Ever since I came across Aura Soma’s all-olive “female leadership” bottle in the 1990s, I have been struggling with the concept of female leadership. What actually does it mean? What does it look like and how is it different from male, or from generic leadership (if there is such a thing).
Female leadership is inward rather than outward moving, but this is so in the face of the established conception what leadership looks like that it almost seems like an oxymoron.
The concept had me baffled - until tonight. I watched Teal Swan’s video on the inner conflict modern women experience between wanting to live in line with a traditional gender stereotype of housewife and mother, versus an emancipated goes-out-to-work-and-is-a-successful-business-person-and-breadwinner type of woman. This struck a deep chord in me, having struggled with the desire to be protected, contained and provided for, living in line with the cycles of nature and my spontaneous, perceptive intuition, whilst modern society requires me, in order to achieve my desire to be recognised as competent and worthwhile, to work in an environment defined by a male paradigm of schedule, pro-activeness, directiveness and competition, essentially denying my identity as a female, not even recognising that the aspect of me that is at odds with such a paradigm is actually my femininity, thinking it’s just me being a failure, unable to muster the necessary discipline to single-mindedly move in one direction. Other women seem better at it than me, so maybe I am just too much of a bohemian artist and not enough of a professional?
Pondering the implications of the conflict discussed in the video, I suddenly had an epiphany as to what female leadership would actually look like and realised that not only is modern society lacking a space (but by no means the need!) for it, they also don’t recognise it for what it is where is already exists and is in operation!
The best image I can come up with to describe it is the village wise woman, the female elder to whom everyone comes for advice. She is not going out there projecting her energy and message, her leadership is in the receptive, passive openness of being there for others, receiving them with open arms and ears, being perceptive and providing what is needed. Her strength and power is in BEING SOUGHT, not in SEEKING! You can recognise that she is an authority, because she DRAWS people to herself , like a magnet, responsively becoming and providing what people need, where a male leader would go out and GET people to be his collaborators, followers, disciples etc. projecting his message and work outward. She is leading by BEING, not by DOING.
The problem is that this style, no, this type of leadership is so at odds with everything that we have been conditioned to see as leadership that we don’t recognise it in plain sight. Our entire concept of leadership is based around the male, Yang, pro-active paradigm to the exclusion of anything else being conceptualised as leadership. Think about all the times you have been asked in a job interview “where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?“, all the corporate training courses you have been to trying to show you how to be a better manager by more effectively getting people to DO stuff in an EFFICIENT way, all the S.M.A.R.T. targets you have been told you should be setting for yourself and others - I hate smart targets, and now I understand why!!! I achieve by evolving, responsive to circumstances. If I rigidly committed myself to be x at y time and put blinkers on, working single-mindedly just towards that goal, I would STIFLE my development and success, not further it!!!
Everything is geared to make us work and lead in a left-brain, logical, linear, sequential Yang style. When at least half the population would prefer to work and lead in a right-brain, intuitive, responsive, holistic Yin style. It starts in school: discipline, straightness, rigidity, schedule are everything, spontaneity, flexibility and imagination (as are innate Yin qualities present in ALL children) are considered spanners in the works that need to be minimised and eliminated because they are at odds with, and disrupt the system. A system that is entirely based on shadow masculine preferences and need for control. A system that is intended to make us good corporate citizens and does not support individuality.
Corporate leadership as we know it is not fit for purpose, females trying to succeed at it are essentially round pegs in a square hole, they can never fit unless they start chipping away at their essence. Many instinctively feel that and this is the real reason why there aren’t more women in senior positions, or in science for that matter, where repeatable experiments, producing sterile mathematical data, yielding either-or, black-white evidence are considered not only superior, but the only valid approach whilst intuition and inner knowing are dismissed as unscientific.
This is not something to be lamented and rectified though: the fact that women are in touch enough with themselves to instinctively know that they do not want to succeed on those terms and in that environment is a positive sign for the collective sanity of the female species. A female who tries to succeed at male activities in a male way is basically in the same situation as if she were competing at an athletics event against men. The men have the “unfair” advantage of being male, while the women are trying to act and behave like men and “beat them at their own game” and naturally fail or get sick. In fact the example highlights another thing: the very arena and way in which women try to succeed may not be appropriate to their identity: competitiveness is another male trait. No wonder we are “failing“! In fact “failing” means we are succeeding at remaining, to an extent, albeit unconsciously, faithful to our true selves. However the enormous effort invested in this loosing battle leaves us exhausted and depleted and at the end of our tether.
Until there is space created to allow, recognise and reward female leadership, people will continue to twist themselves to fit a paradigm of achievement and success that simply is not theirs.
Many men too may prefer to lead in a Yin style, by being open to being consulted from a basis of trust others put in their judgement, yet they too will find themselves frustrated and disillusioned at their odd inability to succeed in an environment that only recognises and values the go-getter, up-and-at-’em-atom-ant style of leadership. These people could be the greatest leaders and never get noticed for their contributions to society. Because it is taking place quietly, on the inside, rather than loud and boastfully on a public stage.
Yang leadership is characterised by action, charisma and the ability to inspire people to do things.
Yin leadership is characterised by receptiveness, magnetism and the ability to be what people need, as well as supporting people to be the best they can become by perceiving and responding to their essence.
These are archetypes and regardless of your own gender you may resonate with, or choose to operate from one or the other at different times and in different contexts. You have the choice, just understand how and why you make it. Know that the matriarch of the elephant herd is no less of a leader because she lets others come to her, rather than running the show with outward movement.
It is my desire for humanity to learn to recognise all types of benign leadership in all guises, respect it and benefit from it with grace and without prejudice.