The Invisible Woman

08/04/2016 02:44 pm ET

Women tend to have the blessing and the curse of being invisible, especially as we approach 50 and beyond. The negative side of being invisible is clear to most of us. The world no longer seems to notice or care about us or what we have to say—if they ever did in the first place. We seem to lose our voice because no one is listening. Sometimes, we don’t even use our voice because we don’t believe we’ll be heard, so why bother? Being invisible contributes to the vexing problem of low self-esteem, robbing women of the confidence they need to stand up and make a difference.

But there is a positive side to being invisible, a power to being able to work behind the scenes and make change without worrying about our own egos. We have the ability to go with the flow of nature, of life, and the profound opportunity to influence others to make earth-shattering changes without anyone even realizing we are doing so.

Business expert and researcher Jim Collins studied 1,435 top companies and found that only 11 companies managed sustained growth. At the helm of each company was a leader with a clear vision paired with humility, working quietly behind the scenes to shape the organization. This is but one example of the power of invisibility—if we learn to understand, embrace, and leverage it.

This concept is not new. In fact, it’s ancient, found, among other places, in Taoist wisdom. As Lao Tzu wrote of the invisible power of a leader:

When actions are performed
Without unnecessary speech,
People say “We did it!”

David Straker describes this principle further: “In Tao, a leader is sage and invisible. With touch so light, sensitivity so sharply honed, the leader seems to do nothing special, yet somehow they achieve their goals.” The wisdom is ancient but not prevalent in our patriarchal military-industrial society, in which only visible leaders are valued, and therefore the ego constantly disrupts the natural flow and inhibits change and the collaboration required to make changes that benefit all of us, not just a few.

The masculine aspect is dominant, in some women as well as in men, making invisibility undesirable and all but impossible. War, environmental destruction, social and economic injustice—all lie at the feet of a society in which the desires of the ego supersede what is right and what is necessary for the world to survive and thrive.

But women have the opportunity to harness their dominant feminine aspect, to go with the flow, making changes and collaborating with others in ways that go unnoticed by a society so focused on the visible, on the ego. When we fly under the radar of the good old boys’ network, we can make significant, sustainable changes without anyone standing in our way. This is why women must step forward today and act on their power to make a difference—through their votes, their purchases, their leadership, their vision, and yes, their success. Striving for meaningful, sustainable, and profitable success is necessary if we are to have the resources and power to lead significant change.

The challenge is to balance the invisible and the visible, to know when we need to work behind the scenes and when we need to speak up and be heard. We need to learn how to marry our invisible power with our visible, visionary leadership. We need to lead the way toward women being a powerful presence for change without losing the invisibility required to effect that change.

I suggest we start by recognizing the power of invisibility in the first place, and understanding that to be invisible doesn’t mean to be inadequate or without value or voice—just the opposite. By understanding and using this power, we will begin to see more clearly the times when stepping out of the shadows will make the biggest difference in our lives, our work, and our world—and when remaining in the shadows is the only way to shine a light on a future that matters, to all of us.

In what ways can you use your invisibility to maneuver and effect change?

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