As a man who leads corporate wellness retreats, I look to other leaders for encouragement and guidance.
Some of the most inspirational leaders I have met are women—particularly those who have not officially put themselves into formal leadership roles, but are simply leading lives with heart, vulnerability, truth and positive intention. These women know intuitively how to create positive shifts in all their relationships, and they inspire others to do the same. I also admire the growing number of men who have taken note, stepped up, and started to integrate their inner feminine to lead in the same way.
Imagine what the world would be like if everyone began to lead in this way.
I have put together a list of qualities from the women I have been privileged to work with and learn from. I refer to it on a regular basis, and I hope it helps you too.
1. They are honest and full of integrity. These women speak their truth, even if it scares them. Lining up with our truth creates deeper connection and trust, resulting in greater team-based solutions. Holding back our truth brings us out of integrity with ourselves, and creates miscommunication, mistrust and even disease. Don’t be afraid to be honest with your team. By sharing what’s true for us, we allow others to see we are an emotionally intelligent leader who inspires them to work hard toward a solution. A great guide for learning more on this subject is Operational Integrity: The Gateway To Workplace Harmony by Kathlyn T. Hendricks, Ph.D. and Gay Hendricks, Ph.D.
2. They don’t shy away from their vulnerability. Why is it so challenging for many leaders to confront their fears openly, without being worried about what others think? Why are we stingy with our willingness to share in a way that builds mutual empowerment, admiration and connection? Likely because doing so requires an agreement to trust and respect each other, which is often absent in corporate environments. Without a sense of safety, trust, and respect, being vulnerable in communication can be used against us in bullying or degrading ways. During my corporate leadership retreat introductions, I start by asking people, “What life-challenging issue are you facing that makes you feel most vulnerable?” While it is a difficult question to share in front of peers, participants often tell me later that answering it was one of the biggest catalysts for co-creating a transformational team-building retreat.
3. They know how to listen without trying to fix it. Listening is a skill women often do with more ease than most men, who can struggle to get beyond their, “I can fix it” impulse. This quick video, It’s Not About the Nail, demonstrates the difference between how men and women often communicate (and the desire to be communicated with.) It has taken me time and conscious awareness, but I am remembering more and more these days to slow down and listen better. A helpful practice when doing this is first to acknowledge what I just heard and then ask the person I’m in dialogue with if they are open to any feedback.
4. They lead from the heart. In a world that leads with almost everything but the heart, this is not always an easy shift, but countless companies are slowly starting to see how important it is to their people. Recently I was asked by Tito’s Handmade Vodka to integrate aspects of a wellness retreat into their annual meeting. They wanted to include wellness practices, outdoor recreation and volunteer service projects. Initially I struggled, wondering how aligned it was for us, as a health and wellness company, to do this work with a producer of liquor. But when their Director of Philanthropy, Amy Lukken, explained that she was serious about creating a culture of employee well-being, I embraced the opportunity. I learned that the company was founded on the premise of giving back first. Tito himself practices yoga and pilates, and began his business by donating his product to fundraising events. Now, with Amy’s leadership, Tito’s Vodka sponsors more than 5,000 charity events a year and gives away more than five million dollars in product for nonprofit fundraisers. Regardless of your business, authentic and sincere heart-driven leadership can grow your business beyond expectation.
5. Self care. The women I know who lead well aren’t afraid to use the time and resources it requires to take great care of themselves and others. After all, great leaders cannot exist without a team of people to support them. Too often budgeting decisions focus on the direct return on investment (ROI) rather than the holistic picture, which includes… the well-being of people! After all, it is the inspired, passionate, driven employees who do the heavy lifting in a company. In our collaboration with the successful outdoor company, Patagonia, I have witnessed first-hand a fine example of leading from the heart and the benefits of investing long-term in your people. Founder Yvon Chouinard’s book, Let My People Go Surfing shares the results of his unique idea to support employees by blending work, play, and social responsibility. As a result of this kind of leadership, Patagonia has happy, thriving ambassadors around the world who honor their need for self-care and therefore have a positive global impact.
6. They know how to collaborate. Probably because they have been suppressed in outwardly expressing themselves for so long, skillful feminine leaders are careful not to minimize the significance of each voice in the room. The benefit of this is that if you see employees as peers and allies with strengths different than yours, you will be better able to leverage those strengths for greater outcomes. Every member of an organization has something to contribute, and I often find that removing people from their daily environments and taking them out in nature significantly reduces their anxiety or stress—which enhances the collaborative outcomes. Beyond the support of outdoor experiences, creating a culture of collaboration can be difficult without a leader who truly understands what it means to collaborate. A 2015 Harvard Business Review article urges, “…let’s encourage people to get better at collaboration, even train them in it. But, let’s also design organizations that make it energizing and fun, not forced.” In my work, I have discovered that this means constant reinvention. At its best, true collaboration is authentic and imbued with genius, which means always being willing to see your people through fresh eyes.
7. They do not lead like a man. I am not bashing the entire male race, but I am calling out my fellow males who are too focused on the bottom line, on wanting quick returns instead of what really matters to the whole in the long-term. As this Elephant writer notes, there is still work to be done by encouraging women to step up as enlightened leaders. Let’s not get caught up in the momentum of leading with arrogance, a short attention span and a lack of concern for the very planet that alls us with what it takes to even have a business.
Take a close look at what the successful business leaders who embrace feminine energy are creating as they run their organizations.
You will see that they nurture the mind, body and mental health of their employees, they give back to their communities, and they aren’t afraid to be real and honest with their people. This leadership style, in my experience, is made primarily from both essential harmlessness and skillful means—a potent cocktail that benefits everyone.
Author: Yancy Wright
Image: Author’s own
Editors: Sara Kärpänen; Toby Israel