“We all have masculine and feminine within us, and when it’s all balanced it’s like accessing a super power.” (Alicia Keys)
What do we mean by “masculine” and “feminine” and why is balancing them important?
Much has been written about the sacred feminine (yin) and the sacred masculine (yang). Although each person possesses both masculine and feminine energies, usually one type is more developed or dominant. This dominant energy affects how you perceive yourself, others, your environments and how you interact with the world.
The qualities of each type of energy are outlined in the table below. *
Feminine Energy (Yin) BEING & GIVING
Masculine Energy (Yang) DOING & RECEIVING
Linear & Logical
Allow for “flow”
Excerpted from “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” (2015) by Pamela Thompson, p. 84
When you live life feeling like you are on a hamster wheel and can’t get off, you are exhibiting many of the characteristics of masculine energy. It’s important to be aware of the qualities of each type of energy because being out of balance negatively impacts our bodies, our minds, our relationships and our work. For example, if we are constantly in our masculine energy, over time it leads to illness, lack of fulfillment, unhappiness, and restlessness. Whereas if we are dominated by our feminine energy, we become ill, resentful, needy and insecure.
How can you find and create your own unique balance between your feminine and masculine energies? A good place to start is with an assessment.
Here’s an illuminating exercise:
At the end of the day, take some time to pause and reflect on your day. Create 2 lists. Put at the top of one list “Doing” and the other list “Being”. Without thinking too much, do a brain dump of all the things you’ve done in that day. This could include: planning with your team, chairing a meeting, doing a performance review … . Then write down all the things you would categorize as “being” such as: walking mindfully in nature, meditating, spending time focusing attentively on someone or something.
If it’s been an unusual day, take the time to also reflect on the previous day.
Then create 2 other lists. Think about all your “Giving” behaviors that day. Examples include: making a meal for a sick friend, volunteering your time to assist others, listening to a friend’s tale of woe. .
Now think about all your “Receiving” behaviors for that day. Receiving behaviors include: treating yourself to a yoga class and being present during it, meditating for at least 10 minutes, reaching out for support when you needed it; such as “Sweetie, do you mind driving the kids to school today? I’ve got a lot on my plate.”, treating yourself to a bubble bath or massage.
Now look at your lists. What do you notice?Are you giving more than receiving and doing more than being?
Then take a few moments to go into your body and notice how you are feeling. Are you low in energy? Are you feeling resentful? Are you finding you have a “short fuse” and that you are reacting rather than taking some thoughtful time to respond to people at home and/or at work?
I invite you to do this exercise for a few days and notice what you notice. I welcome your reflections and insights below.
Stay tuned for the next installment to discover some tips and tools for balancing your masculine and feminine energy.
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 topossibility. 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”.
Why is tapping into and expressing your creative side important for leaders today?
Let’s clarify what I mean by “tapping into and expressing your creative side”. As you know, we have both a left and right brain. The left brain is associated with logic, structure, language, words and rational thought; whereas the right brain is associated with creativity, emotion, “big picture” thinking and intuition. We tap into both sides of our brain for a variety of our daily tasks; however, we are usually right or left-brain dominant. Someone who is right-brain dominant is more adventurous, creative and emotional. An example of someone who is left-brain dominant is a person who is orderly, logical and analytical. When we tap into and express our creative side we are tapping into our right brain.
Since the Second World War, our organizations, educational systems and what we value have largely been structured around and based on left-brain logic and values such as “doing” more than “being” and valuing “competition” over “collaboration”.
Faced with increasingly complex issues such as climate change, systemic racism, and the rapid rate of technological change, authors such as Daniel Pink (in A Whole New Mind) and Sir Ken Robinson (in The Element) have made the case that we need to shift our emphasis away from valuing mainly left-brain traits/functions. They encourage us to change our organizations and educational systems so they encourage, stimulate and reward the right-brain functions of creativity and innovation.
Today’s leader needs to have a vision and inspire others based on that vision. Visioning a desired future involves tapping into your right brain. During these times of intense change and uncertainty it’s important to let go of old ways of thinking and acting and explore new paradigms and ways of thinking and acting. A creative leader encourages innovation and new ways of thinking and acting.
An example is rather than the senior management team in an organization sitting in a room on their own with a consultant developing a strategic plan and then communicating it down through the layers of the organization, there is much value in facilitating the creation of a shared vision where people throughout the organization are part of the process and can see themselves in and have ownership for the strategic plan.
From my own experience consulting with organizations in various parts of the world, I have experienced the power of facilitating a shared visioning process and enabling people through various levels of an organization to participate in that process. While working with the Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan to develop their first strategic plan and build the capacity of a planning team I was assigned, we conducted group consultations across the Ministry. The findings from these consultations fed into a process that included a national level workshop where other key stakeholders were engaged to identify the Strategic Directions and key activities they believed were important to move them toward their shared vision.
Shared visioning is also powerful when designing a new project or program. I have used this strategy; for example, while leading a design team for a donor-funded project in Nigeria, where we facilitated a planning process in the 2 states where the project was being implemented, one in the Muslim North and one in the Christian south. Key stakeholders from each state created a shared vision, identified the key challenges and opportunities in their current situation and key areas that needed support to move from their current situation to their desired future vision. These 2 visions were shared by state representatives (selected by their peers) at a national level workshop with other national level stakeholders. The power of this process led to increased understanding among the two groups and laid the foundation for them to work more effectively together over the 5 year project.
In order for shared visioning and the exploration of new ideas and solutions to occur, you need to believe in your peopleand create a safe environment/culture where new ideas are encouraged, and mistakes are accepted and viewed as learning opportunities. Engineers without Borders is an excellent example of an organization who have created such a culture. A number of years ago they instituted an Annual Failure Report. As part the process, Project Managers from their various projects around the globe were interviewed and asked to openly share their lessons learned (what worked and what didn’t) in the previous year. These lessons were then built upon and fed into the next year’s planning process. Rather than only report on the positive outcomes of the year, they were encouraged and supported to share and learn from their mistakes. This is the way to improve; to create and share with others the challenges you have faced and explore how you can learn from and prevent them in the future.
As a leader in your community, workplace, business … , you know that change begins with you, as you are a role model for others. So how can you learn to cultivate and tap into your creative side? 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.
Do you consider yourself a creative person? If yes, why? If not, why not?
Are there any creative pursuits you did as a child but haven’t done for years? If so, what are they?
Are there some creative or artistic pursuits you would be interested in exploring?/trying out?
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.
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.
What tools and strategies have helped you get in touch with your creative side? Do you agree that creativity is an important leadership qualityfor these constantly changing and uncertain times? I welcome your comments and experiences below.