I was born at a time when Gloria Steinem’s name tripped off the tongue of every woman as part of the second wave feminist movement. I had many strong female role models, including my own family. Our voices, those of my generation and my mother’s generation, shaped a new narrative for women, breaking barriers and paving the way for women to take their place as leaders. Our declaration has always been at the center of it:we are stronger together than apart.
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream; a dream you dream together is reality.” John Lennon
Today, women of all generations are facing similar divisive forces but on a new battleground. The doors may have been opened, but the culture remains the same. Galvanized, we understand our movement is bigger than any one of us.
I recently went to an event where men and women gathered to listen to a known leader in the women’s movement, Valerie Jarrett. And during the event, audience members asked questions, made comments and talked about their experiences. In the moment, one woman reached out to another from across the room and offered an opportunity to be a part of her company. The overall experience was like I was in a giant invitation to be a part of something bigger. The invitation created space for more of these micro gestures of support and change.
Upon reflection, I realized women and leadership have a style we have learned from years of experience and history related to our role as caretakers and matriarchs of our families, community leaders and organizers, and in our participation in the women’s movement.
So…What have we learned?
Leadership is a group activity.
What does that mean?
A leader is what galvanizes a group into action, but the group must want to believe in the dream.
- A leader believes the group has the answers. It requires an invitation and the ability to step back and trust what happens.
- Leadership is about abundance. It is the opposite of limited resources. It is the belief that the group is resourceful when working together or with other groups, and through that, we find abundance of both resources and answers.
- Leadership is about resilience, but not just personal resilience. Resilience of the group means that at any one time when one person is down, another offers a hand in support, and the group is stronger for it.
- Leadership is about optimism. The energy and strength of the group is what allows us to rise above any challenge. As Heraclitus wrote in ancient Greece, “The sun is new each day.”
- Leadership is about empathy. The ability to see a situation with clarity and suspension of judgement. A means to understanding difficult problems from all sides. To appreciate diversity. To learn.
- Leadership is about a cause. You can’t be a leader if you don’t believe in change. Leadership is the ability to provide the space for the group to pause and take notice, be present and see clearly the difference between the noise and the truth. To be a part of the change they want to create.
The women’s movement has an agenda. It is a cause. And, it has also provided us a perspective on leadership that is not necessarily gender specific but has many female role models. However, at the heart of this cause, is changing the culture of individualism and self-service to that of harnessing the energy of the group. By removing the conditions that divide, we can reach across to invite others to participate. It is the profile of a leader who understands issues of bias and inequality have no place in their organizations. In fact, they truly believe diversity and equality are a core competency and a right and what makes groups stronger. And leadership does not have to be lonely.
“If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together” (African proverb)
Where have you seen examples of this type of leadership?