No Bull Riding: Why Macho Men Make Terrible Business Leaders

By Lisa Petrilli

For this week’s LeadershipChat, Steve Woodruff and I thought it would be fascinating to take a look at the “Macho Man” image and how it relates to leadership today. 

We’re not talking about men or male leaders in general; we’re talking about those who embody the “macho man” persona in their role as leaders.

We’re thinking members of the LeadershipChat Community probably have strong feelings associated with this type of leadership in the business environment – some positive, some negative – depending on whether they’ve experienced it themselves (as I have), and we want to hear and learn from everyone’s perspectives on it.

Well, I decided to do a little research into the formal definition of a “Macho Man” so that we’d all be on the same page for the chat, and came across some “light reading” in the form of an article entitled, “Scripting the Macho Man: Hypermasculine Socialization and Enculturation” from the February, 1988 Journal of Sex Research. (Lucky me!)

By the time I finished reading the 25-page article I was honestly disheartened by most of what I read.  At the same time I do have to say, a lot of business experiences with men exhibiting “macho” personas were put into perspective.

Here are some key points from the article that I believe relate back to the topic of the “Macho Man” and leadership:

  • The “macho personality constellation” as defined by the article consists of belief in (a) entitlement to callous sex, (b) violence as manly, and (c) danger as exciting. I think ‘entitlement’ is a key word here that resonates in other ways with leaders.
  • Masculine affects such as excitement and anger are considered superior whereas feminine affects are not only considered inferior, but the feminine is associated with words like distress and fear (damsel in distress). Thus, can a “macho” leader really respect a female colleague and see her as his equal?
  • The “ideological script of machismo” descends from the ideology of warfare – victor and vanquished, master and slave, head of the house and woman as complement, patriarch and children.   In reading this I started to see how all of this may play out in hierarchical business organizations if enabled.
  • And this quote really struck me: “In his dangerous, adversarial world of scarce resources his violent, sexually callous and dangerous physical acts express his ‘manly’ essence” (and yet the Old Spice Guy expressed it with humor, a well-placed towel and some body wash…!)
  • I harkened back to negotiations I’ve been in that were led by men with a battlefield mentality (e.g. they wanted to “win”) when I read this sentence, “the major dynamic…arises from perceived scarcity and a reliance upon violence to reduce such scarcity by allocating the scarce resources disproportionately to the victors of adversarial contests.”   

And ultimately the gist of the macho man persona is embodied in these points:

  • The ideology of machismo is a warrior’s ideology.  The macho warrior holds dominion over all he has conquered
  • To maintain that dominion, the macho man must be prepared to risk all by acts of great daring.
  • He must compel enemy men to submit through violence, and to dominate female adversaries through callous sex. (Perhaps a relation to how women leaders who begin to grow in power are often brought down by being sexualized in the media?)


Finally, the article states, “Not just a male, and not just masculine, the macho must be hypermasculine in ideology and action.  The essentialist claim is made that that’s just how ‘real men’ are.”

What was most disturbing for me in reading this article was that I came away with the understanding that in the macho man’s world women are truly considered subservient and submissive – and in many ways victims.  If translated to the business environment this becomes a wholly revolting thought.

After all, the women I work with and gravitate toward are powerful in innumerable ways.  And as I stated in my post for LeadSwag’s Women’s Leadership Month, embracing our divine femininity – our goddess power – rather than suppressing it is a critical part of being our authentic (and most powerful) selves as women leaders.

So if, given the article’s definition of “Macho Man,” his persona translates in business leadership to any of the following:

  • Being somehow entitled to treat the women on your team callously in any way, with disdain, contempt, or simply as inferior to you in any way…
  • Believing that as a leader it means you have “conquered” those below you in the organization and that they are under your “dominion”…
  • Perceiving competitors as adversaries who must be not only vanquished but submissive in order for you to become victor, perhaps even at great risk taken by you on behalf of the organization (for your manhood and excitement, of course)…
  • Hostile-dominant interpersonal goals…
  • Or entitlement to homage in any way…

…then I say Macho Men should stay in John Wayne westerns but have no place leading businesses.

Whereas chivalry will never go out of style, when it comes to business leadership, machismo will never be “in.”

What’s your opinion? 

PLEASE JOIN Steve Woodruff and me Tuesday night, January 11th, at 8:00 pm Eastern Time on Twitter for #LeadershipChat where we’ll discuss your thoughts on the role of the macho man in leadership.  Bring your insights and questions and please don’t be afraid to share – we learn so much from each other every Tuesday evening!  Looking forward to seeing you then…

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Photo is Bull Riding by Randy Kashka.


  1. The Macho Man persona is unfortunately alive and well and taken as gospel by far too many…

    I guess as one who proudly breaks many male stereotypes – I’m 6’3″, write poetry, don’t drink or smoke, that would make me “un” Macho and hence not a good leader in many eyes.

    Oh well…

    GREAT post as always Lisa!
    Steve O

    PS would LOVE your thoughts on my most recent blog post.
    Steve Olenski´s last blog post ..Why does it take death to remind us to keep things in perspective

    • Steve,

      I think that you’re right about it being alive and well, but I’m very curious to see what the group thinks about it being present in the business environments that they work in. It should be a fascinating discussion. And I’m quite sure you break the mold – I think most of the men I truly respect are much “manlier” because of their sensitivity to others and the fact that they exude respect for others.

      Thanks for your incredibly kind comments and I hope that you’ll be able to join us some day – I understand that it’s a difficult time at night for your family. All the very best!

  2. So happy this topic has surfaced. As a man, I’m sick with the perceived idea of what masculinity is. So many men have a distorted view of “true” masculinity.

    When we don’t cave to someone else’s suggestion of what they think a man should do we’re told to “man up”. Looking forward to this chat.

    William Powell´s last blog post ..Does Your Culture Breed Success

    • That’s such a powerful comment, William – thank you so much for sharing your perspective. I’m looking forward to it as well, and thrilled to know you’ll be there! As always – thank you for taking the time to be here and to comment, it means a lot to me.

  3. Lisa,
    Your topic today is interesting for me, because it allows me to recall some really wonderful business leaders and conversely it calls to mind one or two who were just plain scary.
    You know I have been in the business world for over 40 years. I have reported to both men and women business leaders. I think I can honestly say that the adverb “macho” is no longer gender specific…or maybe it never was. I have reported to the “macho woman” and it was no less painful than reporting to a “macho” man.
    My last thought today is what I always found equally distressing when working for the “macho” persona is that he/she had the audacity to feel entitled to treat women and men “callously….” and homage was expected!
    This is a great topic…but should not be limited to male leaders.
    Judy Helfand´s last blog post ..Does your front-loading washer stink

    • Judy,

      You raise an excellent point and I’ll be very interested to learn tomorrow if others experienced the same persona from women leaders. The article I was using for the post only referred to men, but I absolutely agree with you that this persona can be expressed by women as well. As a matter of fact, I worked for one early on in my career and it was one of the most trying times of my life

      I hope you’ll be able to join us tomorrow evening to talk through this. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences here!

  4. Another Excellent Post (AEP!)

    As Steve O stated, it is unfortunate, but The Macho Man still exists…And the sad thing is that they are able to continue their rampage because they are in a position of Power and they can decide who lives and who dies…

    I often wonder when company’s will wise up and understand that The Macho Man Leadership is so yesterday’s management style. How does one break the chain?

    While I don’t believe this is part of The Macho Man persona, they are are those who lead because the are in a position of Power and they are those that lead because they truly believe they can bring out the best in others.

    Thanks Lisa for your insight – as always, it is inspiring and thought provoking.


    • Thank you Steve and that’s a really great question you ask about how to break the chain. Will you be at #LeadershipChat tomorrow night? I hope you’ll be there to raise the question and see what insights and experiences addressing this others may have.

      And thank you for your kind words and for your willingness to share them & your thoughts here!

  5. I have great disdain on anyone who uses power to make others subordinate. I mean that from an emotional perspective. There needs to be some sort of chain and order of responsibilities or nothing gets done. I think both male and females can cross the line on this subject. Males traditionally have had an overinflated view of themselves anyway that needs to be combated and since the womens liberation movement, females have shifted into a perception that the only way to succeed is to crush whatever is in your way.

    Both are wrong in my view and even though it happens anyway in business we all wish it did not. So what does it take? Once again it goes back to our viewpoint of ourselves. If as leaders we view ourselves as protectors as opposed to being someone who dominates there would be a lot more sense of closeness between team members.

    I don’t mean protector in the sense of savior but in the sense of looking out for someone else’s interests and as a leader helping provide a path where a team member can improve. This is an intriguing way of peering into negative leadership. Thanks for the post Lisa.
    Jonathan Saar´s last blog post ..Social Media Insecurities –Final Chapter-Bullies

    • Jonathan,

      Thank you so much for going deep on this one – I love how you bring it back to personal responsibility. What you’re talking about resonates with me as the “Greater Than Yourself” leadership style that Steve Farber exudes and writes about. And I think you’re right – if we focused more on wanting more for our team members then everyone wins.

      Hope to see you tonight! Thanks so much for reflecting here. :)

  6. Hi Lisa,
    Great article and thank you for parsing the 25 page source article.

    One observation that is unfortunate and quite troubling is the macho persona is expected in so many corporate environments. So to be any less would keep you out of the proverbial survival arena.

    Men and women, with their heart and talents in the right place, will struggle and/or fail without at least putting on some chaps to look the part.

    In America, compared to many western countries, the macho persona is of the mild variety so perhaps we are creeping toward a more tolerable, democratic and civil time soon.

    This may cause some comments—
    It seems like this civil and more democratic environment is already being practiced in youth run industries such as, Silicon Valley. Pretense is minimized and perhaps, the need to cause fear mongering among those macho leaders, is also lessened, so the need to feel insecure subsides…

    Turning things around have a great deal to do with awareness, discussion and exposure. So this forum is a great step in the right direction.


    • Michael,

      Great insights here – especially in regard to the youth run industries. We’ll have to see what the group thinks about that tonight. And I’m hearing from others that there seem to be certain industries where this is the norm for survival as you describe. I’m so glad I’m not in one of them… :)

      Honored that you read the post and took the time to share your perspective here – thank you so much.

  7. Lisa:

    Again, sorry for missing the chat – was attending a very macho event (my hyper-masculine 12 year old’s basketball game) – but had a chance to look at the transcript. Sounds like it was fun.

    Let’s keep in mind that “macho” as defined as “masculine” isn’t always such a Bond villain. While the points you mined out of this study certainly painted a 1 dimensional cartoon bad guy, the John Wayne stereotype of purpose, determination, courage, leadership and success-orientation works – in every culture.

    I’ve known good guys and bad guys in my career, as have we all. The best were closer to John Wayne than Alan Alda: clear sense of purpose, unwavering, straight “shooter,” no bullsh$t leaders who expected accountability. No “emotional intelligence” is required when we’re all on the same team, fighting the same fight.

    Sure, it’s hard to argue the case for the badness of bad stereotypes. If we define “macho” as bad up front, then there’s little to like about people to fit that mold. But let’s give manhood a break. We have enough stacked against us in our current cultural climate.
    Stephen Denny´s last blog post ..The Coming Logo Singularity- Starbucks and the Simplified Logo- Simplified

    • Stephen,

      I agree with you on many fronts here. I think one of the key points was that “macho” was not defined at all as masculine; it was defined as “hypermasculine” with some very specific attributes. And I agree about not labeling it as “bad” up front – but I think we decided as a group that there are some places/times where it’s absolutely appropriate and some instances where it makes for very poor and ineffective *business* leadership.

      Hoping to see you next Tuesday evening as you always add such great insights to the chat, Stephen!

  8. Really liked this post…so much that I just included it on my blog. I wrote a post a while back “When It Comes To Dominance, Men Are Like Dogs.” Similar thoughts about stereotypes and approaches of men.

    I do find it interesting that the majority of stereotype studies and research revolve around men. Instead, the research should be focused on what can we learn from stereotypes and use these insights for better collaboration–for everyone.

    • Ira,

      I genuinely appreciate the comment and the fact that you shared it with your blog readers! I agree that the more we understand the stereotypes (and how we label others) the better we can truly understand the realities of working together and elevate ourselves towards higher collaboration.

      Thank you again for being here and I’d love to have you join us on #LeadershipChat some Tuesday evening! All the best to you, Ira!

  9. Its fantastic as your other content : D, appreciate it for posting .


  1. […] In other words, a real man knows who he is and doesn’t have to prove himself. A macho man is perpetually seeking to do so, and the means is aggressive, win-lose dominance (physically, verbally, sexually, whatever). For a woman’s perspective on this issue, read my LeadershipChat co-moderator Lisa Petrilli’s post from yesterday (No Bull-Riding: Why Macho Men make Terrible Business Leaders). […]

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