I came out of the military – just like those before me and since – schooled in command based on the masculine model of leadership designed for warfare. When you’re training for life-and-death, in the trenches, on the battlefield types of situations, there is clearly no room for being collaborative, compassionate, or seeking consensus.
Whether drawn from my experience in the Army, modeling my grandmother and mother (both of whom were very strong women), or emulating my beloved father’s strengths, I had created a very specific perception of how to be recognized as a powerful leader.
I had the belief that I always had to be strong, to be imposing, to act confident perhaps even to the point of being arrogant, to embody the masculine qualities of decisiveness, resilience, and assertiveness. I could NOT show vulnerability, only strength. Without this demeanor, how could I possibly lead anyone including myself?
This was what I believed.
A significant step towards my awakening to a much more balanced concept of leadership came not from a woman as you might expect, but from a man: my husband.
What happens when a father’s strength and a daughter’s vulnerability are aligned? When my first daughter was born, and then the second, I watched my husband hold them for the very first time. It was a beautiful picture of love. Such awe in his face as he held these tiny creatures in his arms. I saw the power of a child to touch his heart, to bring out the vulnerability in him. And that it was okay to be vulnerable – he could still be strong!
As the girls grew up, my husband’s strength held the space for them and allowed them to make mistakes, to experience their emotions and to grow their wings as they flew. His strength was quiet, even soft, but no less reassuring or powerful. This was amazing for me to experience, and he still holds that place for them to this day. And of course, in my heart.
The Yin and Yang of Leadership: Seeds of Comfluence™
My husband’s comfort with what I now know are feminine characteristics (which both men and women have within us, of course) inspired me to begin to look at the perception I had created of how to be a leader. To be the best I could be, it was time to look at this aspect of myself. It was time for reassessment and exploration.
Over the next years as I studied successful leaders for my programs and the book I was writing, The Art of Herding Cats: Leading Teams of Leaders, I made some wonderful discoveries about the ‘yin and yang’ of leadership. I realized that the great women leaders embraced feminine qualities, integrated them with selective masculine qualities, and tapped into their own vulnerability to relate to the people who followed them. They used patience, expressiveness, intuition, flexibility, and empathy to their distinct advantage.
These women leaders were willing to share their stories of success AND failure to show that they were very human and should not be put on a pedestal to be worshipped. They had their struggles and learned in the crucible of experience how best to lead their teams to reach their visions.
I was reminded of Pallas Athena, the symbol of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), of which I had been so proud. She is a goddess who represents not only war but the more ‘feminine’ side of success such as the arts, the professions, wisdom, and guardianship of the household.
As I learned this new definition of successful leadership for myself, I also started to explore where my rigid perspective had come from. Old childhood stories came up and began to make sense to me – the harsh and judgmental words my grandmother often tossed my way that made me feel like I was imperfect, a disappointment, and made me reluctant to step forward confidently. I recalled my mother’s cautionary admonition to “build high, strong walls” around me to protect me from trusting others who might stab me in the back. Both my parents sent messages of excelling and stepping into positions that brought power.
These conflicting messages that I had internalized for so many years collided with what I was learning from my own experience and sense of myself. On the one hand, I continually attracted opportunities to step into leadership roles that I was meant to take yet, on the other hand, I constantly felt afraid I wouldn’t be good enough, that I would be a disappointment or get hurt.
Can you relate?
In your own life, is there a conflict or disconnect between something you know you really want to do or be, and the stories and influences that tell you that you can’t? Maybe these messages came from your parents, friends, teachers, society, and media?
I think all of us bring some of those messages we grew up with into our adult lives, in ways that hold us back from fully stepping into our potential.
With these powerful new insights, I have been able to face and release many of the old stories that held me back and that have kept my protective walls high. I have learned to express my feminine qualities and still be a leader, in fact, an even stronger leader. Vulnerability and being open to trust are not signs of weakness; rather, they are part of building deep, beautiful, trustworthy relationships that lead to success in all kinds of ways.
I learned – needless to say, am still and always learning – to embrace the mistakes I made and learn from them. I now share them so that others might not have to go through those same challenges. Or at least know that they are not alone and that they are OK. I’ve made it my life’s work to teach the mindset, the courage, the confidence, and the leadership skills a woman needs to be the best she can be, in her own unique way.
~ Selected from my bestselling book No One Stood Up When I Entered The Room: One Woman’s Journey from Command to True Leadership.
Linda Patten is a Leadership Trainer for women entrepreneurs and change-makers. Her vision for every woman is to become the natural leader she is meant to be, through teaching an empowering mindset, masculine AND feminine leadership skills, and how to activate a vision into a full-bodied business or social change movement.
For opportunities to awaken and empower the leader within you, please visit Dare2LeadwithLinda