November 7, 2016

Feminine Leadership

How many of you feel that we are at a critical turning point in our world? In the field of international security, there is not a single paper or presentation that does not start from the premise that our security environment has significantly changed. We talk regularly of the “new normal”, the “post post-modern” security environment – not necessarily with a clear understanding of this new context. In reality, the magnitude of change goes well beyond the security field, and frankly it is no longer an external reality. Upheaval has become a daily personal challenge for many, from professional to health, financial, and relationship issues. The level of dissatisfaction, restlessness, the feeling of things no longer working around us is particularly striking in the context of elections in western societies, where people have a voice. Structures are disintegrating, the old order is unravelling thereby generating a level of chaos and instability that is uncomfortable to many. At the same time, it unleashes great potential for evolution, growth, breakthroughs, awakening for humanity. Riding this wave will require leadership, but the question is what type of leadership? Where are the great leaders of yesterday, many lament! And yet leadership qualities of the past may not be what the world requires today.

Let us launch a conversation on the type of leadership one needs in today’s world, as much as in our personal lives. First, we need to get beyond old beliefs about leadership. Our societies often think about leadership in terms of knowledge, expertise. We seek the best, the most knowledgeable, the most skilled and capable persons to lead the way. Moreover, our understanding of leadership is connected to our understanding of exercising power. It is about doing, acting, accomplishing, forging, commanding and controlling. There is in fact a deep assumption in our culture that leadership is embedded in masculine qualities, from laser vision to strategy, planning, action-oriented tasks, and ultimately winning. I would contend that leaders today no longer need to be the best and brightest. They have first and foremost to be comfortable with discomfort, and multi-tasking. They need to be connected to many networks, not necessarily with an agenda in mind, but rather with a desire to nurture these relationships, and a willingness to serve the community. They will need to be creative in a non-linear way. They will have to step forward with courage, as in “coeur rage.” This has more to do with rage of the heart than rage of the mind. The conditions are ripe for each and every one to make a quantum leap into the unknown, but who will lead and how?

This brings me to my second point. Who will lead tomorrow is not an issue of men versus women, but leaders of tomorrow will need to master the courage to lead from their feminine qualities and energies. Various articles, workshops and research have come up recently with lists of words best describing masculine qualities versus feminine energies. The masculine list would put forward words such as: external, mental, structure, goal, purpose-driven, protective, provider, ordered, linear, predictable; while the feminine would list words like: internal, emotional, flow, receptive, nurturing, chaotic, imperfect, non-linear, multi-tasking, unpredictable. Both men and women can tap into these energies. However, women may have an edge and certainly a responsibility to champion this type of leadership.

The point is not to replace masculine with feminine leadership style. The ideas is to be aware of our own internal sources of energy (the yin and the yang in some cultures) and choose adequately for the challenge at hand. Masculine leadership will remain essential to succeed, to acquire, and to win. In today’s world, however, we will need to increasingly tap into the feminine energies of nurturing, growing, birthing, cultivating, and our leadership style will need to be sourced more and more from the feminine. Our world demands less “winning” and more “creating and connecting”.

Last but not least, how to bring about this new leadership ultimately rests on our ability to reach within ourselves, as opposed to acquiring new knowledge and skills. The answer does not lie out there. It sits inside, and requires an honest search deep down for authenticity and integrity. Feminine leadership starts with questioning our assumptions and core beliefs about leadership. How did your leadership course sits with who you are at heart? It is driven by a desire to connect rather than to win. It demands that both men and women alike tap into a different source of power, connecting with their deeper desires and unique qualities, and stepping out of their comfort zone to lead from a place of vulnerability rather than from a place of strength. It will be challenging for men and women alike. However, women have had to master masculine energies to step into leadership roles in the past decades. Men will if they have not already have mastered feminine energies in the next decades. However, women have a particular responsibility today in leading the way towards such transformative leadership. Most women know feminine leadership intuitively, but we are yet to harness it as a source of power, a new leadership style. This is the way to contribute our full potential, and reconnect with our environment, bringing authenticity and integrity to the work place, our personal lives, and to the world.

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