I could tell you about the idea of Feminine Power as Related Power and although interesting it's not where the juice is.
The juice is in my story of how I came to this understanding and the only question that matters: do you see yourself reflected back in this kind of journey?
I'd love to hear your story of how you've wrestled with the question of your power? What is it that matters to you about how you wield power?
Many women leaders tell me they are concerned that they are "just," "safe," "wise," and have integrity in how they hold power. Their stories look just like mine in that we had to come into a way of being so that we could hold our power so as to be "just" "safe" and in integrity with what is in our hearts.
Here's a short version of my story.
From the time I could speak, my goodness did I have a mouth. And behind that mouth a will that demanded “just” leadership. What that meant is little me spoke out to my father always questioning whether or not his leadership was fair. From the beginning I was interested in power and looking for models of power that reflected the values of my heart.
I found myself at the age of 14 in youth leadership. As I rose to power, an existential question emerged that sent me into a crises. The door to that crises opened in a moment. A friend, the same age, came to seek my counsel. For the first time I recognized the role I was playing. I was the “student leader” of my group, so that when the girlfriend came to me, she wasn’t coming to Neora as friend, she was coming to Neora as Mentor.
The weight of the responsibility shocked me.
What, at 14, gave me the authority to be in this position of Mentor?
Mostly I’d gotten to where I was by gritty smarts and the gift of gab. I don’t know how…but somehow I understood that the only authority that was real authority was moral. And I also understood that I had no idea what that meant.
That sent me down into a terrible crises of identity from 15 through to 26 that I only later learned was normal, in fact necessary, for young adulthood. Check out Dan McAdams’ work here to learn more about the moratorium on identity and values we go through in young adulthood to discover the difference between the values of the world we grew up in and whether or not they share values with what’s seeded in our hearts.
By my early 20’s it was clear that the world met me in my female identity as my power identity. Although I so badly wanted to be recognized for my mind, again and again, mentors from bosses to professors, would shine their favor upon me with an eye on my female allure. Ouch.
This made me so angry that it broke my heart. I mean this seriously. It literally violated my code of being.
I knew then as I know now, that there was no way I could become the power seeded in me with out mentorship. And the mentorship that was in my path was not moral.
What happened next? An idea came into my world that changed my life. I was introduced by a powerful female professor to the work of Carol Gilligan and her “Ethic of Care”- as a model for how women relate to the world.
This term, “ethic of care,” reshaped my story.
What I was after was an “ethic of care” in how people treated me and I treated them.
According to Gilligan and what studies show us about how our young identities develop from infancy into childhood, girls develop differently.
We are both wired and acculturated to function inter-relationally with our social worlds. That basis puts us in a distinct relationship with how we exert power.
Gilligan’s research was at the forefront of data emerging from the ‘70’s onward on female development. In the meaning behind this data, I had a way in. Women, not all, but the ones who are on the road to consciousness, manifest power distinctly.
Look to Sally Hegelson’s work, and specifically at The Web of Inclusion, and you’ll see the patterns. Women, again, I’m speaking of the conscious ones, lead by way of networks.
We lead by way of creating, sustaining, and valuing relationships.
So when we speak of “female power” are we talking about our biology as a woman? In some measure, yes, it’s a brain and developmental thing. But more importantly, the real value is to be gleaned from the metaphor.
Just this move- from “feminine power” to “related power” allows me to access a meaning that I can live into. “Related Power” is a value that I want to live under and in, every day. “Related Power” can save the world. And in this I begin to understand the charge of Feminine Power.
In this, I begin to understand who I must be, how I must be, and what I must do, every day, as I lead in a fundamentally inter-related way—with and for those I serve.
I’d love to hear from you. Does this frame of “related power” resonate? Do you have stories to share about experiences of mentors or leaders who led like this? Do you have experiences to share where you’ve led like this? Please share your stories to join the converation below.