August 2016 By Suma Varughese The feminine style of leadership, best embodied by the mother, is what we need to become balanced human beings capable of creating a balanced world, says Suma Varughese “Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials…. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.” This passage from the powerful novel, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck describes Ma Joad. Ma Joad was the quintessential mother, strong, enduring, giving and loving. No matter what life threw at her, she took it, absorbed it, and made it easier for her family to bear. For her, sacrifice was natural and instinctive. She kept the family interest far above her own, and thought and acted on behalf of the family unit. Her strength kept the family together. In how many families would this storyline have been replayed from time immemorial? The mother as the backbone of the family, striving with every ounce of her muscle and sinew to raise her young, cope with family challenges, nurture and nourish the family, and keep it together despite all clashes and conflicts. I myself came from a woman-centric home. Between my parents, my mother was the strong one, the one who took on the burden of the family, sacrificed for it, and worked till 1.30 at nights stitching to bring some extra money into the kitty. She cooked, cleaned, cared for and laboured for all of us endlessly. Our home revolved around our mother, and took heart from her tireless, dauntless spirit. And yet, despite society’s deification of the mother, and acknowledgement of the role she plays in sustaining civilisation, it does not seem to have occurred to us to consider adopting her model of leadership in other areas of life. When it comes to the corporate world, politics. banking, armed forces, or the medical and legal professions, leadership is mainly considered to be something men do. And the leadership model most adopt, including women, whether consciously or unconsciously, have been based on masculine strengths such as conquest and control, dynamism, goal-orientedness, and getting things done. However, these strengths alone have proven to be inadequate. They may enable us to achieve prodigiously, but they do not tell us what to achieve and how to do so. Which explains why we are embroiled in crises, wherever we look. But the good news is that consciousness levels are rising. We are awakening both to the damage we have wrought on the environment, society, and on ourselves, and also to the possibility of change. Everywhere, men and women are changing, healing themselves of anger, fear and insecurity, and becoming more caring, responsible and kind. Gradually, the hold of ego is loosening its grip. Even though newspapers still broadcast violence, conflict and misery, a positive change is curling through society like a wisp of incense. And with it a new form of leadership is rising into prominence. Feminine leadership This form of leadership can be called many things – spiritual, conscious or feminine. This leadership alone will help us, both men and women, to move towards the next step – to become balanced human beings capable of creating a balanced world, a world that works. Says Nilima Bhatt, co-author of the recently released book, Shakti Leadership, “The world is missing feminine values and energy. A Native American put it so well, ‘The bird of humanity is flying on one wing for far too long. It needs to extend the other wing.’” She adds, “The masculine approach is not bad or wrong. It just needs to be balanced by the feminine energy. If I were to ask you to breathe, it would be untenable for me to ask you to just inhale or just exhale. In the same way, only choosing the masculine model is not tenable. You need to be a balanced leader coming from a place of greater awareness.” Eckhart Tolle, one of the world’s leading spiritual teachers and author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, explains that the feminine is synonymous with a rising consciousness for one reason alone, which is that the ego is less dominant in woman than in man. He says, “With many people becoming more conscious, the ego is losing its hold on the human mind. Because the ego was never as deeply rooted in woman, it is losing its hold on women more quickly than on men.” In our movement towards a more spiritual and holistic culture, it is imperative that we embrace the ostracised feminine, and use it to become more whole and complete. So what exactly are the characteristics of feminine leadership? Wikipedia puts it succinctly: “The feminine style of management is … characterised by more … soft skills and behaviors such as empathy, effective communication, and a generally more democratic or team-styled work environment.” It further states, “(1) Women leaders are more persuasive than their male counterparts, (2) When feeling the sting of rejection, women leaders learn from adversity and carry on with an “I’ll show you” attitude, (3) Women leaders demonstrate an inclusive, team-building leadership style of problem solving and decision making, (4) Women leaders are more likely to ignore rules and take risks.” Feminine leadership is heart-centred and intuition-led. It is therefore likely to focus on the welfare of the whole, and not be led to focus on the profit motive alone. Say Preethaji, co-founder of the spiritual organisation One World Academy. “Nature has definitely endowed woman with a greater power for nurturance and heart-felt connection. The successful women leaders are those who can combine intellect with intuitive intelligence, and critical thinking with compassion. Such leadership is only possible when there is a revolutionary shift in one’s consciousness from separation to being one.” Women at work Leading through love and nurturance: Anjali Mathur with some of her women team leaders Anjali Mathur, director and COO of The Information Company, a significant player in the field of digital communications, says, “Although not all women embody it, I do find that women give more importance to relationships across the board, whether within the organisation and teams, or outside with the clients. They also find it easier to multitask because they are brought up to do so. For instance, by the time I was eight, I could make chappatis and look after my younger sisters, besides studying and playing. I also find that by and large, women are much more committed to the work and change jobs less often. Also, because they lack self-confidence, they are more sensitive to the opinion of others and responsive to their feelings.” Although her husband, Kiran Kasbekar, is the managing director of the company, a team of four women runs the day-to-day operations. “Ours is a well-knit team, with no room for back-biting or cut-throat competition. We function democratically. People know their voices are heard, and that they get opportunities to play to their strengths. We give ownership to our people and they take responsibility for their jobs. Most of our staff has been with us for more than five years and about half for 10.” When anyone, men or women, needs support, Anjali and her team proffer it. For instance when women are forced to stay at home to look after ailing children or parents, they are permitted to work from home or work part-time. One of their staff members wanted to study to be a pilot. The company gave her a laptop so she could continue to work even during that period and when the interest rates for the bank loan became prohibitive, she was given a loan to pay it off. Although a small company, they have some of India’s largest corporate names as their clients. Anjali attributes this to the fact that she and her colleagues have nurtured their relationship with their clients devotedly. GL Sampoorna, a psychologist and trainer for over 30 years, agrees that women’s natural style is more relationship-based and emotional. However, she maintains that most women in the work world have forsaken that style for the masculine model. She adds, “If a woman just acts at work as she would at home, she would be much more effective. Women like relationships. They always want to know a little more about the other. This makes them more communicative, and causes them to care more for their team and to be more involved in their lives. In turn, the other becomes more loyal and more invested in the work. Things are so much easier and gentler.” She recalls the time when she was heading Ashraya, a shelter for women abused by their alcoholic husbands. “The men would stampede into my office, angry and aggressive, sometimes accompanied by their full clan. I would ask them to sit down. They would refuse angrily and insist on seeing their wives and taking them back. I would get someone to bring them water and once again calmly ask them to sit. Slowly they would sit, drink the water, and in five minutes they would become like puppy dogs. It would then be easy to explain to them that because their women could not bear the situation at home, they had come here. I would explain everything nicely to them, tak
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