Having grown up in the 50’s, the female leadership style that I absorbed through osmosis was pretty dated. In fact, I am working hard to think of a time when “leadership” and “female” were together in one sentence. Accepting assignments, following directions, obedience, and harnessing personal thinking were more the order for women. Ironing, baking, dinner on the table, floor waxed while sewing family clothes filled the hours of every day. These activities indicated a women’s value.
Leadership was something that men did. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of love and respect within this system. Most men and women did not see this as a model of discrimination. They did not understand that with the exclusive use of the male model of leadership the culture was lopsided.
What do I mean by the male model of leadership? A model that finds a focus, sets a goal according to that focus, assigns tasks, holds others accountable to the focus and to the assignments and considers any contrary voices as “dangerous”. This particular model can come from an intention to “keep everyone safe”. It is not necessarily wrong and yet its exclusive use has caused many women to accept that they are second class.
As I began working with women as a teacher, the limits I found in their lives lead me to discover my own. As a mystic, I ponder and ask questions beyond traditions. In doing so, I discovered the tremendous toll that a male only model has brought into our culture. The natural system for female’s voices had been so buried that even most women leaders were flying blind with no model. Many were asking the question, “What is female leadership” as they worked daily to overcome feelings of inadequacy, discounting, and sabotage from their own sense of lack and from the behavior of other women around them.
In my own life, I focused away from the male model and looked to reframe my own set of inherited concepts of female purpose. It was in doing so that female took on a new meaning and it was magnificent! In this model, females had the responsibility to use power well; to design a world that would support all, and to birth that world by declaring values for decisions, policies and actions. Keeping herself small to be non-threatening eliminated the possibility of fulfilling a female’s assignment to design a world.
- Having so many time constraints that she had not a moment to consider what was best prevented a female’s leadership.
- Having her voice ignored as irrelevant stopped the female responsibility to use power well.
- Being made an object of sexuality kept a woman focused away from her magnificent ability to intuit and declare a culture of acceptance and respect.
My first step was to take back my time and space to consider a design that would create an environment of good in my life. I began with my body, then my home and then I created community by inviting women to gather in conversations.
For the past 12 years I have experienced, observed, listened and delved deeper into this question, “What is female purpose and women leadership?” Which begs the question, “Is a male leadership model insufficient?”
Two pieces for my puzzle came from an interview that I had with Valerie Hudson, Ph. D. She had worked with a team of researchers to postulate the impact on Chinese society as the gender imbalance in favor of males grew. The conclusions appear in their book, Bare Branches.
One thing that Dr. Hudson said shocked me. She said, “In our seven years of research we found that the one factor that always indicated how secure and well a society would be is to look at how they treated the women. There was a direct correlation.” Not guns. Not military force. Not walls for borders. Not guns in every home. How women were treated, respected, and included in the social system indicated security and wellness.
The second thing she said related to the male only model. Dr. Hudson said, “In a system that is heavily weighted toward males, there has always been an escalation of conflicts, frustrations and aggressive behavior.” A model of male only leadership may not begin with aggression and yet research indicates that lacking the female counterpart, such social systems end with aggression such as war, competition, I must win at any cost.
So, what have I found as aspects of female leadership?
First, women are to design and birth cultures.
Second, sharing personal experiences, with authentic feelings and intuitive senses, in an environment where others listen is a basic principle in female leadership. Lots of conversations. Lots of listening. Sharing diverse stories, diverse problems, diverse solutions, and listening to hear has been the beginning for many new movements. Emerging possibilities happen in such gatherings. Respectful conversations allow collaboration in identifying problems that need solutions.
In collaboration, there must be at least four components.
- First, the one with the solution idea.
- Second, the ones with research/information to support the idea.
- Third, those who oppose and will question the idea.
- Four, those with the authority to made the decision.
Collaboration is the second female principle in action.
Such communications develop understanding that everyone has value to add. Therefore, when a women goes into another group, she may bring insight from her “home” group and an additional awareness. She is looking for the value of the second group in order to take that insight back to enrich her “home” community. The occupation mentality that comes in a male model assumes that only the “home” group has something of value and forces that value onto those they encounter as they march through the world.
Group functioning under female leadership is more like a flock of starlings than a flock of geese that examples a male model. Starlings and geese both have a goal for their flight. It could be food, night nesting or a new location. Geese have a leader that they follow. Another goose may occasionally come from behind to spell off the leader. Starlings, however do not follow one point leader. They follow some inner prompting; maybe a new wind current. Humans have no way to really know. When you watch starlings, the group “dances” through the air. If one bird flies off to the left, a few others may follow until at some point this smaller group returns. There is constant smaller movements as the flock flies. They are not leader less. They are leader full. Each is free to follow an impulse and they all arrive at the goal.
So for me, I am taking what I have observed about female qualities, purpose and leadership style as one leg of the paradigm of leadership. The male qualities and model are the other leg. Since I have focused many years working to unravel and resurrect female contribution, I am now ready to weave these two styles together into a balance that will take my life further than either could do alone.
- Seeing Beyond the Label: Patriarchy – by Sharon Riegie Maynard - October 4, 2018
- A Mystic Revisits her Leadership Style – by Sharon Riegie Maynard - May 5, 2015