Many of the women I work with do not consider themselves leaders. But invariably as we unearth, name and practice a different set of competencies that celebrate women’s ways of being and leading, the story changes. It’s not that these women aren’t leaders, they realize. Rather, the definition of leadership is incomplete.
In the 1980s, Sally Helgesen, in The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership, observed this unique style by documenting the behaviors of female leaders. She discovered women do lead differently. In fact, they transfer many of the skills they use to run a household to run an organization.
Women, noted Helgesen, use a facilitative process of leadership that entails “leading from the center of the web.” Strength comes from nurturing the intersecting points and authority rises organically as a result of heart-centered connections.
Does this mean women’s ways of leading are better? No. In fact, to say that is to model traditional masculine ways of leading. This is the tailspin feminists of the 1960s fell into.
Good leadership incorporates both masculine and feminine leadership competencies. (If there’s a fire in the building, you don’t want to sit around and discuss it, feminine style!) But creating this new model has its challenges.
New ways of leading that involve both head and heart demand care and attention. I learned this when I introduced a more facilitative style of leading circles (vs. the classic therapist-and-client model). Sometimes, I learned, the boundaries are murky. There is miscommunication and mixed agendas. You must always step back, reassess and sometimes ask for forgiveness.
But this is what happens when new models and ways of being are introduced into the world. It is also what’s necessary as we live our way into a newer and more balanced story of leadership personally and collectively.
Your Story: What is your leadership style? Does it contain both masculine, outcome-driven traits and more feminine, process-driven traits? If not, what one action can you take to create more balance?