Empowered Leadership in CirclesWork!

October 2018
by Lauren Jinshil Oliver, CPS Partnership Community

2018 is shaping up to be another Year of the Woman. I am confident as more women step into leadership, we will evolve a more caring and just world. My passion is to co-create the environment that elicits women’s leadership.  For many, self-confidence does not come easy. We see repeatedly how the patriarchal top-down power structure teaches women self-doubt and expects women to dampen our voices, our authority, our drive. Stepping into leadership in a setting designed for turn-taking in leadership functions promotes the teaching-learning and mutual support that encourages a woman’s empowerment. As Mary Parker Follett pointed out, in contrast to the commonly seen power-over, we can create “power-with, a jointly developed power, a co-active, not a coercive power.” So we do, with CirclesWork!

I’ve worked with women whose first response to leadership is to deny they are a leader. When scratching a bit deeper, they express they do not want to be a leader – because the models they have seen manifest the top-down coercive style. Now we are seeing a genuine shift in power dynamics.   More women are prepared to speak out to protect women’s rights. I see women embracing Follett’s view that “Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders.” So we do, with the CirclesWork! model.

I began sitting in a community circle as a grad student, and found this a life-saving resource to counter the pressures of graduate school. My learning about groups and organizations was significantly deepened during 10 years as manager of training and development for the first US Toyota plant, known for outstanding teamwork and a world-class production system. This sharpened my passion to offer a simple, user-friendly circle model. My CirclesWork! model enables members to co-create a cooperative, egalitarian culture, empowered with democratic leadership, engaged in effective problem solving, and working with values of inclusivity, equity, mutual respect, and creativity. Give-and-take with rich feedback helps each one become your best. Together we are better!

How do we speed up women’s move into full partnership with men? The 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report found that gender parity is over 200 years away. My son asks me: can a single-issue campaign work today? What single-issue? I inquire. Women’s rights and protecting women against violence, he tells me. He is one among many young men – and the Dalai Lama, too – who see women as the key to transforming our world into the caring and just realm we need. Experiencing a subculture where women are in charge, are respected, are “naturally” taking up leadership roles, and are communicating directly and with compassionate connection can flip the switch.

I’ve been in powerful workshops with excellent teachers. I’ve been inspired and energized along with my fellow participants, ready to change my life and change the world.   Yet, three or four weeks later, I lose some of the zest and focus, and realize such changes are often more than I can implement on my own. I find the support of a feedback-rich circle, with weekly gatherings and a set of shared group tools, keeps me on my toes. Any content designed to move our revolution of values and activism forward is good. CirclesWork! is not about content but about the deceptively simple process of holding an effective circle enabling rich dialogue, meaningful feedback, and the nurturing of trust and care, including self-trust and self-care.

Who have you run into in groups? The Monopolizer? The Agenda Hijacker? The Silent Judge? The Assumer? The Dictator? And have you felt for the Loner, and wished you could create space for her to speak her heart? These personas and the issues plaguing groups are addressed by the Tools for Cooperative Work embodied in the CirclesWork! practices. For each of these troublesome personas, we have tools and make agreements to prevent and avoid these common problems in groups.

Everyone is a leader in cooperative work, since leadership itself is transformed from power-over to power-with.

Dr. Lauren Oliver co-founded CirclesWork! In 2006 to launch action circles of peacemakers.  As a coach and organization development consultant with a 25-year career in industry, Lauren focused on high-performing teams and change management.  She holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology at UCLA, where she trained and worked with circle-oriented organizations like the LA Radical Therapy Women’s Collective, and co-founded Support Group Network. circleswork.net





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