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Where the wisdom leads

June 17, 2010

I don’t remember the question that we were supposed to discuss at our table group, but I remember where it lead us. One of the women at the table was the newly appointed head of a women’s program at a university. She was wrestling with where she needed to lead the organization after the departure of its founder.

She’d had an a-ha moment that week and had come to realize that what was ironically missing in the program was a truly feminine approach to leadership. It was modeled too closely after traditionally masculine styles and needed to evolve into something new. I think it was during our conversation that she had the even deeper realization that she had, in fact, been hired because her background in engineering made her well skilled at thinking like a man.

What she said touched me in a place so deep I didn’t even know it needed touching. “Yes!” I said. “YES! That is a systemic problem! I see it everywhere! It’s the major flaw of the feminist movement – that it poured so much of its energy into getting us access into men’s role and teaching us to adopt men’s wisdom and leadership styles that it forgot about what it SHOULD have put energy into – raising the value of women’s voices, women’s roles, and women’s wisdom and leadership styles.”

Spilling out beneath my words were so many memories of the times I’d tried to introduce things like “feeling checks” into staff meetings, or clay molding into annual visioning exercises – the many times I’d intuitively felt compelled to introduce a more feminine style of leadership. BUT almost all of those times I’d been met with so much resistance that I’d simply given up and fallen back on old models. Oh, I could write a book about the times when I let the fear hold me back from what had always come so naturally. Too many times I saw those things dismissed as frivolous, or “just a silly girl’s ideas”.

During the course of our conversation, something rather magical happened. I don’t think I realized just how magical it was until it was done. There were markers at our table and a paper tablecloth. As I so often do when I’m sitting in a meeting, I picked up a marker and started to doodle. The man at the table asked “can I add something to your art work?” and I said “oh certainly!” And then, with a gesture, I invited our other two tablemates to join in the fun.

It seemed innocent enough, but it was transformational. Soon, we were all animated and energized in both our conversation and our art-making. Each of us added our unique flare to the tablecloth and each of us built on something the other had done. At one point – though I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it – the man at the table tried to put a square black border around the area where we were making art. Something bubbled up from within me and I resisted, scribbling all over his border as he drew. The other women joined and soon we had spilled over the border into every direction. Defeated, but with a good sense of humour, the man happily added to the “outside the box” art. (To be fair, at another point, I ruined a sun that the man was trying to create by prematurely drawing a line around it.)

By the end of the discussion, we’d filled the whole tablecloth with art, and we’d helped the leader of the woman’s program realize some of the steps she’d need to take when she got home. On top of that, I think each of us at the table had a unique a-ha moment that emerged from both the art and the conversation.

Mine didn’t fully evolve until later. I knew that something significant had happened, but I didn’t at that point know just HOW significant. Some day I think I will look back at that collective doodle art and remember that it represents the moment my life changed.

Because, my dear friends, that moment was the culmination of so much wrestling, so much thinking, so much struggle to find my focus, my truth, my place of belonging. Remember the necklace metaphor – how it wasn’t the struggling that untangled the necklace but the slipping from my hands and dropping to the floor? Well I think that moment was the “dropping to the floor and untangling my truth.”

What am I talking about? I’m talking about THE VERY THING that I’ve been grasping for. For years now I’ve known that my greatest energy comes from sharing wisdom – through facilitating workshops, writing, public speaking, etc. – about the things I’ve learned about creativity and leadership. I’ve known that somewhere in all of that lay the nugget that would lead me into the next phase of my vocation. Only… I couldn’t seem to find the right shaped nugget to fit me. It all seemed too general, too vague – too unfocused. I thought I found a few times, but it never felt quite right.

And now, after a week at ALIA, and especially a remarkable moment of doodling, I have clarity that I’ve never had before. The purpose that is evolving for me is TO TRANSFORM LEADERSHIP THROUGH FEMININE WISDOM! There it is! Bringing more creativity, compassion, art, soul, and holistic truth to leadership. AND helping those people who think their feminine passions and gifts – art, spirituality, motherhood, body wisdom – do not make them qualified for leadership recognize that the world needs them to help in its transformation.

It’s simple and yet it makes so much sense. Look around you – wars, oil spills, climate change, oppression – isn’t it clear that we have a leadership crisis on our hands? Isn’t it clear that the old models aren’t working anymore? It’s time for a new model and I believe that new model includes a much bigger space for feminine wisdom. I’m not saying that all the male leaders need to be replaced by women – I’m simply saying that both men AND women need to learn to trust their feminine wisdom more.

It’s an idea as old as the Bible, and yet as often forgotten and marginalized as so many other truths in the Bible. Sophia. Wisdom. FEMININE wisdom. It’s what Solomon wrote so many sonnets about. It’s the feminine wisdom of God.

THAT is the power I’ve been called to stand in, the wisdom I’ve been called to share. It’s time to get busy sharing it!

How will this evolve? I’m not quite sure, but I am excited. I know this… I am not really “fumbling for words” anymore. This is something new and it will need a new space. Maybe it’s “leading with your paint clothes on” or maybe it’s “sophia leadership” or maybe it’s something else I haven’t thought of, but I’ll be spending the summer thinking about it and hopefully by September something will have emerged.

Hang on for the ride, because it will most definitely be colourful and exciting!

21 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2010 8:01 am

    Woot!! Feel the power in this post and that statement of purpose! “TO TRANSFORM LEADERSHIP THROUGH FEMININE WISDOM!” I hope you can hear me cheering, sister!! WOOOHOOO!

  2. June 17, 2010 8:05 am

    Sophia Leadership – ohmybeloved (was gonna say ohmygod, but it seemed “off”) – WOW!

  3. June 17, 2010 8:05 am

    I love this new direction. Although I worry about another aspect of feminist thinking: the constant man-bashing that goes on among women, the attempt to reduce them to children. God is spirit, and therefore neither male nor female; and Jesus said that in heaven there will be no marriage or giving in marriage, i.e. our gender does not fundamentally matter. We certainly need to develop new ways of organizing ourselves by incorporating different styles of thinking – I love Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind, which I think is going in the right direction. But feminine wisdom is a corrective, not an alternative. I love many of the qualities I see in men, and I long for a society where we can truly honor both femininity and masculinity (in both sexes!)

  4. June 17, 2010 8:12 am

    I cannot explain how much I love following you and watching this transformation. It is indescribably beautiful. I guess all I can say for now is – thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. June 17, 2010 8:28 am

    Maybe instead of Sophia who’s Fumbling for Words… its now Sophia Speaks!

    Great post, thanks.

  6. June 17, 2010 10:23 am

    (In response to Jane…) The integration of both masculine and feminine into one is certainly the end goal, BUT after thousands of years of masculine-heavy culture, I think there is some room for some solid femininity. I think we can rush too quickly to “don’t forget them both,” not having spent enough time with the one.

    I think we don’t even have a clue as to what Feminine wisdom based leadership could possibly look like yet, so to call for a joining is premature.

    SO…GO, HEATHER!!!! You are SO ONTO something HUGE here. What you speak of has always been my issue with old school feminism — this idea that to be powerful is to be like men. WHAT!?

    I am so freaking excited about this and I am excited to watch YOU evolve it. 🙂

  7. June 18, 2010 7:54 am

    I love this newfound wisdom you are on to. Maybe we can collaborate?

  8. June 18, 2010 8:03 am

    Wow! Every time I read one of your new posts the one word that keeps coming to mind is powerful. This has been an incredible year for you, ups and downs, but I sense a real power emanating from you that is filled with light and love. I am moved and inspired by your journey.

    Love and hugs, Sandy

  9. Kirsten Alicia permalink
    June 18, 2010 8:03 am

    Oh my Goddess!! Heather, this IS a transformational post. I agree completely that we badly need a more feminine form of leadership. Thank you so much for sharing it with us, I look forward to witnessing your continuing journey.

  10. June 18, 2010 8:28 am

    “TO TRANSFORM LEADERSHIP THROUGH FEMININE WISDOM!” Heather, reading this post, the way our calling came to you with such crystal clear clarity, just really touched a place deep inside me. I look forward to watching this transformation unfold

  11. June 18, 2010 2:40 pm

    This is wonderfully beautiful!!!


    I, too, look forward to watching you evolve in this role ~ as I have similar energy unfolding on my end. Now is the time!!!

  12. Katharine permalink
    June 18, 2010 2:47 pm

    OK – so just this moment,I’m having a conversation with one of my supervisors, remarking on the fact that during the recent reorg of our workplace (while I was at ALIA)all the senior appointments with the exception of one, and one pending, were filled with MEN replacing positions held by women. Staggering optics for the 21st Century particularly within our particular paradigm of work. A deep bow of appreciation for your clarity, Heather. I’ll love journeying with you in this energy stream. Best, Katharine

  13. Katharine permalink
    June 18, 2010 2:50 pm

    PS – your clarity a result of your “perseverance” (Wheatley) and no coincidence as it is soon Summer Solstice….big “mojo” times being foretold regarding this particular one.

  14. June 18, 2010 6:34 pm

    I love your post Heather and how ALIA is working its way through your being. One of the things that stood out for me was Adam Kahane’s comment about immoral power and powerless morality and how it is not either or but both that is needed – love and power, feminine and masculine. How to bring these things into the world in a way that we can support and be supported by them? It has me reflecting on a fair bit of the work I’ve done – personally and corporately.

    Also inspirational is reading what others have posted in response to your personal journey over the last while. Kudos to you. Glad I know you in this time, Kathy

  15. June 19, 2010 6:29 am

    Oh, Heather, does this ever stoke the fires of my heart. It is so similar to where I ended up after my experience with Wheatley. Here is a bit of what I wrote on my blog:

    The overarching theme of all their talks was the need to bring the feminine energies back into play, to restore the proper balance of masculine and feminine. As the machismo model cracks, there is room for the partnership paradigm to shine through the cracks and let in some light. Let’s be clear, this is not about women coming into power in the existing paradigm – this is about nurturing and growing the neglected feminine qualities in our worlds and ourselves, male and female. This is about embracing vulnerability as the truest show of strength and this is about the importance of relationship to deep, lasting growth. This is about the return of the feminine to the collective world soul.


  16. June 19, 2010 6:02 pm

    I am wondering how my last principle, a very strong woman, would have reacted to ALIA. And I have no idea, but she really should have tried it.


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