My friend John once asked me, “Do you think some people are born to lead? And do you think people, by nature, are drawn to follow?” John was a senior fellow at an Ivy League school and President/CEO of his own international bioscience company. He’d answered his own questions about his potential as a leader, but wanted to know my thoughts on the subject.
My response was part instinct, part hard-earned wisdom from my time directing a nonprofit, managing a large number of employees. “A natural leader addresses something that seems obvious to them that isn’t obvious to others. It’s an organic process of recognizing a potential and inspiring people toward that improved vision. And, yes, some people, perhaps most people, need a leader. But there are also those who have figured out enough that they need minimal guidance. And then there are those who have their life so together that a leader would just get in their way. A true leader will know when they are necessary and when they are not.”
With her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg has prompted a discussion about why there aren’t more women in corporate and political leadership roles. As CEO of Facebook she’s in the ideal position to start the dialogue. She proposes that women, particularly young women anticipating careers in a corporate setting, need to look within themselves to identify and overcome internal obstacles that keep them from aspiring to the top levels:
“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small by lacking self confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. My argument is that getting rid of these internal barriers is critical to gaining power.”
The dialogue continued last week with Arianna Huffington’s conference, The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money and Power. Arianna highlights what has become obvious to so many - if a woman aspires to lead in the current corporate climate it will come at a high cost. For maximum effectiveness, she recommends we all “lean back” (like a cat ready jump!) before leaning in:
“This is a great moment for all of us - women and men - to acknowledge that the current male-dominated model of success isn’t working for women, and it’s not working for men either. The world needs women to redefine success beyond money and power."
There is such a thing as natural leaders, like Sheryl and Arianna - smart, successful women using their advantaged perspectives to inspire us. And I believe there are many wise women who have yet to recognize this same ability within themselves, not only because they lack confidence or adequate sleep, but because they are limited to environments entrenched in masculine definitions. We need women to imagine options not currently being offered. What visions might we women lead toward if we were to disconnect from the masculine model, return to our bodies, become mindful, and imagine a life for ourselves and our world that’s an expression of our highest conscience?
I can’t help but mention one more observation that I’ll write about more in another post. We refer to two environments, corporate and political, as the contexts within which leaders will be formed. I’m noticing a third. Grass roots movements and crowd-driven phenomenon are now the children of the online world (think- TED, Kickstart, Feminie Power Global Community and Meetup.com). This is where future leaders will find a third venue.
It’s a great time to be a woman with a vision.