The Secret Community Leader is an anonymous column sharing the highs and lows of community leadership. It provides an open and honest forum for community leaders to get nagging challenges and worries off their chests. It also aims to share some of the most rewarding moments of community leadership, in the hope of both relating to, and inspiring, other leaders and communities.
This column was first published in STIR Summer Issue 2021.
I’ve recently had a breakthrough: I updated my LinkedIn. ‘Update LinkedIn’ has been the permanently deprioritised lingerer of my to-do list for years. It’s a big deal, facing the unruly ragtag assortment of ‘my career to date’ and knocking it into some kind of shape. But that wasn’t the breakthrough that I wanted to share. The real revolution was an update in perspective as manifested by inclusion of the word ‘leadership’. I have recently understood that some people see me as a leader and it was only my own internalised self-doubt that restricted me from seeing this in myself. I’ve realised that a huge part of why I had been so stymied, even embarrassed, about stepping into open leadership with pride and energy is because I identify as a woman, and I have long been told by society that this is not my place. At least, not in the way that I am learning to embody the deepest reflection of what being a woman might mean, and it’s in doing so that I’ve felt more like a leader than ever before.
You don’t need me to tell you about the culture of toxic patriarchy that has risen to prominence in our society, nor is this column about that. What’s interesting to me is that we are not, any of us, talking enough about the potential detoxification that we could enjoy if we were more comfortable embracing, discussing, and manifesting the divine feminine. These words did not come easily to me even here on this page. My fingers hesitate over how to explain this ever-present, balancing energy: the feminine aspects of all human beings regardless of their born sex. I am manifesting an internalised shame that we have learned to feel towards the goddess in all of us. ‘God’ is a common enough term. ‘Goddess’ is still a cringe-trigger. We can rage against the dark, but sometimes it’s more awkward celebrating the light. So I’ll put this in some context.
For the past two years I have been the director of a small sustainability consultancy. It’s mine, I founded it, and so I am by default its leader. To begin with, it was just me on my own and I didn’t have to consider my methods, I simply rolled up my sleeves and got on with it. But last summer, I offered a paid internship to a student from the University of Brunel: Farrah – a young woman of colour, focusing on environmental sciences, who was keen to get a sense of life in a start-up. I didn’t think about my role as her manager too much until one day she mentioned that she had never met a ‘businesswoman’. These words hit me like a wave. My role in her life suddenly came sharply into focus and I was plunged into a re-examination of my own career. Where had been my positive female role models at work? I could only think of one.
It became my mission to understand what being a good female role model is and to embody those qualities. I centred my task as to understand leadership in terms of the divine masculine and the divine feminine, and to forefront the feminine as part of the rebalancing act we need to do across the world right now. Excellent divine masculine qualities of logic, action, assertiveness and discipline have been stretched to their limit resulting in worship of the linear, forward-moving progress that is stretching our world beyond its natural limits. I started leaning into notions of intuition, compassion, flexibility, and emotionality, feeling my way into business planning that is cyclical and circular. I wanted to make a business plan that didn’t focus on growth, 10X returns on investments or exits (as had been encouraged in some business circles where I sought instruction). I found myself wanting to do work that breathed with the patterns of our planet in a reflection of the ultimate mother: Earth. Farrah was totally on board.
This has meant allowing the business to emerge – like an ecosystem. There is a hierarchy insofar as I am responsible for everyone I work with, but other than that we understand that every stage of work-life has value: interns and staff are peers, with equal opportunities for input and decision-making to my own. I do not encourage or celebrate competition or overwork. Staying late or missing lunch breaks leads to the kind of tunnel vision that results in our ability to ignore the real world.
In practical terms, I’m making room to uncover new KPIs, to create new payment and invoicing paradigms that extend beyond monetary wealth and profit, to embrace planetary wealth and wellbeing. Long term success over short term targets. Finally, I am determinedly dismissive of the concept of failure. There is no failure – only learning as a result of trying. What falls away or dies is fertile compost for whatever is next to grow. Right now, I am trying to unlearn embodied and internalised notions of leadership and success, and to listen and reflect the wisdom of the ancient mother in all of us. My start-up, this column, and yes, my LinkedIn page are all part of this effort – however awkward it may feel – to draw attention to this great rebalance. Perhaps you feel a little stirring of the divine feminine in you too … she’s there, we’ve just forgotten how to give her room. ∞
The Secret Community Leader column is published in partnership with Practical Governance.