Health/Wellness Leadership Personal Development,

Developing Whole Woman Leaders

It is a known fact that we have fewer woman leaders at work. Many organizations in Singapore respond by promoting diversity and having women leadership programs. However, it’s women themselves who decide if they want to step up. I interviewed women leaders for my book, “Wholeness in a Disruptive World: Pearls of Wisdom from East and West” to find out how they be whole and rise up to the leadership challenge. There are unique dilemmas that women leaders face, such as:

1.    I am comfortable where I am, I don’t need to be at the top.

2.    Do I need to be more masculine to be successful?

3.    I am ready to quit the job I love; I cannot balance work and family.

In this article I want to share the insights and inspiration from the women leaders who have walked the path and found ways to be whole and sustain their good work as leaders.

Motivation to be at the Top?

A Harvard study shows that women aren’t in leadership positions because they don’t want top jobs as much as men do[1]. Power does not motivate women as strongly as it does for men. However, motivation is a function of what we care about. Claire Chiang, co-founder of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts and a champion of social, environment and community cause, says, “I have chosen to do all this work because I love and care about my family, work, people, friends and country. Contributing to the community is integral to all aspects of my life.”

So while women are less likely to go for the top job for power, the desire to create a better workplace or a better community could fuel this ambition. Beyond our individualistic focus on what is important to us personally (our values) and how we see ourselves (our identity), a larger collective focus on our purpose and sense of responsibility can also motivate us. Having the bigger picture in mind can motivate women to step up. Andrea Edwards, the digital conversationalist, shares, “I don’t like to be in the limelight, but I say ‘yes’ to being on Youtube and on the stage, because I have a message to share.”

So women leaders, do it because you care and use that power well.

Masculine to be Successful?

Since leadership positions tend to be filled by more men than women, it is understandable some women think we need to be strong, assertive and domineering, like men, to be successful. Some successful women leaders also act in more masculine ways. However, whole women leaders are able to embrace opposites and still be effective. For example, can we take charge and take care? Can we be directive and nurturing? Can we be persistent and patient?

Of course! Kaplan and Kaiser, authors of Fear Your Strengths, caution against overusing strengths and instead be both. This requires the ability to flex and be comfortable with tension. Lily, a procurement director challenges the Managing Director sharply with a different point of view but ends her sentence with a genuine smile. He understands her intention is not to provoke but to help. There is steel in her gentleness.

So women leaders, embrace opposites and be comfortable with tension, so we can flex and be effective.

Off Balanced at Work and Family?

Women need to take care of the children, including school work and birthday party presents, engage their team members, do a good job as a leader, and still dress well, exercise three times a week, check in with friends occasionally, plus take care of parents. This is a never ending list. It’s no wonder that Harvard found that women anticipate more negative implications with promotions than men.

However, this means women leaders need to have more strategies to take care of ourselves. Claire Chiang, co-founder of Banyan Tree says, “When I move from one activity to another, I find myself having to clear my mind.”

One practical way to do this is breathing. As you walk from one meeting to another, take those few minutes to breathe deeply for a few minutes. Clearing gives us the opportunity empty the clutter and focus on one thing as a time. We can’t do everything at a time, but we can do everything over time, just one thing at a time.

So women leaders sense your own energy and emotional state, take care of yourselves first, so you can take charge and take care of others.

So in summary to develop whole woman leaders, focus on three aspects: anchoring to find a larger reason beyond themselves to step up; balancing opposites to flex their behaviours – masculine and feminine, take charge and take care; and lastly clearing to focus on one thing at a time.


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