4 Pitfalls of Toxic Masculinity to Overcome for Business Success

Maggie Karshner
5 min readJun 27, 2023

I recently had a client display some toxic masculinity. This was frustrating, yet marked a bit of a milestone for my business. I had exclusively female clients for the first many years of my business. Since then, I’ve developed a healthy variety of men and non-binary clients. Now culminating in an instance of toxic masculinity. (Yay?) Confusing as it is, this has got me thinking. I’m noticing how self-defeating an unexamined masculine and/or patriarchal worldview is for a business.

Yes, I know — the vast majority of Fortune 500 CEO’s are men. Billionaires project the image that masculinity is a great tool for success in our society. And yes, winning the game of capitalism is aided by being a man upholding the patriarchy. But I don’t believe “success” is synonymous with winning at capitalism. I am not here to see a future where capitalism just keeps doing what it’s been doing. Let’s break from the dominant narrative and define success as contributions to society that enrich all its members.

To this end, we’ve got to eradicate toxic masculine traits from the way we do business. These traits bring some SERIOUS risk factors to launching a self-employed business. Here are four traits that will undermine your entrepreneurial dreams. Don’t let these go unchecked, no matter what your gender identity.

1. Thinking You Know What’s Best

Launching a business often involves donning the mantel of “expert.” This is vitally necessary for your sales and marketing. Prospective clients need to have confidence that you’re an expert to understand and value what you do appropriately. But your expertness can never swing so far as thinking you know what’s best always. An expert knows more than their client but also has room to learn and grow. You don’t have to pretend that you’ve arrived at the final answer and there is no more.

By remaining adaptable and open-minded, self-employed individuals can navigate challenges and seize opportunities more effectively. You’re able to notice that exception to the rule. You’re ready to learn and improve your expertise. You’re flexible when the landscape of your industry changes. Embracing a mindset that is open to learning and improvement is crucial to so many areas in life and most especially in business!

Solution: a mindset of improvement or learning

2. Feeling That You Have to Embody Exceptionalism at Every Moment

First off, this isn’t attainable, so you’ll always fail at it. Let’s set ourselves (and especially our egos) up for success by not trying to be exceptional or perfect. Especially not all the time!

A mindset of perfectionism creates disconnection and perpetuates a sense of superiority. You separate yourself from the people your business serves. While this separation may stroke your ego, it’s not fulfilling and customers don’t like it.

In reality, we’re all in this together and it’s not zero-sum. Embrace our shared humanity and acknowledge our fallibility. This creates a more relatable and genuine connection with clients and customers. Building meaningful connections is vital for long-term success as it fosters trust, loyalty, and a sense of belonging. For your customers AND for YOU!

Solution: embrace being human

3. Not Willing to Inquire or Listen to Others

There’s a huge difference between dealing with negative feedback, and seeking out input. In the first case, you’re trying to snuff out bad PR before it becomes a firestorm. In the latter situation, you’re taking intentional action to seek out and understand opinions you find valuable. The former may seem necessary, but the vital one is the latter.

Business owners who attempt to address negative feedback often make it so much worse. It’s leagues more fruitful for self-employed business owners to ignore their haters. Trust that your prospective clients will see it for what it is.

When it comes to those who welcome feedback, a common pitfall is to accept any feedback as the truth. Instead, take a moment to discern if the feedback is from a source that you want to accept or not. Your ideal client will love your business idea, but everyone else might think it’s a really stupid idea. Focus on the voice of your ideal client, not those of unrelated bystanders.

Level up your feedback skills by actively seeking out opinions you find valuable. Who are teachers whose work you admire? What are the opinions of clients you worked well with? These are the people you might have to put some extra effort into getting feedback from.

Solution: improve your skills at accepting feedback

4. Black-and-White Thinking

If you’re looking for one right answer, you’re never going to find it. You could find a right answer for you and your business. But it’s likely things will shift and what is right will change given enough time. The rigidity of black-and-white thinking is a strong liability in a small business. A small business doesn’t have the clout to shape large market forces.

What a small business does have is agility and the ability to adapt quickly! You can shift with a dynamic marketplace when you are open to alternatives. There usually isn’t a clear right and wrong answer. It’s vital to recognize that there are often multiple valid solutions and that circumstances may change over time. Hold space for ambiguity, and find the decision that works good enough for now. Then keep moving on!

Solution: take action that works well enough for the present

Why be Toxic When You Could Be Badass?

Toxic masculine traits are uncomfortable to experience, they hinder success and limit growth. They’re not necessary for business even if they’re commonplace! By recognizing and addressing these traits, self-employed business owners can make a difference. Making comfortable space for non-cis-men clients, customers, and colleagues supports a thriving business. A thriving business will ripple out to the wider society. Real success values continual learning, human connection, active listening, and agility. And that leads to a better world for everyone!

Originally published at https://www.maggiekarshner.com on June 27, 2023.

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Maggie Karshner

Maggie is a business coach who helps launch and grow self-employed businesses. Learn how she could help you at https://www.maggiekarshner.com/