Women Leading the Way

This is a great time to be a woman and a leader. Increasingly, women are being valued as leaders, gaining the opportunity to shape the future and bring fresh perspectives to the leadership role.

With decades of research and experience as leadership development consultants and coaches, Lillas and I are committed to working with you to reach these goals, by creating effective, accessible and workable programs and resources that will enhance and fit seamlessly into your personal and professional life.

Leader & Life Identities

 This joint venture begins with cultivating our whole selves; clarifying and appreciating our personal identities as well as our leadership identities. The two are indivisible.

 The International Leadership Association, where scholars, leaders and practitioners share research and practices, has identified Advancing Women’s Leadership: Cultivating our Whole Selves as the theme of their 2017 Women’s Leadership Conference.

This is beyond balancing work and home or having connections outside of work and home. It is about exploring the integration among often-conflicting parts of ourselves. As Ellen Langer says in the HBR article Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity: “I … tell people about work/life integration, not balance. ‘Balance’ suggests that the two are opposite and have nothing in common. But that’s not true.”

This integration begins with developing an authentic leadership voice and placing it in the context of our whole life. Our leadership vision, purpose and values are as essential as organizational vision, mission and values. Importantly, as Ibarra and colleagues note (HBR article Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers) supporting women in leadership identity development and encouraging them to anchor in their leadership purpose will help them in their learning process. Establishing a leadership identity and purpose is often at the heart of becoming a leader and can contribute to an authentic confidence that is unshakeable.

 Self Care & Well Being as A Foundation for Leadership 

Strong leaders need firm foundations. Tending to our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well being creates the rock on which we build our integrated leadership structure. However, for many women, self care takes a back seat. Old patterns of response to self care can change when we learn that self care helps us to ‘show up’ at our best, manage stress and difficult situations, strengthen emotional intelligence and, importantly, enable us to live aligned with our leadership and life values. In workshop sessions, women are frequently moved when they realize they have not been tending to themselves. Rather, they have been taking care of others: their parents, children, partners, people at work, their home, their community – and they are overwhelmed. Author Marci Shimoff’s words aptly capture what women experience: “I speak to women in all parts of the world and we are all on overwhelm…when we are in overwhelm what goes out the window first is our self care, so we are in many ways abandoning ourself because of this treadmill we are on in trying to keep up with the overwhelm.”

Exploring the area of self care involves serious self reflection and awareness, seeking clarity on well being intentions, finding the courage to confront obstacles to self care and developing practices to support moving forward. Typically, this results in what we refer to as a shift in identity and embodying this new identity as part of the practice.

We all know a key challenge here – it is easier to know than to do. So we provide a range of practices and tools, many with transformative potential, to help women in realizing their self care intentions. Being successful in self care is similar to success in other areas of our lives. It requires what author and scholar Angela Duckworth refers to as ‘grit’ (see references Grit: The Power Of Passion And Perseverance).

 The Leader as Team Coach & Facilitator

Learning some of the basic tools and techniques of coaching and facilitating can strengthen what often comes naturally to women, such as, listening and being inclusive.

For example, being prepared to have a ten minute ‘just in time’ coaching conversation can be time saving and can contribute to the growth of a peer or employee. Having a model or approach, or a set of questions that a leader can ‘hold in her head’ can be a valuable tool. One resource we find helpful for leaders is The coaching habit: say less, ask more & change the way you lead forever by Michael Bungay Stanier. He presents seven key coaching questions along with resources and background research for why his approach and questions are effective.

Similarly, when a leader enhances her facilitation skills and draws on facilitation models and presence, she can better lead a team building session, a focus group conversation, a teachable moment or build trust in her own team. We find Martha Lasley’s Facilitating with Heart: Awakening Personal Transformation and Social Change to be a great ‘go to’ resource.

Adaptive Leadership – Influencing Institutional & Relationship Barriers One Step at a Time

We can be overwhelmed with the challenges in our organizations and communities, including those that might minimize values important to us, such as inclusive environments. One way to support leaders in influencing organizational culture and relationships is to draw on an adaptive leadership framework. Ronald Heifetz and colleagues consider adaptive leadership to be “…a practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments. It is being able, both individually and collectively, to take on the gradual but meaningful process of change. It is about diagnosing the essential from the expendable and bringing about a real challenge to the status quo.” (source is Cambridge-Leadership.com)

Adaptive leadership involves identifying the significant challenges in our organization or group and having conversations and taking actions that will support a shift in the environment. Small steps in this direction include naming and understanding the challenges, considering how adaptive our organization is, how adaptive we are as a leader, and determining ‘what next’.

 Other Topics for Women Leading the Way

Watch future blogs for  information about other topics we have been working with, such as:

  • The Potential of Leadership Feedback: Seeking, Receiving & Giving
  • Don’t Do It Alone: The Importance of Supporters, Collaborators & Networks
  • What About Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance
  • Following Our Shadows: Self-Limiting Beliefs & Reactivity
  • Practices for Transformation: Making Change Stick
  • Cultivating a Reflective Practice
  • Learning Leadership & Your Leadership Development Plan Going Forward

Resources & References

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Angela Duckworth (2016)

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way you Lead Forever. Michael Bungay Stanier (2016)

Mindfulness In The Age Of Complexity, an interview with Ellen Langer in Harvard Business Review, March 2014

Facilitating with Heart: Awakening Personal Transformation and Social Change Martha Lasley, 2010

Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers. Harvard Business Review. Herminia Ibarra and colleagues (2013).

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools & Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. Ronald Heifetz & colleagues (2010)


Current Programs Drawing on These Practices

The NEW Empowering Women Leaders Program offered through Edwards Executive Education provides development opportunity that draws on these elements. This program has been endorsed by Business & Professional Women Canada and the Canadian Coalition to Empower Women. The program starts December 7, 2016 in Saskatoon. However, the registration deadline is November 2, to allow time for pre work.

The Women in Leadership for Life annual Radical Self Care Workshop draws on several of these essentials. The one day program is offered on October 24 in Saskatoon.

Credits: Editor, Heather Sterling. Photo,  Eric Guow

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