2014: The Year You Get Out of Your Own Way

A year from now, looking back on 2014, what do you want this year to have been about?I’d like to see us get out of our own way, get out ahead of the internal fears, “shoulds” and “what if’s” that too often hamstring our change-making efforts and distract from the tasks before us. With women so vastly underrepresented in our major institutions and poorly represented in media, we have plenty of things working against us. We don’t want to work against ourselves, too.How do we get out of our own way? One way is to change our ideas about what power looks like and how change happens.Image via Huffington Post CanadaIn his book Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change (a seriously good quick read, go buy it), strategy thinker Adam Kahane (University of Oxford, Reos Partners) cites theologian Paul Tillich’s definition of power, reminding us it’s “the drive to achieve one’s purpose, to get the job done.” Again, it’s this power to idea, not the oppressive power over. Once I started thinking in terms of power to, I realized I’d been using the word “power” to mean influence. This has nothing to do with moving intention to action, which is so much more useful.Why do we even need a new definition of power? Well, for starters, to do new things. Once we think in terms of power to, leadership opportunities show up everywhere. No matter our level within the organization or influence out there in the world, leadership starts to look like a lot of things instead of the narrowly defined, heroic or all-knowing power over brand of leadership we’re most used to seeing. For example:Leadership as Getting Something Done. This is Take The Lead Co-Founder Gloria Feldt’s definition of leadership, too, and the great thing about this one is its simplicity and emphasis on action. To lead is to do. As the writer Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, “Beyond the carefully reasoned methods we love to talk and scheme over, there is a simple door waiting for us to walk through. On the other side are new feet.” (Sometimes, it really is that simple.)Leadership as Responsibility (or Responsiveness). This is and isn’t the same as getting something done because it moves us in the direction of our connectedness to the larger world. If you witness an injustice, if you’re feeling the effects of harmful actions or policies, if you feel inspired to do something, be willing to respond. Choose to respond and respond wisely.Leadership as Vision. While heroic leadership is mostly out (sometimes we need a hero, most of the time we don’t) and collaboration is in, vision is forever. We can’t ever act wisely without intention and a goal, a vision of how things might be or we want them to be or know they need to be, and clear ideas about how to get there. Find your visionaries, follow their work closely, ask other people who they’re reading and learning from about how change happens and all of the exciting ways it’s happening now.Leadership as Creating Connections. Sometimes leadership is about connecting the right people to each other or connecting ideas in order to move a new project or vision forward. No one person’s solution to a problem (in business or activism) is complete, which is why we need to connect stakeholders all working on the same issues, and, as leaders in our organizations and communities, make visible areas of common ground and opportunity.Leadership as Caring for the Health of the System. You don’t have to have a grand vision to make change. Maybe your skill is communication, financial management, or community building. Attending to the health of any system is a character trait and behavior often attributed to women, but rarely is it valued outside of the home or as part of strategy. Caring is more than just “feel good” work; it is what sustains people and projects for the long haul, creating the conditions for good work to be done. Like the body, without care, a system will get ill. Illness will drag a system down and prevent us from doing what we’d otherwise be doing.We must also remember that “getting out of our own way” isn’t something we do once and are done with. As we are products of a culture that historically has not protected or championed the rights and leadership capacities of women and girls, this is an ongoing thing.And it’s not just on women to work for equality. Also in Power and Love… Kahane writes about Tillich’s definition of (civic) love as the “the other-acknowledging, other-respecting, other-helping drive that reunites the separated.” Women have been working on gender equality and leadership parity largely on their own for too long. Men (and women in high positions of influence) must also clear the way for women to take their fair share of leadership positions across the board. What do you think? Can we do it by 2025?How do you see definitions of power and leadership changing?Interested in learning more? Join me for one of two webcasts, May 1st or June 26th to talk authentic leadership, influence, and power. You’ll leave with a new understanding of the difference between the three and learn how you can use principles of authentic leadership to advance your career or move your projects forward, whatever your field. This will be a highly interactive discussion. Join us!

Read more posts by Lex Schroeder.