Every August when it’s Women’s Month in South Africa, I think of the scene in the movie Miss Congeniality where Sandra Bullock smiles beatifically and says “world peace”.
Stan Fields: What is the one most important thing our society needs? Gracie Hart: That would be… harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan. Gracie Hart: And world peace! Stan Fields: Isn’t she lovely? Thank you, Gracie Lou.
Bullock plays FBI agent Gracie Hart who goes undercover in the Miss USA beauty pageant to prevent a group from bombing the event. Gracie is a straight-talking cop rather than a people pleaser. But when when her first retort “harsher punishment for parole violators” gets no response from the audience, she reconsiders. And when she resorts instead to the “world peace” response that the audience expects, the crowd goes wild.
It’s a line that has become almost iconic in the way it captures what happens when we are seduced into saying what everyone wants to hear. So I often think about it in relation to the presentations I give to women leaders. Because there’s a tension between what I know is most important about promoting more women leaders and what some audiences want to hear.
The crowd-pleasing lines that I resist are comments like this one “be the woman who fixes another woman’s crown without telling the world it was crooked”. I mean, seriously.
I believe with all my heart in the power of appreciative inquiry – that what we focus on grows under the glow of our attention. If you believe that women bring you down, these are the friends you will continue to attract. But if you believe that women build you up, the corollary is also true.
So I talk instead about the importance of finding your own tribe or WeLead circle to support you in reaching your professional goals. Even though the notion of a circle of support has becoming increasingly popular, it still doesn’t have nearly the same kind of click bait appeal that reflects the line made famous by Madeleine Allbright: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Even though Allbright’s intention in saying this originally was to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign trail, it continues to be quoted in a whole lot of contexts as a way to support the notion that women are wired to bring each other down rather than build each other up.
The media thrives on bad news and sensationalism which is why you have a better chance of getting a standing ovation if you talk about catfights than if you talk about the practical steps needed for building inclusive organizations.
But it’s high time that the conversation about women’s leadership progressed beyond the platitudes about feminine leadership, frenemies and catfights. If women-led countries are indeed doing better than others during this pandemic, let’s rather spend time articulating the kind of leadership attributes that the world really needs now – qualities like moral leadership, service, collaboration, compassion, wisdom, strength, inclusion – rather than being seduced by the kind of instant gratification clickbait that is woefully limited in truth and its ability to change the world.
In 1972, a group of young musicians made history by creating an orchestra without a conductor. Nearly 50 years later, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is still something of a prodigy in the search for viable models of collaborative leadership.
The role of the conductor has changed significantly over the last century since the days of Arturo Toscanini who famously broke batons, berated musicians and even threw a score at his orchestra during rehearsals. But even so, an orchestra is still not the kind of environment typically associated with democratic leadership. This is of course why Orpheus still stands out.
There are rich lessons in collaboration in the way the 34 members of Orpheus work together as a collective and rotate leadership roles. It’s also a case study in how leadership can evolve to adapt to an environment where more inclusion and democracy is called for.
We have lost faith in command and control leadership and all the inequities it has created. This was the the old-style, take-charge, rally-the-troops type of leadership typified by Winston Churchill, Thomas Watson, and Lee Iacocca which has largely fallen out of favour.
Today you will struggle to find many high profile leaders who don’t describe themselves as collaborative in some way.
Now it is necessary to appreciate the wisdom of the crowd rather than continuing to idolise the lone genius. As leadership author Ken Blanchard says “No one is as smart as all of us”.
So Orpheus is a case study in hope – the hope to find a new way to exchange feedback, refine teamwork, enhance motivation, and encourage creativity whatever the industry.
There are, however, those who believe that the Orpheus process pays a price for its commitment to radical collaboration. The response has often been mixed and reviews can go both ways. The same performance is either described as brilliant or staid. Musicians too are divided in their views.
Many say there’s a sacrifice made when rule-by-committee exists; there is often no consistent point of view through a piece. Rehearsals can take hours, everything is debated and no clear vision of a piece comes across.
Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of business theory in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford is one commentator who remains unconvinced about the merits of the Orpheus model.
“There are various movements that have tried to ‘democratize’ organizations. They mostly don’t work or don’t last. I am a huge believer in the advantages of the Orpheus approach, but it flies in the face of fundamental human psychology. “ he says.
As one frustrated violist commented: “Large orchestras simply can’t succeed without a benign dictator to take the reins and make decisions — right or wrong, then take credit/blame and responsibility.”
In his article Collaboration Overload in Harvard Business Review, Organisational Psychology Professor Adam Grant and co-authors Rob Cross and Rebe Rebele question whether the collaboration wave has gone too far and suggest that the time has come for a “collaborator-in-chief’ to mediate the chaos of too much consensus.
There is much to praise about collaboration but there are also some traps to avoid. We have all grown weary of too many meetings, emails and the other unproductive interactions associated with collaboration at work. Excessive collaboration saps energy and leaves us with just too little time to do our most important work.
Whether it’s the conductor of an orchestra that needs fresh inspiration, the leader of an organisation that needs new direction or a country who needs hope in the middle of a pandemic – there is still a place for the benevolent dictator.
As long as leaders focus more on the benevolence part of the equation and less on dictatorship, we will continue to value direction from someone who knows the overall score better than we do and who is able to inspire us to make more beautiful music than we are able to create on our own.
There’s a particular Aesop’s fable I keep thinking about. It’s the one with the man, the boy and the donkey. You can google the original but in a nutshell it’s about a man who tries to take the advice of everyone regarding his donkey and ends up with the worst deal of all when his donkey drowns. The moral of the story of course, is that if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no-one and don’t do yourself (or your donkey) any favours either.
There’s so much conflicting information around right now about what we should do, how we should behave and even what we should think. But we’ve learned that just because someone has a title or a degree or a uniform, doesn’t mean that they know what’s best for us. No-one is coming to save us and that’s a hard pill to swallow. We’ve also learned that if we speak up about what we believe, there will be haters. But if we keep quiet and don’t speak up about what’s important to us, we lose respect for ourselves and that’s far worse.
It’s tough to know what’s right when we’re being pulled in different directions and don’t know who to trust. It’s scary to speak up when you don’t feel safe with those around you. In times of chaos and crisis like these, it’s harder but more important than ever to be centered.
Being centered means that you have a reference point or a place to come back to when life’s challenges and emotions push you off balance. The centre is the place you know you have to get back to. The challenge of course is how to get back there when chaos and the conflicting advice and views of others suck you elsewhere.
Being centered is an essential leadership skill but more importantly it’s an essential human survival skill at the moment. And I think we can all do with a reminder of how to get there. There are many ways. You can breathe, listen to music, pray, meditate, look at pics of your loved ones in your camera roll, (family, friends or furry) walk barefoot on the grass, hold a hot mug with two hands. But most importantly, you need to recognize when your centre is wonky and go through a mental check list of how to get it back again. When you find your centre, you’ll find it easier to access your creativity, your common sense, your intuition and your leadership. And those are qualities we all need plenty of right now.
It’s tempting to
talk about how far women’s leadership has come over the last few decades. After
all a record breaking six women are running for President in the US. More women
are running organisations and governments around the world and the #Metoo campaign highlighted the reality and
scale of sexual harassment for everywoman.
However as Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
reminded us at the recent G7 ministerial meeting on gender equality and women’s
empowerment: “No country in the
world has achieved gender equality. No country. And this is nearly 25 years
after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.”
Progress aside, the fight for gender
equality still has to be won on many fronts.
Women’s leadership is important because it is only when there is more
equality in who leads, that gender issues like educational injustice, weaponised rape and child marriage
will receive the attention they deserve.
Feminism (still a surprisingly fraught
and misunderstood term) simply means that men and women should have equal
rights and opportunities. And one
of the best ways we can accelerate this process is to get more women into
positions of power.
Not surprisingly, as the late Kenyan
Nobel Peace laureate, Wangari Maathai noted “The higher you go, the
fewer women there are.”
Some advocates of
change like Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook believe in what has been
referred to as the DIY model of empowerment. Women should “lean in” more and be
more assertive in order to increase their leadership potential
critics include Anne-Marie Slaughter, political scientist and the author of Unfinished Business (OneWorld) who
believes that much broader social, political and cultural change is necessary to
change the system.
I believe both. The
broader system and the values it represents certainly needs to change but for
many of us who aren’t able to influence change on a structural level, we still
need to find a way to make changes where we can. I’d like to suggest two
strategies for making a difference that are accessible for most of us.
The first is that
we broaden our definition of what leadership is. And the second is that we focus on some of the
skills that come naturally to many women.
Even though there
is more recognition of different kinds and styles of leaders, we still tend to
default to the style of leadership which is more traditional and patriarchal.
(I lead and you all follow)
After all which
names come to mind when we think of who is at the helm of countries and
organisations and even who we should invite to give the keynote address at a
conference? It’s still easier to give
lists of high profile male leaders.
Years of being
socialized into a way of being in the world means that many of us are more
comfortable to be in the wings than to take centre stage. It’s not that there’s
a shortage of talented women. Rather it’s a sign of how reluctant women often are
about taking a seat at the table.
However, when we
use a different, more inclusive definition of leadership it’s easier to think
of more women who fall into this category.
We are more inclined to include ourselves as legitimate candidates for leadership.
And most important of all, we can become
more ambitious around what leadership is able to achieve in the world.
Margaret Wheatley’s definition is helpful.
“A leader is
anyone willing to help, anyone who sees something that needs to change and
takes the first steps to influence that situation”
When this is our
definition of leadership a leader might be a parent who intervenes in her
child’s school or a colleague who refuses to allow mistreatment of others in
her workplace or a neighbour who rallies others around saving trees in the
When we expand
our notion of what leadership is, we encourage people to step forward and make
a small difference in their communities. It’s also the kind of definition that
is naturally more appealing to a wider range of women leaders.
In the same way
that research into the world of micro-financing reveals how women who accept
loans are more inclined to invest back into their families and communities,
women are more inclined to expose themselves to the risk of leadership when
there is a greater cause at stake.
When we think of
leadership as a call to make a contribution rather than a more individualistic
instinct to put ourselves in charge, we tap into a feminine ease with
supporting others, speaking up for the voiceless and making a difference to
strategy is to harness a set of skills which comes especially easily to women .
This is the cluster of skills which I and others in leadership describe as the
art of conversation.
The dark side of
this ability is when girls exclude others socially. Most women have at least a memory of what it feels like
to be an outsider. Often it’s as a result of these social scars that women
reinforce the narrative that women are inclined to bring other women down
rather than build them up.
But the flipside
is a natural ability women have around creating conversations, safe spaces and
making others feel welcome. Like good listening skills, the idea of inclusion
is becoming core to good leadership. Inclusion simply means making sure that an
organization is welcoming
at every level to every individual. Inclusion is about diversity of thought and individuality
regardless of race, heritage, or gender. It’s becoming the new normal and at
its heart is a skill that is second nature to little girls all over the world.
Teaching the art
of hosting conversations, practical listening skills and allowing everyone a
voice can be surprisingly effective when it comes to creating the kind of
psychologically safe spaces which Google has made famous. It’s no coincidence that these are also the
kinds of environments where innovation flourishes and meetings are most
different countries, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds have been raised
to welcome others into their homes, make them feel comfortable, introduce them
to people they might not have met before and offer them food and drink. The
limitation is that we have been raised to think of these skills as the skills
of home economics rather than as the elements of leadership. These are skills
that we don’t need to go to business school to finesse. They are abilities that have been relegated to
the catering committee of our communities rather than into boardrooms or peace
talks where they belong.
In an age where
we have too many connections but feel less connected than ever before, we crave meaningful conversation, human
connection, forming closer bonds with our inner circle and meeting diverse
voices who expand our worlds.
These are the kinds of leadership skills that the world needs now. Not because they come naturally to women but because they create and encourage essential human values.
It’s time we took
them out of the domestic realm and put them into the world.
This article first appeared as an Op Ed in The SA
Jewish Report. Sajr.co.za
My grandmother was quite convinced that she saw a fairy once.
So it’s not surprising that fairies and fairytales were central to my childhood. My mother filled our heads with magic and other whimsical creatures and I formed my own code for what was good and bad in the world
Fairies were a metaphor for anything happy, hopeful and filled with possibility. Holidays, surprise parcels, exciting emails still fall into the fairy category.
On the other extreme were custards. (How I loathed the lumpy stuff especially when it formed a skin)
So a fight with a friend, a piano lesson when I hadn’t practised my scales, a dentist visit – custards.
I still find myself scanning my day, my week and my life to see the ratio of fairies and custards at any given time. I have even hosted a Good Fairy Week and Wonderful Wizard Week to encourage those of us jaded by work, bills and responsibilities to get back in touch with magic and the joy of paying it forward.
Whenever I feel myself getting sucked back into lumpy custard territory (and yes, there have been times when my Doc Martens have felt a little soggy of late) it’s time to recommit to fairies once again.
How we do so is the key question.
Too often when we want to get the magic back we turn to addictive behaviour like sugar, facebook or shopping when what we are really craving is something far more nourishing and far more radical.
When I scan the last 25 years of my working life, my favourite projects and those I’m still most proud of – are those I created with attention to curiosity, creativity and a fair dash of risk. All the elements which make for grown up magic.
It’s the kind of work that makes me feel most alive. I believe too that it’s the work that makes the most difference in the world. Work that brings surprise, courage and magic into a world that needs it.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always fun. And it always includes wonderful people and great conversation.
Wishing you an abundance of fairies and no lumpy custard in your favourite shoes
with love and a renewed commitment to radical creativity
With my own Wonderful Wizard at a Good Fairy Week celebration
I was a feisty little girl. With a mixture of pride and amusement, my father still tells me how fierce and fearless I was when I drove bumper cars at the fair. I spoke up easily about injustice when I saw it. I got angry when I felt like it. And at the age of eight I was the obvious choice to represent the preparatory school and speak at the high school assembly.
But it’s been difficult to unleash these memories. In fact if I didn’t have my parents’ account of my youth or photographic evidence of little me flashing my eyes at the world, I probably wouldn’t believe it. Because it’s not long before popularity and fitting in become far more important than speaking up and accessing our power. Very soon we learn that holding a contrary opinion is a sure way to be excluded and labelled as odd. Very soon feistiness becomes a distant memory buried in the pages of a dusty album.
It turns out that this kind of confidence is not unusual for girls in their early years. In her 1993 book, Fire with Fire, Naomi Wolf talks about how our five year old selves are naturally feisty: we dance in public, we wear what we like, we speak up when boundaries are crossed and when we disagree.
I still believe that women’s leadership brings something new and necessary to the world. We care more about people and peace and sharing prosperity. It’s right and overdue that these conversations are becoming more prominent and less alternative. But there’s a missing piece in the conversation. In fact it’s so conspicuous in its absence that it almost feels deliberate. And that is the conversation about power: how to excavate it from beneath the layers of social constraints and when to use it; how to understand the rules of power that are still affecting our lives and dictating how we live.
There’s a reason that we’re working too hard and not getting the recognition we deserve. There’s a reason someone else gets the position or the promotion. It’s because we’re not taught about power and don’t know where or how to decode the rules. In our anxiety to be liked and patted on the head we didn’t notice where they hid the manual.
Power and influence are where I’ve been focusing my attention in the last few months as I’ve been putting the finishing touches on the WeLead Women’s Leadership Program (the pilot launches in May). I’ve never been clearer that there cannot be leadership without power and influence. The women in my network are tired of being distracted into thinking that we need to spend even more time on personal branding and self-awareness. While we’ve been watching Brene Brown, it seems that the other half of the world is still studying Machiavelli. If we really want to change the world, we need to stop pretending that this isn’t so. It’s time we learned how to understand the rules so that we can really change the game.
But far more important is that you commit yourself to getting back in touch with that feisty girl you once knew.
This is an invitation to join me in writing a new manifesto for feminine leadership. It’s an experiment in feminine, creative collaboration and this post is about why I need you
My creativity is a dance between finding my voice and creating conversation. It’s a kind of a dance in and out of the light. The cool shade of thought and contemplation and then the scarier notion of exposing blemishes in the sunlight in heady conversation with a carefully selected circle.
I have succeeded and failed at both aspects of this dance in equal measure. I have allowed fear, disguised as false modesty to prevent me from putting my best ideas out into the world. I have used collective wisdom as a safety net for being stingy about sharing my best work. (“There’s so much brilliance in the world already, what could I possibly add?”) I have regularly squeezed the handbrakes to stop myself from doing both in full flight. I have made excuses that have sounded so elegant that I’ve almost convinced myself.
This post is a public declaration of intent to stop self sabotage and stinginess and to experiment instead with radical collaboration and generosity.
From now on, I will reference and give credit to the people, authors and thinkers who inspire me. I will invite whoever wants to, to join me in co-creation. I will hold on to the confidence to share my best leadership vision and energy to make inspired projects happen.
The first step to lead in this new collaborative way is to get to a place where you accept that you have value to offer the world. (I’m about as close to this step as I will ever be)
Then perhaps you need help accessing your voice before you have the courage to speak or write your ideas. (that’s where you come in) I know there’s no escape from this most fundamental form of creativity –I have to articulate it and share it with the world before the next step.
Which is to engage others in conversation to take an idea from good enough to brilliant.
Sometimes I pick up a book that makes me want to jump. It stirs my thinking and shakes me so deeply that I physically have to put it down and stop reading. This counter-intuitive response has to be the worst form of procrastination.
In fact, maybe it’s more serious than procrastination and is actually a kind of a death-wish.
Because after all, a fear of experiencing intense creativity and the desire to return to the far more familiar state of inertia is an attempt to kill something beautiful rather than allowing it to flourish.
So it’s a rather serious problem. Because it means that I have the ability to elevate garden variety procrastination to an art form. It’s all very well to postpone tidying my desk. But procrastinating the ideas that excite me the most and which deserve to blossom in the world is a self-destructive way of living that I would not recommend. I also suspect that this is a malaise that anyone familiar with the creative process will find familiar.
One of the books that made me jump is We-Thinkby Charles Leadbeater. Today I picked it up again. I last looked at it years ago. It was also a good few years after being exposed to a workshop with Leadbeater for the first time at the Tallberg forum in Sweden when I didn’t yet know who he was. Charles Handy was in the same workshop and I was starstruck by the bigger name of another great thinker whose work I admired.
When I discovered We-think I loved it so much that of course I put it down. But it had made its mark and inspired the name of the women’s leadership circles I launched two years ago which I called Welead.
I chose the name because even though they were created for women, the name isn’t gender specific so that we can allow for the concept to evolve to include mixed gender circles. I like the implied collaboration in the word “we” which is integral to what we believe about a more feminine leadership approach.
Leadbeater explains in his forward how half-way through the writing of his book, he realized it would be “odd to write about the growth of collaborative thinking in the traditional way: the writer at his desk, isolated from the world, alone with his thoughts.
“With the support of my publisher, Profile, I posted an early draft on my website so people could download it, print it, read it and comment on it. They could also go to a wiki version to change the text and distribute it to their friends and colleagues”
This approach excited me when I first read it and it excites me now. Co-creation is the most fun way to learn and it’s the way we learn about leadership in WeLead circles. If you’re an ambivert like me, (thank you Susan Cain for making it OK to be an introvert) then you’ll understand the need to alternate between quiet thinking and writing time and the more exuberant energy of bouncing ideas around in conversation.
It’s also a brilliantly efficient way to work and we need to do it more – both at school and university and at work.
My 16 year old daughter wrote a mammoth English literary essay this year. Their Grade was tasked with exploring the notion of power and powerlessness in 5 books – 3 prescribed and 2 elective options. It’s by far the most ambitious English essay they’ve been tasked with yet and she was feeling a little overwhelmed. So she completed 90 per cent of the essay and then spent an hour discussing it with her older brother. This conversation and the insight my son could give her made the difference between good and brilliant and it got me thinking.
Rather than letting my energy fizzle out towards the end of a big project, (or sometimes in the middle) who can I ask to help me with the last gloss of brilliance that will take my work from good to great?
That of course is where you come in. This is your invitation to join me write the manifesto for WeLead Circles.
What does the best possible form of feminine leadership look like?
Where have you experienced it before?
What have you read about leadership (collaborative, feminine or otherwise) that inspired you?
I invite you to comment, contribute and add your voice to a new way of leading in the world. Whatever you’re thinking, I want to hear it . It’s time to discover and describe another way of leading together and its far too exciting to do it alone.
On Sunday night a few friends decided to get together to host a special evening with food, music and poetry. They called it #wordsandmusic and I’ve been thinking about what they did to get it so right.
“It all began when some friends and I started talking” says Meg Wheatley, one of the authors who has most shaped my definition of leadership.
While her quote refers to social change, it’s equally relevant when it comes to dinner parties. Because a conversation has the ability to gather magical momentum whether we’re talking about starting a movement or hosting friends.
First came the inspiration of Lionel Bastos (who I’m delighted to say will perform once more at our Women’s Leadership Conference this year with Wendy Oldfield) Now I know that Lionel is a great musician and also that he has retained his humility and remains a mensch. But I could never have guessed at his sensitivity as creativity coach as he shared the stage with Mandy Collins. He knew just how much to support and how much to let go – a rare talent
Then of course was the courage of the evening’s convenor Mandy Collins who took action and turned Lionel’s suggestion into reality by acknowledging that it was time to let the world hear her original music and her voice.
There’s something powerfully generative about doing what makes you scared. Mandy said she was terrified but by facing her fears and going where her creativity needed her to go she unleashed a special kind of magic. She did so with a gentle presence and musicality that saw her harmonise easily with one of SA’s best musical talents.
Poet Ruth Everson brought a gravitas to the evening with her courage with words that made us all feel that truth is the only option. What better gift could a poet give? The fact that she was Robyn Clark’s English teacher was one of the many delightful little connections which lit up the gathering like the fairylights in Mandy’s garden,
Clive Simpkins was the perfect MC. ( one member of the audience tweeted that he was “starstruck to have met him) As much facilitator as raconteur, he was perfectly tuned in to the atmosphere and to what needed to be said when. (Not only to all the performers but his easy reference to many members of the audience too made us feel we were at a big dinner party rather than an event)
There was also gratitude aplenty – I’ve hosted many events and I can’t tell you how often speakers forget to say thank you to the host.
But not this time. Everyone was beautifully aware that we’d been invited to something intimate and special and we were more than happy to pay for the privilege of being there. There was also a spirit of collaboration – not one of the performers tried in any way to overshadow any of the others
I left wanting more and inspired that there’s a group of people up the road from me who are genuinely committed to creativity and collaboration.
If you’d like to lead like Mandy and start your own conversation, this is the simple guide I give at many QualityLife events which #wordsandmusic followed so instinctively
There’s one particular theme that has recurred in my work with women in leadership that I have resisted and challenged for years. And this is the complaint – reinforced by countless women – that the women they encounter in organisations are far less supportive than their male colleagues.
Surely we can’t generalise about more than 50% of the world’s population? Surely there are good women and bad women in the same way that there are bad and good men?
And is it reasonable to expect unconditional support from a sisterhood just because we belong to the same gender?
Even the editor of a South African glossy magazine who is a role model for many young working women, wrote in a recent editorial that “more men than women have had an empowering impact on my career.” And I couldn’t help feeling she’d let the team down with her comment.
Many men I have spoken to assure me that women tend to romanticise the ease of male relationships. “Do you really think we’re part of a supportive congenial network and that you are the only ones who suffer with politics?” they counter.
The only advantage they seem to share is that they don’t expect a brotherhood of loyalty. They know that politics is part of organisational life and that’s that.
But my reservations aside there are just too many women referring to the “pull-her-down” (PHD) syndrome as one of the main challenges facing women in organisations for me to continue dismissing it as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And despite my intellectual discomfort with sweeping generalisations, I haven’t forgotten the “mean girl” dynamics I had to contend with at primary school. And now that it’s my own daughter’s turn to navigate the teen years, I watch her struggle with the same issues I hoped that I had left behind me forever.
It seems that there is no girl or woman who isn’t familiar with the patterns of inclusion and exclusion that leave us hurting and our mothers helpless. So what is it? Does it exist? Why does it exist?
Feminist author Elizabeth Debold suggests that the roots of this behaviour go back further than we might imagine. Research on female primates show that many of our evolutionary foresisters spend their time grooming others to avoid being picked on and holding grudges against each other that make reconciliation impossible, all to gain an advantage in sexual reproduction!
But Elizabeth (who joined us via Skype at one of our women’s leadership conferences a few years ago) also believes it’s possible for us to grapple with our primitive drive to compete with each other so that we can realise a higher potential. (Which I can’t help thinking is a human opportunity rather than a particularly female one)
The challenge is that there is very little advice on what to do and how to behave in a way that builds resilience and compassion at the same time. Usually the values we encourage at the dinner table are very different to the ones that are celebrated on the playground.
So what can we do to help our girls develop a more positive way of relating to each other?
We need to change the narrative that happens around girls and girlfriends. Yes there might be mean girls who bring your daughter down but focus on the friends who support her too.
In the same way that Hollywood idealises romance, unrealistic images are often painted of “best friends” . I have some wonderful women friends in my life but none of my relationships bear much similarity to the kind between Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson in Bride Wars. Celebrate the small acts of kindness and support you get from your friends and your daughter will start developing more realistic expectations too
Teach your daughter what it means to be a good friend so that she “becomes the change” rather than waiting for the perfect friend. Praise her for loyalty, courage, compassion and practical things too like remembering birthdays and phoning a friend when they are sick to offer homework help
In my work with women leaders I ask them to reflect on who they turn to in times of crisis when they refer to the PHD factor. The answer is invariably “my women friends”. But sometimes we neglect these friends in our busy lives – something of which I am often woefully guilty. But in the tradition of appreciative inquiry practice, what we appreciate appreciates. Our relationships need time if they are important to us.
Remind your daughter to choose friends who are worthy of her and her energy. Whether they are male or female, we need to encourage affirming relationships in our lives while we limit the toxic ones. This way we’ll have more time to spend with the people who deserve us and who we deserve in return.
By developing some conscious guidelines, we’ll start changing the narrative rather than leaving each generation to struggle it out for themselves. After all if we aren’t taught what it means to be a good friend on the playground, how can we expect a leg-up a few years later in the even fiercer battleground that is the workplace?
The PHD (pull her down) factor was the subject of our #welead chat on twitter last night. These chats around leadership are taking place every Wednesday night at 7.30pm CAT in the build-up to our 9th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference on May 22nd and 23rd.
My Dad says that much of the work that I do is to create something out of nothing. I’m not sure whether he thinks this is a good thing but it’s a concept I think about a lot.
I thought about it again when I read Matthew Buckland’s article on entrepreneurship yesterday where he describes “the entrepreneurial way “— starting your own company, raising capital for it and do what entrepreneurs do best — create something out of nothing and follow their own destinies.”
In fact if I was to choose a fairytale character I relate to the most it’s probably the rather random Miller’s daughter in Rumplestiltskin because when there is important work to be done, I know that, like her, I should lock myself in a dark room and spin straw into gold.
That I think is the challenge of the digital economy. To take the straw that is verbage, information and clutter and transform it into something that adds value to the world.
It’s also the dilemma of the freelancer, the leader navigating uncertain territory, the knowledge worker.
In an age which prizes collaboration and working together, all introverted workers (who thanks to Susan Cain and her book Quiet are now proudly coming out of the closet) know the value of locking yourself up, facing a dark night of the soul and trying to produce gold.
Gold of course doesn’t need to be lucrative. (although if you’re in business, whether or not people want to buy is a convenient test of whether or not you’ve hit the mark) But sometimes it’s a sense that you are proud of the contribution you’ve made.
Whether or not it’s completely original, as long as it has a unique and authentic stamp to it, there’s nothing to beat the feeling of pride when you’ve created something you’re proud of. Something that makes you feel: ‘I worked hard, this might not be perfect yet but it’s good and I’m ready to show it to the world.’