How To Facilitate More Female Leadership

This is a summary transcription of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast interview with Dr Joanna Martin, founder of One of Many, a women’s leadership community. You can listen to the full interview here.

Grassroots female leadership

One of Many is a safe space and community for what I call grassroots women leaders. These are women who don’t necessarily have the title CEO, or don’t necessarily have the title of politician or community leader, although some do.

At some level, they want to impact the world positively, whether that be leading their family, leading in their local community, leading in an industry type community, leading an organization or indeed a nation. They want to make an impact for change and make change for good.

A quote from the Dalai Lama, which gets bandied about a bit in women’s development circles, is that the world will be saved by the Western woman. There’s an aspect of that, which I really resonate with. But I don’t think he’s necessarily talking about Western women, but women with access to resources was perhaps what he was pointing towards at that Vancouver Peace Summit.

I realized as I was reflecting on that at the time, that he’s not talking about the Michelle Obama’s and the Theresa May’s of the world, although yes, it is them. He’s actually talking about us, about me, my sister, my mom, my grandma and my neighbour.  What I realized about most of us back in the early days was, we’re just tearing around like headless chickens.

We’re trying to juggle the everyday and, in an effort to get the everyday juggle sorted, we don’t ever have anything left over for these causes which really get under our skin. A lot of us have causes and things that bother us that we want to fight against or that we want to make change with, or that we care deeply about. But we’ve not got much leftover by the time we’ve wrangled kids if we’re parents, or done whatever our job is, if it’s not resonant for us.

One of Many was born out of this desire to equip women with the tools to sustainably change their corner of the world, to make that impact and do it in a sustainable manner, which didn’t have them burning out and, and falling over with exhaustion. Sustainable grassroots female leadership.

There are a lot of reasons why women burn out and on the one hand, it’s our cultural paradigm. We all live in a cultural paradigm where as women, for generations, we have been the caregivers and the housekeepers and the place that keeps the domestic wheels turning.

With second wave feminism, we have had the doors to the workforce opened, but we haven’t caught up yet in terms of equity of distribution of the other stuff.  Still, at an energetic level, and I see this a lot in our community, the mental workload of day to day life admin and family, what we call Family Inc, still often falls to the woman and we’re also trying to build our careers, make an impact and all of that stuff.

female leadership
Dr Joanna Martin

There’s this cultural paradigm piece we haven’t really achieved yet, the kind of partnership with our male counterparts that is critical towards that. Then add in our own personal paradigm, our own personal set of beliefs and emotions that we grow up with, because of our families, what we learned from our own parents or what we just take to be the truth.

We’re not great at setting boundaries. We’re not great at saying no for many different reasons. There are lots of different patterns. Some of these come down to the archetypes that we generally tend to fall into.

A new female leadership model

Here at One of Many, we talk about five women’s power types.  One of which is the mother and, in our culture and society, the mother power type is about the only one that we women are “allowed” in. The rest we don’t really appreciate as much.

For that reason, we end up with a lot of women who are doing a lot of mothering and juggling everything else and it becomes a lot. Once we learn to set our own boundaries, ask for partnership in our own domestic situations, ask for partnership with our employers or our employees, we can start to break the shackles a little bit, and we’ve seen some massive shifts inside of the women in our community, which is awesome.

There’s research with about six independent studies, which have been put together in a meta-analysis of millions of people in different countries, all around the world – men, women, different economic status, and it found that women were less happy than men and less happy than we were 40 years ago.

It was irrespective of race, age, whether married, single, divorced, how much money we were making and any of that kind of stuff with the slight exception of African-American women, who were slightly happier than 40 years ago, but still less happy than their men. My hypothesis on this, and I guess where One of Many comes from, is born out of this and an exploration into it.

The power base or the energy that it’s taken for us to achieve the incredible inroads into equality which we have achieved, means we’re not there yet. Let’s not kid ourselves, what we have achieved, the type of energy that it has taken to achieve that, is actually not sustainable nor nourishing for us as human beings. It has taken a lot of what I would call warrioress energy, fight energy, to get there

For the overwhelming majority of women, that’s not our natural state, yet we still have to fight for leadership. We still have to fight to make it up the corporate ladder. Even in entrepreneurialism, there’s this mythology I know from a lot of these business leaders that I follow, that it’s just about putting in the hard work and fighting your way and you have to hustle.

There’s a whole aspect of what it is to be female, to be a woman, which doesn’t get expressed. I believe all the opportunity we have is fabulous, but it’s not lighting us up. We’ve achieved it, but to what end? Because now we’re just left with even more to do, even more demands on our time and not able to do those things which are most important.

We need to find a new kind of power to be the women that the world is calling us to be because, make no mistake, there’s a huge demand for more women in leadership, in politics and organization, all around. There’s a huge demand, yet when you dig beneath the surface with most women who sit on the precipice of, should I step up to that or not ,so many opt out because we think, the only way we can do it is more of that fight, more of that push and burnout, and we just don’t want that.

Women in transition

Midlife women are certainly attracted to what we are doing. The demographic has changed now, but the very first year we launched, we sold out our flagship 12-month leadership program called “Lead the Change” with 10 post-menopausal women and there was this moment where we thought, okay, so this is who we’re attracting.

However, that has shifted quite dramatically over the years, and we are now getting midlife women, women in their late twenties, and early thirties who are often those millennials who are on the brink of burnout, because they are on the fast track inside an organization.

The overwhelming majority are women who have had that experience where they’re juggling and are at that moment of, do I step up into this promotion or do I not? We have women who are about to be made partner at one of the big companies and then think, hang on, I’m not going to do that if it’s going to mean risking my whole family and my wellbeing.

We tend to attract a lot of women who are at that point of stepping up and wondering. Women whose kids are now growing up and moving on, either because they’ve reached significant school age or moving on into an empty nest moment. They look around and go, so what was that all for? Who am I, if I’m not all of that?

There are these kinds of transition moments that happen for women and a great majority of women do find us at that point, to navigate and rediscover who am I, what’s important to me, how can I express my leadership and express my impact without burning out.

We certainly attract a lot of superwomen, women who are on that race. But we also attract anti-superwomen, women who are often the daughters of superwomen, friends of superwomen or sisters of superwomen who were like, if that’s what leadership looks like, if that’s what impact looks like, I don’t want any of it. We get a group of women who think, there’s got to be a gentler way perhaps here, where I can still impact, but not do it in that exhausting kind of capacity.

It takes a lot of energy to create a human life. I don’t think we necessarily value giving life enough. Of course, not all women are mothers, but there is something in bearing a child and bringing it through the gates of life and death into the world that sticks in your soul and DNA, and we inherit this from our ancestors.

We’re at a really critical and exciting time right now. When I started talking about what we refer to as “soft power leadership”, when you say the word feminine, women said, oh, I don’t want to be feminine. I was one of them. I equated it with the blonde, stereotypical kind of girls that I went to school with. I thought, if that’s what feminine looks like, I don’t want to be part of it.

I was a boots, jogging-bottoms-wearing university attendee. Don’t you think I’m a woman? I didn’t want to be feminine at all. Then, I was surprised that no blokes found me attractive. It was very confusing for me!

It was because of what feminine meant to me and feminine meant weak. I know I’m not alone in that. A lot of women as they come into our community, you say the big F word feminine, and they’re like, no way, I don’t want to be that. But as we explore into it, we discover there’s a much wider experience of what feminine can feel like, than that one little bandwidth we get exposed to through the media.

The power types, all five of them are feminine and all five of them are strong. There’s a depth to that strength and a deliciousness in the way each of them expresses themselves. This really helps women in our community appreciate that there is a way they can bring their femininity, their unique and natural advantages as women, to their whole expression of themselves and the impact they want to make in the world and it’s not a tick against them.

Now, especially during the Covid pandemic, we have seen some beautiful examples of soft power leadership. My heroine at the moment is Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand. She is an exquisite embodiment of soft power leadership, but she’s certainly not alone.

A lot of the leaders of the Nordic States, Taiwan, and a number of countries these extraordinary women who are leading powerfully, collaboratively, compassionately, but fiercely as well, with clarity and decisiveness but perhaps slightly different priorities than other countries with men at the helm.

There’s something in the tendency towards collaboration, community and the greatest good for the greatest number, and also partnered with the willingness to make unpopular decisions. Quite frankly, if you’re a woman leader of a country, you got there by making some unpopular decisions along the way.

You had to because the status quo is white male leadership. You had to do some different things. There’s this funny thing that women are not okay with risk taking, but I would say we probably are a little better with calculated risks because in order to get into leadership, we’ve had to take them, make them be quite strategic and thoughtful to get into these very senior leadership positions.

The five soft power archetypes

We’ve selected five archetypes to be what we call power types. The philosophy on it is that if a woman has access to these five, she has access to the resources to face most challenges and opportunities that life would throw at her. It’s a very broad base.

The five that we talk about are the warrioress which we mentioned earlier. Warrioress is that youthful, energetic aspect of our self. She’s the defender of boundaries. She fights against injustice.

I often think of the freedom fighters, the campaigners and the protesters. When she sees an injustice on public transport or in the boardroom, has to speak up and say something. She just won’t take it lying down. She’s often very physically active as well even if she’s in her eighties.

We then have the mother power type. Mother is the one that a lot of us can relate to and appreciate. We don’t have to be biological mothers to have strong access to mother power type. In fact, what I’ve noticed in our community, it’s often women without children, who have a higher predilection for what I call overexpressed mother power type than perhaps even those with kids.  

Mother is that centre of unconditional love and nurturing. In the corporate world, we bring it out in our coaching and the way we might lead teams and take care of our teams. The downside is we can sometimes keep people on for too long inside organizations, constantly trying to mother them when actually they were never a good fit for the job in the first place.

Then we have our lover power type which is the centre of our sensuality and our sexuality.  Certainly, for a lot of the women in our community, a lot of them could really do with a good dose of intimacy in their lives, but perhaps more importantly, for women in our community, she’s also the centre of self-care.

She is the part of us that avoids burnout because she cherishes, nurtures, and nourishes this body, this one vessel that we’ve been given. She’s the one who beautifies our spaces and creates deliciousness in everything.

We also have the queen power type. The queen is probably the one we most relate to from a leadership perspective, but actually we need access to all five for leadership. Queen is serene, graceful and decisive. She can see the vision for her entire realm.

She’s great with structure. She seeks counsel, takes advice. She doesn’t do guilt and is not afraid of making bold choices and decisions, providing sanction and blessing for those in her realm.

The sorceress is sometimes a bit of a trigger word for people because they associate it with, sleeping beauty and the one that didn’t get invited to the christening and all that kind of jazz.

We deliberately chose the name sorceress because she is the aspect of ourselves that connects to whatever we define as source. It could God or Goddess. It could be our higher selves. For many women in our community, it’s just nature or just a sense of purpose or meaning. We have scientists who say it’s quantum physics, that kind of the unknowable thing that I just am fascinated by.

If we can access each of these, we all have one or two that are relatively stronger and those which we have less access to. What we notice is that those we have the least access to will indicate the kinds of challenges that often show up for us. Our primaries are those which we most rely on and can also have their own set of challenges.

It helps us to understand the the landscape of challenge, but also helps us to understand the landscape of strength that we bring to our own leadership positions. When I say leadership, I mean all kinds, whether it’s your parenting, whether it’s in your church group or community group, or whether it’s in inside of an organization.

Understanding your women’s power type profile can be a real breakthrough in appreciating, and then nourishing your strengths. But also gives you a growth plan for those to enhance so that you can bring a more complete and conscious leadership.

Becoming a better leader

There are a number of things that women can do to become better leaders. One of the first things is self-awareness. Get to know yourself better because my belief is that all of us are brilliant leaders. We just need to untether those things that don’t serve our leadership.

If we can let go of those limiting beliefs or those uncomfortable emotions, that can make a real difference. Getting some personal growth aspect to your life and it doesn’t matter the methodology, but letting go of historical stuff which isn’t relevant to you anymore.
You’ll flourish into who you are and that’s the kind of a key approach we have.

The second piece I would say is you need to hone your leadership muscle. Not in terms of specific skills, but in beingness and that’s where our five women’s power types come in. Most of us spend our lives either in superwoman or one of her cousins, the victim, the bitch, or the martyr, and we’ll oscillate widely, depending on when we had our last coffee or glass of water or decent night’s sleep.

Getting in a relationship with our power types and doing those activities that nurture and nourish those aspects of ourselves is another regular habit that we really encourage in our women. Being in that foundation of power where you’ve let go of stuff that’s not serving you and you’re starting to hone the aspects of yourself that do serve you.

The skills, which is the stuff that’s often taught as leadership, is the icing on the cake. I don’t believe a leader is born rather than made. Leadership is inherent but it can be revealed in anyone.

Find out more about Jo:

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Dr Joanna Martin is the founder of One of Many, a women’s leadership community which started in the UK and is now global through its online community and trainings. She was a medical doctor and an actor before she found her mission as a coach, helping woman to lead. She has certified over 1700 coaches in behavioral change.

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