Your Leadership Isn’t About You

“Women are the largest untapped resource in the world.” -Hillary Clinton

I recently participated in a Skype meeting with community organizers from Turkey, Zimbabwe, and Germany who had pulled together a retreat, “Women Are Medicine,” back in June. They gathered women of all different backgrounds to explore women’s “authentic feminine power.” I knew I needed to participate in the call, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.

Image via Veterans Community Foundation

Image via Veterans Community Foundation

Sure, I was interested in women’s leadership, and was planning a few women’s leadership events myself, but this group’s focus seemed totally different. A mutual colleague in Mexico insisted on setting up the call, saying, “You all need to talk.” I showed up because I knew she saw connections I couldn’t see.

I learned that this group of women were organizing retreats with the purpose of creating a space for women to develop their capacity to offer their own unique gifts to the world, and in so doing, discover their role, as women, to bring about deeper changes in society. Despite an emphasis on global transformation, the focus felt to me like it was on nurturing individuals. The events I was/am interested in have to do with moving large groups to action around a specific issue, just making sure women are at table. Or, as one woman articulated it on the call, “being in inquiry (with women and men) about a new collective world vision,” asking, “What are the new structures that we need now?”

So this other team’s focus seemed like it was on the individual (and the individual as a woman), my focus was/is on the collective. No wonder why I didn’t know if I belonged on the call. But then Marianne Knuth, shared an insight that spoke to our common ground.

What struck Marianne most about their retreat in June was getting a feel for each woman’s incredible gifts, seeing how difficult it has been for these women to offer their gifts to the world, and then really comprehending just how many gifts we lose every day because our society doesn’t make space for them.

The purpose of their gathering was not just to nurture participants’ gifts simply for the sake of doing so. It was to nurture those gifts (perspectives, voices, ideas, skills, talents, trades) in order to support women in offering them more confidently and freely to the world, in service of the collective.

Not only did this insight pull the purpose of individual organizing and collective organizing together for me, but Marianne was speaking to something of concern to EVERYBODY, not just women: we just aren’t making the best use of the world’s talent. This is why a lack of women’s leadership is actually everyone’s problem, not a woman’s issue. And one solution to this problem, not the solution, is women working together to find their own power and do what they really want to be doing in their life and work.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t get energized by efforts to boost my own individual power. I want to feel connected to something larger than myself. So often women’s leadership feels like it’s about us, individual people stepping up, individual people with an ability to move other people to action, and in many ways it is. We do need to know what our “gifts” are in order to offer them to the world. So we focus on shifting our own individual ideas around power and agency.

But what if leadership is also about tapping into something much larger than ourselves, something we engage in and help bring about in service of others, in service of the whole of society? Because for many of us, thinking about ourselves quickly gets tiring and anxiety-provoking when we forget our connectedness to others. It’s easier to offer up new ideas (ideas the world needs!) when we remember that ultimately, leadership isn’t about us at all.

What, if anything, changes if we think about leadership not only as something we have to demonstrate individually, but as something we create together, tap into in service of something bigger than ourselves? What gets you more motivated: focusing on your own career path and creative goals, or focusing on something having to do with a group, organization, or the whole of society?

What do we need to do to support ourselves and other women, if indeed, what the world needs now is women?

Read more posts by Lex Schroeder.

About the Author

Lex Schroeder is a writer and speaker on gender equity, systems change, and the future of work. She is a Leadership Ambassador with Take The Lead and is based in NYC. She can be reached Follow her on Twitter@lexschroeder.