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  • Writer's pictureHannah E Greenwood

Enlightened Leadership

I was at a party last Sunday afternoon. Most of us were enjoying the sunshine in the garden and to get to it we had to walk through the living room. It was a beautiful day, a special birthday party for a dear friend, and I was astonished to see a few people, predominantly men, sitting there watching a football/soccer match. ‘How anti-social!’ I thought irritably.

I grew up in a very male family in Manchester. As a child I was taken many times to see Manchester United with my brothers. I witnessed a lot of violence, both on the pitch and in the stands, and I felt very intimidated by the aggressive, tribal jingoism. There was no pure enjoyment of the game: it was all about ‘killing the other’. As an adult, I dared to speak up as to why I didn’t like football, and many, including a few women, would get very upset with me and cite examples of wives, girlfriends and mothers who had got passionately into the game. I respected their passion but didn’t feel the need to share it and football became something I only watched very occasionally.

But as I passed by the TV over the course of that Sunday afternoon, I became increasingly curious. This was obviously no ordinary match. The footballers were women, competing at Wembley to huge crowds and it was on prime-time TV. I paused my judgment, stopped to really look…and got hooked! Beyond tribal boundaries of country, gender etc, this felt very new and ground-breaking.

This victory represents the righting of a historic injustice. Just over a century ago, women’s football attracted huge crowds: one match in 1920 was played in front of 53,000 spectators. But all that potential was choked off when the UK Football Association forbade women from using its fields in 1921, declaring football “unsuitable for females”, a ban that endured until 1971.’ London Evening Standard

‘The Lionesses’ triumph reflects not just individual brilliance on the field but years of hard slog, much of it behind the scenes, by sports administrators, coaches and champions of women’s football. And what a joy it was to see the players prevail without the ugliness that has sometimes marred the men’s game. There was no booing of Germany’s anthem or crowd violence on Sunday.’ The Guardian

In an article 3 years ago ‘We Become What We Behold’ I wrote: ‘Growing up I had few positive female role models to show me how to stretch and go beyond what was traditionally expected of a woman. Education yes, professional aspiration no, so I have had to challenge many of my internal injunctions about what a woman ‘should’ be and do outside the home. It is no coincidence my professional worlds have been in teaching, psychotherapy and coaching: all traditionally female professions. My decision to push through the glass ceiling into top leadership development catapulted me into a world where my peers are primarily men. This is partly because men are much better at leaning in and rising to the top in any profession…women can learn a lot here from the good men!... and partly because senior leaders are still predominantly men and like unconsciously selects like, a key issue in recruitment.' We Become What We Behold

Since her appointment 11 months ago, Sarina Wiegman, the Dutch Manager to the UK football team, has transformed the Lionesses into a team that found the confidence to believe it could win. Much is being discussed about the difference in her leadership style and the emphasis is on her being a woman. There is certainly a difference, but I would call it ‘Enlightened Leadership’ rather than specifically female leadership. Enlightened Leadership is a finely tuned balance of both the Feminine and Masculine Principles, psychological terms for two aspects we all have within us, regardless of gender: our Yin and Yang. Great leadership demonstrates an inspiring integration of both. See the brilliant ‘Ted Lasso’ as a wonderful example of enlightened leadership!

Three years ago, I was invited to give a talk on International Women’s Day to a mixed audience of women and men on the theme: ‘Be Bold for Change’. As part of my research, I sent this question below to several professionally successful and talented women around the world:

‘If you were being mentored by a highly successful… and good… man, what would you want to learn from him so you could fulfil your highest potential?’

Here is what these women wanted to learn from men:

  • Career Progression: what risks were taken and how were key decisions made?

  • Negotiating Skills: how to lean in and negotiate for fair and equal pay.

  • Personal Impact: how to increase personal profile up, down and across the existing corporate culture?

  • Communication: how to navigate and build better relationships within the male corporate culture?

  • Inner Confidence and Gravitas: how to develop both to handle challenges effectively?

  • Influencing Skills: how to develop an understanding of the internal political structure – what counts and who counts?

  • Humour and Ease: the ability to be playful even at the highest level. As a coaching client said recently: ‘Men often act in a more relaxed manner and appear to be at ease even in difficult circumstances. Most women in similar positions act very seriously and are much less relaxed.’

  • Making great decisions: having good processes and how to do this without anxious ruminating and procrastinating.

I also sent the same question to highly successful men around the world with one key addition which speaks volumes by its necessity: ‘in the workplace’. ‘If you were being mentored by a highly successful… and good… woman in the workplace, what would you want to learn from her and other women in the workplace so youcould fulfil your highest potential?

Here is what these men wanted to learn from women:

  • How to tune into my Emotional Intelligence, EQ, and my Intuitive Intelligence, NQ. Men historically have been trained in IQ and PQ (Physical/Instinct) but as the world changes it will require more of our EQ and NQ as well.

  • From the phenomenal women in my life, I have learned to allow for messiness. Not all is perfect, nor should it be. If conversations or meetings are overly choreographed, you are less likely to get the creative, disruptive or transformational outcomes. I have also learned to live balanced. Mind, body and soul need to be aligned: work smart, play hard, enjoy others.

  • I want to know how to assimilate the unspoken culture within an organisation to understand what is valued and important. I also want to talk to people rather than about people.’

  • I want to learn how to tune into my own intuition more to be able to sense the other person’s feelings; how to sense and interpret body language better and how to connect more to people on an emotional level rather than a rational and factual level.

  • Women tend to listen better to people when they are describing their problems or issues. Perhaps it’s a level of emotional connection or intuition.

  • I want to learn to talk to people rather than about people.

  • I think women trust their intuition much more, while men tend to be super rational. I would like to improve on trusting my intuition more.

  • Sometimes, my male side pushes me in jumping into action without really thinking or listening. I think I could learn from women to be more thoughtful and a better listener.

  • As a man, I sometimes tend to take rationale, tough decisions without paying enough attention about the human factor. I think I could learn to be more empathetic toward people.

  • Less ego: in the dominant sense of ego. Women are more willing to collaborate and listen to the needs of their counterpart and compromise.

So, what did these men and women want to learn from each other? The women knew exactly what they wanted to learn from men, and they immediately understood the relevance of the question when I asked them. This is not surprising: from early childhood, girls have learned to tune into and often adapt to the psyche of the historically dominant male. At worst, this is the ‘good girl syndrome’, but it also has the great advantage of developing Emotional and Intuitive Intelligence. What women are needing help with is how to grow and thrive in the workplace. A good example of this is the point about ‘Negotiating Skills: how to lean in and negotiate for fair and equal pay.’ Many women have been trained from birth to empathise and nurture the ‘other’, so the concept of asking/ leaning in and developing the jostling energy required for negotiating is very challenging. Women also tend to take things personally because we focus on the relationship. As men so often tell me: ‘This isn’t personal, it’s business!’

In contrast, the men’s responses were initially very vague with many of them saying they couldn’t see the difference between men and women, that their focus was on talent, creating excellence and success and this transcended diversity. They also said that this was a complex issue for them to answer and some of the men’s responses about seeing no difference were because it felt risky to explore this issue. Beyond this, women in power as the norm is still recent and even then, only in certain industries and environments. It was only after further discussion with me that they came up with their answers and were surprised by how much they could learn and how crucial these EQ, NQ and relational skills are in all aspects of our life.

Look at the following comments about Sarina Wiegman in this light of integrated, Enlightened Leadership: ‘Former players at ADO recall an “ambitious” and “demanding” manager, initially somewhat rigid in her ideas, who gradually became more flexible and empathetic. Indeed, one of her greatest assets as a coach, says the former Dutch footballer Leonne Stentler, who played under her for five years, is not caring much about being liked. ‘She is someone who has a goal and just tries to reach that goal.’ ‘Perhaps the most important attribute Wiegman has brought to the Lionesses is a seemingly unquenchable spirit’ The Times.

Many of us…men as well as women… might not have had role models to aspire to growing up. Maybe what we had to do is consciously NOT become what we beheld. This is true for everyone: if we live an unconscious life, we automatically become the person we didn’t want to become, have the life we didn’t want to have and we become very grumpy and mean old men and women, bewailing that life hasn’t been fair.

To consciously become an empowered, enlightened human being takes great courage: the courage to choose a different path, a different way of being. A path that cannot always be seen and is not always easy but one that ultimately brings great rewards. The invitation for all of us is to push through our internal and external barriers, to step into our power and voice and to become the inspirational role models we always wanted for ourselves.

Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood


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