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Susan Harrow

Reclaiming Feminine Values in the Workplace

Women often believe that they must act like men to succeed.

Women often believe that they must act like men to succeed. They scramble up the corporate ladder by copying traditional male behavior. Although it sometimes buys them temporary "success", most of the time, on a deeper level, it doesn't work. They frequently find themselves dissatisfied, restless, and ultimately unfulfilled.

While many women in the workplace remain ensnared in the illusion of being "successful," those who wake up often find that their femininity and core values have been pushed to the background or edged out of their lives in a subtle but significant way.

When women want to build a stronger business team, closer friend and family relationships, or a more centered self, many hundreds have sought the expertise of Richard Strozzi-Heckler, President of Strozzi Institute, Center for Leadership and Mastery. Strozzi-Heckler's programs are designed for people who want to be leaders in their companies and/or leaders in their own lives.

Strozzi-Heckler explains that the way we shape ourselves is the result of our response to past experiences, both positive and negative, which then determines the deep muscular and cellular patterns that have set into our body. These responses and choices become the habitual, mostly unconscious, way that we react to people, situations and our environment.

When creating leaders Strozzi-Heckler's observations and practices go deeper than "body language." He says that evaluating people on "body language" alone does them a disservice. He looks at the "soma," or whole person and examines the unconscious ways people hold their bodies, respond to stress situations, react to physical and verbal surprises, and through the way they move when under pressure. A central question he asks of all his students is "Are you leading your life, or is it leading you?"

Carol, an executive in a very large manufacturing company that distributes heavy equipment worldwide, found that her life was leading her. She had unconsciously taken on male values and subverted her core feminine ones. Though she moved up quickly in the company she found she couldn't build trust with teams. Her frustration in not making swift progress made her impatient, which in turn alienated the people on her teams. "In the process of rising within the company Carol had allowed the erosion of empathy and deep listening to replace a 'slash and burn' style to accomplish her goals no matter what the cost to her people," explained Strozzi-Heckler.

Over the course of one-and a half years Carol worked individually with Strozzi-Heckler on site and also involved her employees in the process of redefining their relationships to each other in order to create a cohesive team. During their coaching Carol began to get more "somatic sensibility", an awareness of how her facial expressions, voice and tone, body shape and movements effected the members of her team. Once this awareness began to surface, crying, grief and anger erupted as well. "There was a well of emotion surrounding what she held and how she responded to the people in her life," said Strozzi-Heckler. "She saw how she had sacrificed the core of self for a particular future she thought she wanted."

This new awareness and change in a way of being wasn't immediately accepted and trusted by those closest to her, however. The old patterns of behavior and response were still fresh in everyone's mind. In the past her requests sounded like commands. Before she lost her temper she would "chew down on her teeth and her eyes would narrow."

Strozzi-Heckler reflected these and other behaviors back to her so she could see herself through the eyes of her team. Then he worked with her to develop new practices that involved somatic body work, sitting meditation, and some exercises adapted from the martial art of Aikido. Eventually Carol began to soften and become more open. When she calmed herself down she could listen more closely "meet people in a different way" and then take more effective action.

At first Carol's team thought the changes they observed were just a strategic move to get what she wanted out of them. Over time they saw that she was devoted to create genuine alliances, partnerships her constituency grew within the company.

Then, a few other surprising things happened first at the professional level, then at the personal level. Professionally, Carol was able to develop a culture in which she and her team could give direct and effective feedback to her and to each other. Later, her whole level of interest changed and Carol decided that she wanted to work at a non-profit. Her original mission to make a profit shifted to making a difference. She retired from corporate America and sits on four boards advising non-profits. She speaks about women and leadership, sails, and rides horses.

Things also changed dramatically at home. Carol suggested that the family begin to cook and eat dinner together. She and her husband decided to go on vacations alone with the family instead of with other families so they could spend intimate time together. She and her husband found themselves having conversations that they had put on hold for decades. And they began to discuss their shared future.
Perhaps the most moving thing to Carol was the shift in family dynamics, in particular with her daughter. Her daughter told her that it was an incredible virtue that her mother could truly change at age fifty and her mother became a role model for her. "What's really touching to me is the recognition that if we change in significant ways it can live on in other generations," said Strozzi-Heckler. "

Richard Strozzi-Heckler, founder of the Strozzi Institute for Embodied Leadership, has a Ph.D. in Psychology and is a sixth degree black belt in the martial art of Aikido. He is the author of seven books on leadership and has worked with tens of thousands of people over the last 30 years including corporate executives, managers, political leaders, counterinsurgency agents operating behind the front lines, and inner-city gangs. His clients include U.S. Marines, U.S. Army Green Berets, U.S. Navy SEALS, AT&T, DMV, Microsoft, Sportsmind, Capital One, Barnes & Noble, and Hewlett-Packard. The Strozzi Institute mission is to produce leaders who embody pragmatic wisdom, skillful action and grounded compassion.


About the Author

Susan Harrow is the author of Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul.