pretty masculine world and the companies that seem to do the best, this is true, really do the best, are the ones that are most sensitive to the human beings that are in their employment.
Flood: Not the ones who push dirt the fastest? [Laughs]
Atwood: Not the guy with the biggest bulldozer! But it may be. I’m working with a guy and he’s in the tech world. He works for a company out of San Francisco and lives in Grand Rapids. He’s about to have his third child and he’s getting three months off —three months off— for him to be a dad. That’s different!
Flood: Right. That’s valuing the diversity that men have in their lives rather than just being a breadwinner. It gives them permission to be a dad.
Atwood: And that company in San Francisco also knows if they don’t provide those kinds of perks/benefits, they’re not competitive when it comes to retaining employees.
Flood: Things are changing!
The Power of Options
Atwood: Because, again, it goes back to the systems theory, the most powerful part of the system is the one, [pauses for emphasis] the most powerful part of the system is the one that has the most options available to it.
Flood: That’s what I try to talk to the men about: that you want the most fit and the mature person. And it’s the person who can read the context in which they’re in, and then call upon what human trait or skill is needed within that context. It’s like an emotional toolbox that’s full of a variety of tools, then you pull which one you need.
Atwood: And, if we’re scaling up in leadership, not only do I want to be able to pull that out of myself, I want to create an environment that evokes that out of the people that I’m teaming with. It takes the collective genius of the group today to prevail over the lone genius of years gone by. Right? So today I want to create environments in which everybody’s best stuff shows up. That has to be an environment where people truly are fearless, they’ve learned to step through their fear out of some innate confidence and there’s an environment there that’s safe.
More than Big and Tough
Flood: In our society today, …There’s a lot of fear about where we’re going. I’m just wondering what you want to say about how we can, not only as individuals but as a culture, move forward and reduce some of the division.
Atwood: I was really influenced significantly by Robert Pirsig’s books Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila [An Inquiry into Morals] in which he talks about how dynamic the world is. [Flood: “Right.”] This evolutionary process is built into creation so for me to deny the reality of that, or for you to deny the reality of that, is really to kind of stick your head in a hole.
And so, I’m trying to encourage people in saying, look if you want to be big and tough, you can be big and tough, but you gotta add to that. You have to be more than that. In order to survive effectively, to take good care of your kids, your grandkids, your family, your business, whatever community of people that you belong to and that you really love and want to support. And then I go to if you want to live on planet Earth you gotta figure out how to take care of Mother Earth. Because everything that’s here, everything, everything, comes from Mother Earth. Everything!
Flood: And that’s what I see with the men that come here. They will come as “manly” men, …And they don’t have the emotional intelligence and they don’t have the capacity for intimacy, they develop that. They cross-train, they expand their repertoire [Atwood: “That’s great.”] and they don’t lose their truck, they don’t lose their trade as an electrician, they don’t lose their ability to be a trial attorney. They maintain that because that’s included as they transcend. [Atwood: “Correct. Correct.”]
Atwood: Transcend to higher levels of consciousness but always include the best. You try to define what the best is from the worst, keep the best, put the worst in a box someplace (unless you need it someday), but then you just keep moving and growing. It doesn’t make any difference what level you’re at, I mean, I have business owners that struggle with sexual addictions, and the same old stuff everybody struggles with. And, nonetheless, they know that they have to develop their team, they have to develop their community of people if they want to be competitive in this world.
The Benefit of Individual and Corporate Growth
Flood: That’s why I wanted to bring you here. Because I think that you have offered a rich and informed conversation about what we try to do here and that is help people be a better version of themselves, inspire them to want to grow, expand their repertoire, cross-train.
Atwood: And as I’m working with leaders, not only do you want to expand and be the best version of yourself, you want to scale up your team and help everybody. It’s your mission, not just to take care of yourself but to take care of the community of people to which you belong.
Flood: What a great way to end! That should be a manifesto for all of us!
More Information on Individual and Corporate Development
The Men’s Resource Center offers men’s support groups, coaching, and consultative services to help men better navigate the changing world of business and relationships. If you’re a business or organizational leader, you can contact the Men’s Resource Center online or call us at (616) 456-1178 for information about workshops and presentations tailored to help you create a healthier and more productive work space. Also, feel free to contact us on our website if you have questions about this segment, ideas for a topic, or would like to be a guest on the Revealing Men podcast.