by Nurete Brenner, CPS Partnership Community
Women’s leadership is the emergent idea that leadership is about co-creating a new story for the world during a time of radical transformation in Earth history. The old myths and images that sustained us in earlier periods are no longer serving us during this time of breakdown of the old and uncertainty about the future. The lone wolf, the frontiersman, the all-powerful superhero – these tropes fade into irrelevance as it becomes clear that no messianic figure is going to step forward and part the sea for us. We need to find new stories to accompany us and new images to illuminate the path as we shift from a patriarchal-hierarchical structure to a collective, relational, participatory one born in partnership rather than domination.
The word “leadership” stems from the Indo-European root leith which means to cross a threshold. How does a society cross the threshold from the myth of the strong leader to a new story of collective leadership? One answer is by telling new stories. Traditionally women have been the storytellers of our culture, relaying and relating the fairy tales, the bedtime stories, the family-history narratives and cultural myths. The men who share in this story-telling role are those who are at one with their feminine aspect and we recognize that this activity is not at all new for Indigenous cultures which have maintained an ongoing tradition of participatory story-telling leadership.
The image that is conjured up is of women and male allies sitting in circles weaving their lives together through story-telling, deriving support from one another, respectfully offering attention and mutual deference. Sometimes the stories are told through the night with a fire in the center of the circle illuminating faces, but concealing just enough to allow pain and pathos to be spoken. Usually there is food involved because nourishing the body and nurturing the soul go hand in hand. As we share triumphs and trials, victories and victimization, dreams and dramas, a new mandala-shaped pattern emerges out of the weave and it is in sharp contrast to the patriarchal images of ever-climbing growth charts, looming structural spires, and pyramid shaped organizational charts with a CEO perched at the top.
And make no mistake, these story-telling circles are subversive. They might not seem so – which is their genius – but there is nothing today more radical than doing something in community where money is not exchanged. Anything we do to undermine the financial system is rebellious whether that is growing our own food, baking our own bread, or sharing our resources in gift exchanges. The time we spend in sacred story-telling circle is time we are not following celebrities on social media; it’s time we are not buying or selling commodities. This is precisely what the capitalist powers do not want us doing in the effort to turn us all into consumers.
The symbol of this new emergent leadership pattern is that of the mandala, a Sanskrit word for circle denoting a geometric figure that can be viewed from any direction. A mandala represents unity, harmony and psychic wholeness. There is no one right side to view a mandala, all sides are equal and all are necessary to complement and complete one another. Leading by mandala is leading by the feminine principles of balance, completeness, and inclusiveness, an understanding of the whole as well as the parts.
There is nothing today more radical than doing something in community where money is not exchanged.
When my friend and colleague first started Lake Erie Institute, the non-profit that we now co-direct, it was the culmination of years of dreaming, and we found that many friends and colleagues were drawn to us with their own dreams and stories. Our first thought was to absorb their dreams and bring their ideas to fruition under our umbrella. But once we substituted the word “under” for the word “alongside” the mandala image of organization emerged. We realized that we could be the center of our own organizational mandala with others orbiting around us but we could also allow and encourage others to create their own unique organizations with other circling around them. Thus an organic ecosystem was formed of interlocking circles of organizations without any need for competition or overarching dominance. The mandala, thus, is a model and metaphor for a new kind of emergent leadership that can be applied to all forms of organizations.
Women’s leadership embraces stories, dreams, mandalas. Leading by mandala means allowing new forms of organization to emerge that have not yet been seen in the world. It means digging beneath the patriarchal structures and finding a foundation of partnership. The new paradigm for leading will not focus on the individual alone, but will instead arise from attending to the river of feeling and spirit that circles and flows between us as we orbit around each other in a beautiful mandala of relationships.
Dr. Nurete Brenner, PhD is the Co-Executive Director of the Lake Erie Institute in Gates Mills, Ohio. Her research interests include inter-faith and inter-ethnic dialogue, management education for Millennials, the intersection of business and peace, and EarthConscious economics. She is passionate about cultivating thoughtful business leaders who understand holistically how business and society interconnect, and that the needs of the community, the environment and future generations must be taken into account when engaging in business. Dr. Brenner holds a PhD from Case Western Reserve University and a MBA from the University of Derby.