Article, Get Real & Lead From There By Joanne McLean :

Get Real & Lead From There.
by Joanne McLean

If becoming a real great woman leader were a good news/bad news story, it would go something like this: There are no short cuts. And the good news is, there are no short cuts! At some point in your life, you have to do the inner work—walk the path, know the sadness, the vulnerability, the separation and the messiness. And what I now know is that this path leads to an extraordinary story of possibility for women leaders.

Why is this? Because women have so many innate, natural gifts for leadership. It is our ability to be inclusive, to generously listen, to see the long-term view while holding the current reality and our natural affinity to creating community. Women in leadership need huge support and encouragement to harness and deliver on their natural gifts. Unfortunately, in our business world today, women are still finding it challenging to really lead from their natural gifts.

Let’s go back to the beginning for a moment…to our very earliest memories of childhood. In order to define ourselves, we are socialized to seek the approval of others. Some examples are as simple and powerful as being helpful, cooperative, nice, etc. We compare ourselves to others, and our parents and teachers compare us to others. We are “benchmarked” against something outside of ourselves. We try to prove ourselves to others at home, at school and later, when we enter the workforce. We are rewarded for producing results to satisfy someone else. This hunger for approval grows and is nurtured by the worlds of academia and of work. And we progress. We enjoy moments of success in our careers. We get a promotion, so we get recognized as a “fast tracker.” We get “picked” for a high visibility project. We get “headhunted” to a new job!

We work hard, stay focused and give much of ourselves and our life to work. Yet there are times along this road when we notice that the way things are operating seem to grate upon us. We see people not being treated with respect, and we notice people being overlooked, not heard and left by the side. We observe leadership that is command-minded, control-minded and scarcity-minded, particularly when the going gets tough. And we stay committed, because that is who we are. We have been raised to work hard, to stay focused and be tough-minded—particularly in business—and not to show emotion.

Sometimes as women leaders, we are lonely. There are not a lot of people to talk to as we climb the “ladder of success.” We find that we become more insular, and we do not seek the community of others to talk about what we feel inside. Our identity is so wrapped up in our position at work, and yet there is an emptiness, a separation from who we know we really are. This happens in such a subtle way. We don’t know what is wrong with us—why are we restless? We think that maybe it is juggling family and work, too much travel, too many priorities, too many late nights finishing projects.

Eventually, at some point along this leadership journey, we often hit our own personal “brick wall.” It could be an illness, death of someone close, a divorce, job loss or being overlooked for the next promotion, even though we have given the best of our life to the organization.

So here is the really great news: Our world desperately needs more real women leaders and not at the exclusion of men. We need more women to step into their own authentic power and begin to bring a new balance and perspective about how to create success—in both for-profit and not-for-profit business sectors, in government and in communities.

So when the path is dark and we feel as if we have hit our own brick wall—this is the quiet invitation to go inside. This reflection calls us to get clear on our values, passions, purpose and natural strengths. It is a time to begin the work of reclaiming ourselves and then bring it to the world in the form of our own authentic brand of leadership.

The Co-Active principles are an amazing place for women leaders to begin their inner leadership journey, preparing them to deliver on their natural talents. Through these principles, they become aware of their ability and conscious intention to stay curious, manage judgment, listen even more fully, access their intuition, and trust themselves to act and learn at the same time.
When women leaders simply stop for a moment—and take “time out” to do their inner work—the results are nothing short of extraordinary. We bring a style of leadership to the workplace that is like a breath of fresh air. The funny thing is we learn to breathe again ourselves. The bottom line is we get reconnected and clear about who we really are, what we stand for and how we make a unique contribution to the world—on our terms, with ease.

So we all need to travel our own path; there are no short cuts! And there is a wonderful sense of comfort, knowing that all we learned along the way brings rich experiences and deep knowing about what can be different, if we just get real and lead from there. Everyone creates the new path all in her own time.


Joanne is a principal in Soulzatwork, a company supporting business leaders and their teams to create more success, sustainability and fulfillment, through consciously developing leadership capacity from their natural strengths. Joanne is particularly passionate about the world having more women leaders and not at the exclusion of men.


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