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How Should Women Lead?

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There's been a lot of buzz in recent months about women's leadership. How women "should" lead, how the world needs more feminine authority... In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg tells us to embrace our more masculine energies, to "keep our hands in the air" and "make sure we have a seat at the table," while the authors of The Athena Doctrine encourage us to emphasize our more feminine traits, since the world hungers for that, their research shows. Both make many good points about their side of the pendulum, but that's just the problem: pendulums swing back and forth. I happen to be both a woman and a leader, and if I swing too far either way on the spectrum, I'm not as effective. And pendulum-swinging is just tiresome and ultimately inhibits progress. Personally, I think we'd be better off if we stopped arguing about which approach is better and consider a different way that could be more effective and actually sustainable. I like to call it Integration.

Neuroscientist Dan Siegel defines Integration as "the linkage of differentiated elements." As I see it, we were once tribal, where our relationships with each other meant our very survival. As our lifestyles evolved in the West, we had to break out of that to find our own individual voices. In the process, we gained a wider range of tools and expression, but became isolated and separate from each other. This imbalance has given birth to much of the injustice in the world. And, as a result, what's trying to happen on a global level now is the integration of both the collective/relational and the individual/creative. We're hungry to maintain connection and relationship with each other while still leaving space for unique contribution. We are looking to link all the parts together now -- and to link to each other -- as the unique, powerful, differentiated beings we were meant to be.

So, how can we stimulate and support the development of Integration in ourselves and the world?

  1. Get curious. Get over being right and start really listening and looking for value in the other point of view. What if I really understood what they are saying? Might I discover parts of myself I am not familiar with yet?
  2. Emphasize the positive. Instead of focusing on what's wrong, focus on what we need to create for our lives. What we choose to put our attention on is what expands.
  3. Meditate daily. This practice actually helps build the strength and thickness of the corpus callosum, the tissue that connects our right and left brain hemispheres, which literally integrates us. Building this physical link makes us more capable of using all our functions, depending on what's called for in the moment.
  4. Develop our Co-Active muscle. This is the methodology, communication style and philosophy we developed at The Coaches Training Institute 20 years ago that helps people maximize their self-awareness, relationship intelligence and practical effectiveness. Co-Active skills, by definition, are about balancing collaboration, connection and presence with decisiveness, action and purpose.
  5. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Continue to work for equal rights and level the playing field. There are times we need to be more aggressive, but not always. Sometimes we need to be more collaborative and create more intimacy.

Not only do men and women need each other, we all need "masculine" and "feminine" qualities in order to be integrated human beings and leaders. Won't it be cool when we can stop labeling these traits by the traditional gender we ascribe to the particular behavior and just recognize all the positive traits as necessary for a whole person to be effective and fulfilled?

Yes, the time has come to resolve the paradox, to move out of the "either/or" world we have lived in far too long. If we listen more, look for the value in what the other has to bring and really give ourselves to the conversation and exploration rather than trying to fix the problem, how much more we can learn, grow and expand what's possible for us as humanity!

So, this is why, when asked how I think women should lead, I often say, "The same way men should: Integrated." I look forward to the day when the question shifts to, "How should people lead to create a whole, fulfilled society?"