Why Leadership Starts with “I”

Why Leadership Starts with “I”

“Leadership starts with “I” before you can ever affect the “we”. (Lisa Marie Platske – Leadership Coach & Consultant)

Or in other words:

“Until we do the personal development work required as people, we cannot do the work required of us as leaders, and without that we cannot possibly do the work required as
organizations.” (Jennifer Eggers & Cynthia Barlow, 2019, RESILIENCE ITS NOT ABOUT BOUNCING BACK)

I so relate to these two quotes by leaders whom I respect and who inspire me, and believe that to become an effective leader, now more than ever, leadership starts with “I”.

COVID-19 has provided the opportunity for a number of women political leaders globally to demonstrate how by using their feminine leadership qualities, they have been able to rapidly and effectively respond to the pandemic.

Research on leaders in crisis has shown that women tend to lead more effectively than men during times of crisis. [1]

So what are some of these authentic feminine leadership qualities and how can you as a leader develop them? I would like to acknowledge that men as well as women can have and learn these qualities.

An authentic feminine leader is compassionate.

In order to be compassionate to others we first need to be kind and show compassion toward ourselves.

How do you change from beating yourself up about not making that target or about showing emotion during a meeting?

It starts with getting in touch with your emotions and feeling more comfortable with being vulnerable. You can practice this first in your personal life with a friend or a partner, and then when your compassion muscle strengthens you can show compassion to your leadership team and then to other folks in your organization. If you’re not sure where to start, a leadership coach may be helpful. A certified coach helps you peel away the layers, in a confidential space, get in touch with who you really are and gain a better understanding of why you respond the way you do.

An authentic feminine leader is collaborative. S/he believes in and models collaboration. This is important when dealing with complex situations and issues. 

In an organization this would look like rewarding teams over individuals rather than individuals over teams.

How do you change from valuing individuals over teams to valuing collaboration and teamwork?

From my experience, it’s important to be part of a collaborative venture that is successful. For a number of years, I believed that if I wanted to get something done and done well, I would do it myself. Perhaps you relate. It wasn’t until my late 30s when I was chairing a national strategy for the federal government with partners from 8 national health professional associations, that I saw the synergies that can be created and the creative solutions that are possible in an effective collaborative partnership. Since then, on a number of occasions, I have experienced the power and magic of a collaborative venture when the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. I find Barbara Gray[2] , a seasoned negotiator and organizational theorist’s metaphor of a successful collaboration being likened to a kaleidoscope, illustrative. She likens each piece of colored glass to the various stakeholders that are part of such a process. When we turn a kaleidoscope the image changes, creating something new and making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

An authentic feminine leader is inclusive. S/he recognizes the importance of different races, religions and ethnic groups being represented “at the table” so their voices are heard, understood and included in the process and outcome.

When we take the time to get to know people from different backgrounds, religions and cultures we learn to better understand them and acknowledge the rich contribution they may make to a team and/or organization. A good place to start is to invite them for coffee or lunch and genuinely be interested in learning more about them and their goals and aspirations.

An authentic feminine leader is intuitive. S/he uses their body as well as her/his mind to make decisions e.g. heart and gut.

To remind us of the importance and power of intuition I offer this insightful quotation from a brilliant man:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” (Albert Einstein)

How do you learn to tap into and trust your intuition? Mindfulness practices are a good place to start. They help us get out of our heads (and that constant chatter) and into our bodies where we can find quiet and gain insights.

Mindfulness practices originate from Buddhism. Body scanning is a good place to start. Each morning on awakening scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort. Breathe into those areas and release them. Imagine them flowing out of your body.

Mindfulness walking meditations are another practice. I recommend initially doing these 3 times a week for 15 to 20 minutes a day; for example, at a lunch break or immediately after work. Ideally do this outdoors in a park or in nature if possible. Focus on all of your senses. Hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, smell the salty sea air, view the beautiful vistas surrounding you, feel the wind on her cheeks. When thoughts come into your head, imagine they are clouds. Let them drift by and resume focusing on all of your senses. Notice what you notice during the walking meditations and after.

Learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom. This is one of the 7 keys in my book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” .

What I know to be true is that our bodies always know the truth. Many of us were raised in cultures that value and focus on our rational, logical left brain and staying in our heads. Try something as simple as when you feel tired, go to sleep rather than pushing through that last task before heading to bed. When a decision doesn’t feel right, try going with your gut rather than rationalizing a decision. For more tools to assist you to learn to make decisions using your body’s wisdom check out chapter 4 in Learning to Dance with Life.

An authentic feminine leader is creative.

To lead during times of uncertainty we need to use both our right and left brains. [3] The right brain being associated with creative, unstructured, emotional and “big picture” thinking … and left brain being associated with logic, structure, language, words and rational thought.

How do you learn to tap into and express your creative side (right brain)? One way is through the following exercise.

Sit down in a quiet place, free from distractions. Take a few deep breaths to relax yourself and close your eyes for a couple of minutes if you feel comfortable doing so. Ask yourself the following questions and write down your responses to them. Write down the first thing that comes to mind without judging or editing it.

  1. Do you consider yourself a creative person? If yes, why? If not, why not?
  2. Are there any creative pursuits you did as a child but haven’t done for years? If so, what are they?
  3. Are there some creative or artistic pursuits you would be interested in exploring?/trying out?
  4. Commit to either starting to integrate a childhood “passion” into your life or choose a new one such as “learning to play the piano” that perhaps you always wanted to do as a child but never had the opportunity to pursue. Identify the next steps for taking action to integrate a new or “old” creative or artistic pursuit into your life. It’s helpful to use a two-column table with “activity” heading one column and “timeline” the other.
  5. Support is important for many of us when starting something new and continuing with it. Enlist the support of a friend, colleague or family member to encourage and support you in your new endeavor or invite them to join you in doing it.

To encourage creativity and innovation in your organization it is also important to foster a culture that encourages experimentation and learns from its mistakes (e.g. Annual Failure Report from Engineers without Borders).

In the words of Ashley Good in Engineer’s without Borders 2017 Annual Failure Report:

“We hope this report serves as an acknowledgement that systems change is complex and therefore some degree of failure is inevitable. … we need to create room for ourselves to try new things and experiment in pursuit of figuring out what might work to shift the system towards our vision. Therefore, the best thing we can do is be willing to take the risk of trying something new, and at the same time, get really good at detecting where our efforts are failing early, analyzing effectively, and applying our learning to continuously improve [4]

So as a leader when will you start valuing these authentic feminine qualities of compassion, collaboration, inclusiveness, intuition and creativity and integrating them into your personal and professional life? I encourage you to start with one, develop it and then try it out in your workplace and notice what happens.

How will you as a leader (in your family, community, workplace) begin? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.


[1] https://hbr.org/2020/12/research-women-are-better-leaders-during-a-crisis?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_weekly&utm_campaign=weeklyhotlist_not_activesubs&deliveryName=DM113092

[2] Gray, B. 1989, Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

[3] https://pamela-thompson.com/why-tapping-into-your-creativity-is-important-for-leaders-today/

[4] https://www.ewb.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/EWB_FAILURE-REPORT_EN_03-08-2018-pages.pdf

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