How do you tap into, gather and recognize the wisdom in your teams, clients, organization?
Years ago, while working for the federal government I recall being perplexed by the fact that many people were hired for their experience, credentials, and expertise, and yet when they got into position, this wisdom and experience was rarely tapped into or openly recognized and valued. How often do we want to have qualified and experienced people join our ranks and then when they get into position not really enable them to share that wisdom?
In these times of uncertainty when we have complex issues such as climate change and systemic racism to solve, we need multiple disciplines and “heads” around the table, and processes that value this wisdom-sharing and enable people to contribute in meaningful ways.
How do we create environments that enable us to gather and share our collective wisdom?
Having lived and worked on 5 continents with various levels of government, non-profits, academic institutions, and vulnerable groups such as injection drug users and sex trade workers, I know that people from all walks of life have wisdom to share. Often people closest to a problem can provide the best solutions. I recall facilitating a group in an area of multi-generational poverty as part of the participatory evaluation of a child poverty project, and one participant stopping chewing (as we served dinner as part of the group). I asked “John” what made him stop eating and he said, “This is the first time anyone has ever asked for my thoughts or opinion on anything.” Telling! How often have we missed opportunities to ask questions to people who understand the issues and have wisdom to share?
At Female Wave of Change (FWOC) Canada we believe that “authentic feminine leadership qualities (which men as well as women can have and learn) hold the key to creating a better world; a more conscious, equitable, just, sustainable and peaceful one” – https://fwoccanada.com/about/.
A recent member benefit we have added is “Collective Wisdom Circles”. They are groups of maximum 10 participants including the facilitator that currently meet once a month for 1.5 hours. The objectives of the Circles include:
- An opportunity to share wisdom and learn from each other in community.
- An opportunity for learning and growth.
- Creating a safe space for women to come together and share insights and actions that can be used in our broader lives and communities.
The facilitator changes each time we meet and at the end of each Circle we reach consensus on who will take the lead at our next Circle. The focus theme of our current Circles is: “Dealing with Change and Uncertainty”.
If you’d like to join us and learn more, I invite you to register for our upcoming complimentary virtual monthly meeting for an interactive and engaging session with featured guest Dr. Cathy Key – https://bit.ly/3IhQdhW ; open to members and the public.
I invite to share below your comments and strategies you’ve found helpful to tap into the wisdom of your teams, clients, organizations.
In a recent post I spoke about “Why Balancing Your Masculine and Feminine is Important” – https://pamela-thompson.com/why-is-balancing-your-masculine-and-feminine-important/. This post dives deeper and shares some tips and tools for balancing your masculine and feminine energy.
When you’re spinning out of control, feeling stuck on the hamster wheel and unable to get off, you often intuitively know that you need to create some more balance in your life. You may also be unsure about how to do that.
The cultures of China and India have recognized the importance of a balanced life for more than 2,000 years. Their theories of health and illness are based on the presence (or not) of balance. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also believes that disease is caused by energy blockage in the body. In order to stay healthy, it is important to keep energy moving throughout our bodies; for example, by regularly practicing qigong or tai chi, or having therapeutic massages by an experienced practitioner or energy healer.
I particularly like the metaphor Austin Vickers shares in his book Stepping Up To a Life of Vision, Passion and Authentic Power (2005). He likens balance to a three-legged stool. Vickers refers to the three stool legs as “body, mind, and spirit” and notes “all three of these legs of life are necessary to make us stable and balanced.” He cautions that if you are missing one leg of your stool “all of your energy is spent trying to maintain balance and not fall over. You cannot relax. But upon a balanced stool, one can relax, read, work or use it as a tool to do other things.”
When you are living life like a spinning top or caught on the hamster wheel, you are exhibiting many of the characteristics of masculine energy. It is important to be aware of the characteristics of the two energies, as being out of balance has negative impacts on our bodies, minds, relationships, and success at home and work. For example, if we are constantly in our masculine energy, driving and striving, over time it leads to illness (e.g. burnout), unhappiness, lack of fulfillment, and restlessness. Conversely, if we are dominated by our feminine energy, constantly giving to others, we may become resentful, ill, needy, and insecure.
How can you find and create your own unique balance between your masculine and feminine energies? Here are a few suggestions.
- Sit down. Close your eyes. Take several deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Get centered and grounded.
- Reflect on your day. Become an outside observer. Which characteristics of the two energies did you display today, and in which situations?
- Ask yourself if you are living your life more in the masculine than the feminine side or vice versa, and if this is out of balance.
- Ask yourself if you are willing to experiment, to make some changes in your behaviors and notice the impact they have on your body, mind, relationships, and creativity at home and at work.
- If the answer is yes, make a conscious decision to change one thing and try it out for a week. It could be the way you relate to your team. Think about this each morning before you get out of bed and make the commitment to yourself. For example, you might say, “I choose today to demonstrate empathy and be receptive to others’ ideas; to really listen instead of being in control, assertive, and competitive.”
- During the day, start to notice when you become “adrenalized”; when you become extremely “geared up” and have trouble sitting still. Take several deep breaths, go inside, and ask yourself what is it that is making you feel so anxious. Listen to what comes up for you.
- You may find it useful at the end of the day to reflect and journal about what came up for you and the impact(s) on your body, mind, relationships, creativity, and productivity when you initiated even a small change.
The first step in making any change is self-awareness. By becoming aware of what situations or people “adrenalize” you, you may then make a conscious choice to “dig deeper” and try on some new beliefs and behaviors.
I welcome your comments and thoughts below on strategies you have found helpful to balance your masculine and feminine energies.
In a recent blog post a colleague, Runa Bouius, shared the term “co-creative collaboration”. For me it clicked and made so much sense. You may be wondering what the heck does it mean?
To co-create means “to create something jointly”. To collaborate is “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.”
What’s the difference between the two? I believe that by adding “co-creative” to collaboration it underscores the creative aspects of the process and focuses on the positive energy and joy that results from co-creating a new program, project, initiative, organization; and the ownership one feels to the “end product”. It is a great way to bond with a team or group of individuals.
To co-create with a group, there are a number of beliefs that are important to have in place and processes that support co-creative collaboration.
Beliefs that support co-creative collaboration
What I’ve found from my work with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds is that it is important to believe that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, you believe that the chances of creating something new and innovative are much greater when you have variety of different perspectives and “heads” around the table, than what results from your own mind or from a small group who represent similar backgrounds (e.g. disciplines) and/or cultures.
I admire how Barbara Gray, a seasoned negotiator and organizational theorist, wrote about collaboration. She likened the collaborative process to a kaleidoscope and the pieces of colored glass within to the various diverse stakeholders involved in such a process. When you turn a kaleidoscope, the image changes, and a new one is created each time. Similarly in a well-designed collaborative process, each stakeholder is enabled to share their ideas and the final “product” the group comes up with is a combination of each person’s unique contribution; yet it is even better as each person builds on the next and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
Many of us begin our careers believing that we have all the answers, and it is easier to create something on our own rather than to involve others. We don’t really value collaboration until we experience a well-designed co-creative collaborative process.
Processes that support co-creative collaboration
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had the opportunity to co-chair a national strategy for the federal government. The consultant we hired to support us through that process was a gifted facilitator, Dorothy Strachan, who taught me so much. The strategy was “Enhancing Prevention in the Practice of Health Professionals” and it involved representatives from 8 national health professional associations in Canada; for example the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nursing Association, Canadian Dental Association … . Through a multi-phased process, we created a strategy document that supported integrating prevention through four key issue areas: policy and planning, program and service delivery, education of health professionals, and research and evaluation. The final “product” was endorsed by the Boards of each of the health professional associations who were around the table. It was a landmark document that included a number of concrete actions the various professions could take that included Goals and Options for Action in each of the issue areas, and a dissemination strategy characterized by “Prevention through Partnership: Collaborating for Change”.
Being part of this process made me value collaboration and understand how a well-designed and facilitated process can be both creative and productive.
We didn’t call it “co-creative collaboration” but indeed it was.
To be part of a co-creative collaborative process you need to trust in the process, believe that the whole IS greater than the sum of the parts, ideally include a diverse group of stakeholders in the process, create a safe environment with clear expectations, respect and value the contributions of everyone, and not come to the process invested in a particular outcome, rather be open to possibility. It is helpful to engage a skilled outside neutral facilitator with experience in collaborative processes.
As part of Female Wave of Change Canada, a member-based non-profit whose vision is:
“A more conscious, equitable, just, sustainable and peaceful world where authentic feminine leadership qualities are valued and underpin the creation of new and healthy organizations, structures and systems”,
I invited members to work together to co-create a project related to the Environment. In an email they were told that they didn’t need to be subject matter experts, and it was great if they were; however, having a passion for and interest in co-creating a project in the Environment area was important. Over 3 months of meeting via zoom about every 2 weeks, we co-created what is now called “The Mother Earth Ambassador Program”, an educational program for girls ages 9 to 12 that integrates indigenous wisdom and storytelling. As a group, we identified the: Problems we are solving, the broad Goal, the Outcomes/Objectives, a draft Outline, and Additional Design Aspects. We are now in conversation with a Master’s level university program and their students who we anticipate will assist us in fleshing out the program and “making it real”. If you’re interested in learning more and being part of a co-creative collaborative process, join us at: https://fwoccanada.com.
With the complex issues we are facing today, such as systemic racism, climate change, and gender inequality, we need a variety of “heads around the table” from different backgrounds and cultures to generate creative solutions and move us toward a world that works for everyone. Are you up to the challenge?
 Barbara Gray, Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989.
 Feminine Leadership Qualities include: compassionate, creative, collaborative, emotionally intelligent, authentic, inclusive … usually associated with the feminine. That said, men as well as women can have and learn these qualities.
It’s interesting when I reflect on how I used to act and feel in the workplace. I learned from a young age that it was important to separate my work life from my personal life. In doing so I could protect myself, and in the workplace I would only share the parts of myself that I felt were valued. For example, my ability to write, to facilitate, to work collaboratively with others.
I recall when launching my coaching business in 2009, after 10.5 years of doing management consulting, how I felt like I could only share my new business with certain clients. Others I thought would think I was going “woo woo”. After researching and writing program and policy documents in the health field, designing and facilitating multistakeholder and consultative processes, and doing qualitative studies, I launched the Creative Healing Center, a virtual center, where we coached people through various life transitions and integrated this with creativity, eastern psychology, the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts, and alternative modalities. At that time, I felt like I was trying to balance on two Swiss balls and was being challenged to do so. I felt that my logical left brain that I had been operating from for so long, (or so I thought), was now being challenged by my creative and empathic right brain.
Recently in chatting with a Diversity and Inclusion consultant, biracial friend and colleague, she spoke about “code-switching” and how women of color typically show up differently at work compared to with friends and at home. They do this because they feel and understand, based on experience, that if they bring their whole selves to work, they will not be valued, respected or promoted.
It made me reflect on which environments I felt most comfortable bringing my whole self to work in. Curiously it was in cross-cultural situations where I was working internationally with teams from countries such as Pakistan, Colombia, Nigeria, and Afghanistan; with people from cultures other than my own, that I brought my whole self to work. Curious isn’t it? Perhaps I had internalized from a young age that it was better to only share parts of myself in the North American work environment; and not to acknowledge my intuition and creativity?
How about you? Do you bring your whole self to work? What environments facilitate that? Which ones prevent you from sharing your whole self and why? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.
Recently, I was in an interactive workshop of female leaders, and a number of women voiced that they had negative feelings around the word “power”. I must confess, that was my belief for a number of years, based on my experience with leaders and leadership. However, recently I have changed my perspective around power after being energized and impressed at the way so many of the female leaders around the world responded to the pandemic. They were confident, decisive, and worked collaboratively with their teams and even consulted female leaders in other countries regarding their policies, practices and lessons learned.
The time has come for us to change our mindsets from “power over” to “power with”. Examples of “power with” include how Jacinda Ardern during the pandemic broadcast nationally to her fellow New Zealanders in her sweatshirt coming from a place of empathy and understanding, rather than command and control. How scientists from around the world banded together to find a vaccine for COVID-19 in record time, also demonstrated “power with”.
When you think of “power with”, what images does it conjure up? What does it mean to you? I see men and women standing together in a circle holding hands. I see community. To me it means admitting I don’t have all the answers and working together with others to solve complex issues and generate creative solutions. When I think of “power over” I think of a man on his own at the top of a hierarchy, making the decisions on his own from a place of ego, without seeing the need to consult with and understand various perspectives.
“Power over” is when one person or group unilaterally, usually through their political and/or financial influence, imposes their views and ways of working on others for their own gain, rather than trying to understand others and see the world through a different lens. They are threatened by new ideas and perspectives and often want to maintain the status quo that keeps them in power. They also encourage and support competition over collaboration.
The days of the Lone Wolf are over. Complex issues such climate change and systemic racism require leaders from a variety of backgrounds, disciplines, sectors and countries to solve them.
I believe that “power with”, which involves collaboration, is the way forward.
In order to collaborate it is important to:
- Believe that more than one “head” is better than one; that multiple perspectives around an issue lead to more creative and sustainable solutions
- Trust those you are collaborating with
- Be clear on your role and that of others in the process
- Have values aligned with those you are collaborating with
- Be open to new ways of understanding and looking at a problem
- Come from a place of service; of making a positive difference in the world.
What does power look and feel like for you? I welcome your thoughts and comments below on “power over” and “power with”.
Have you ever hired someone who looked great on paper, had excellent references, prestigious credentials and yet in an interview your gut told you there was something missing? Yet, you hired that person and didn’t listen to what your body was telling you. Within several months you realized you had not made a good choice, as the new hire ended up being highly competitive and out of alignment with one of your organization’s core values of collaboration.
It happens all the time. Why do we value our rational, logical left brain over our intuitive body’s wisdom? It turns out our organizations have been built on a set of beliefs that value the rational, logical left brain over our intuitive and creative right brain. We are beginning to realize the value of our intuition and the fact that leadership is both an art and a science.
In a recent leadership development class on authentic feminine leadership I taught with women leaders from a variety of countries, we walked through a number of qualities of authentic feminine leaders including: creativity, collaboration, inclusiveness, and intuition (discussed in more detail here – https://pamela-thompson.com/why-feminine-leadership-holds-the-key-to-creating-a-world-that-works-for-everyone/). I then asked each student to rate themselves on a scale from one to ten related to how well they embraced each of the qualities we had shared. After that, I invited them to revisit their ratings, identify the one most challenging for them related to their leadership, reflect on why, and share their reflections. It turned out intuition was the quality they were most challenged to embrace.
How can we learn to listen to and trust in our body’s wisdom and use it to make better decisions in our work and personal life?
Here are a few tools I use myself and have taught to clients from a variety of countries and cultures to help them get out of their heads and into their bodies.
- Body Scanning – This is an excellent tool to use to become more aware of your body and the messages it sends you. It’s helpful to do this first thing in the morning before you get out of bed or at night before you retire.
Close your eyes and take several deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Then begin scanning your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice any areas of tightness or discomfort. Breathe into those areas and imagine releasing the tightness or discomfort.
- Mindfulness Walking Meditation – Many of us who are busy and driven are challenged to sit down and meditate. If that is you, mindfulness walking meditation may be “just what the doctor ordered”. It’s preferable to do this outside in nature.
As you walk, focus on all of your senses. Feel the cool breeze against your face, smell the salt from the sea, hear the chirping of the birds, see the beautiful vistas or forest you are walking in. When thoughts come in, as they will, imagine they are clouds floating by and let then go or put them in a bubble and watch them float away. I encourage you to do this 3 times a week to start, for 20 to 30 minutes each time. Notice how you feel after each walk and the cumulative effect.
If you wish to learn more about how to “listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom”, I encourage you to read chapter 4 in my book Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women. Note that men as well as women have found this book helpful.
I welcome your comments below, in particular on strategies you have found useful to help you to make wise decisions by tapping into your body’s wisdom.
 As faculty for Women Leading in Change https://femalewaveofchange.com/reshape-the-future/ – a virtual leadership development program of Female Wave of Change.