By: Lyn McDonell
How do you balance on a paddle board? One has to get the right footing, know the direction the water is flowing, and avoid big waves. Recently, I moderated a discussion with a panel of three dynamic insightful women consultants. I think we did a pretty good job of staying on that board. I will explain.
The panel was organized around the recognition of International Women’s Day. We wanted to talk about women and consulting. Our impulse was to celebrate the strengths that women bring to consulting teams, our clients, and the issues of today. We soon pivoted from any stereotype to realize we could talk about the feminine energies that everyone has, whether male or female.
We didn’t want this to be about gender per se. Rather, we would talk about the artful flow of strengths and capacities of masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) energies in consulting and leadership, highlighting that – depending on the situation – the yin aspects are typically undervalued. How can any individual best integrate feminine leadership traits to draw out the best in people?
Working with the panelists, we had great conversations in preparation. The invasion of Ukraine was in full horrific view while we were trying to find our feet in the more qualitative subtle energies of this topic. For me it seemed both ill- and perfectly timed – in balance, then, with these times. That event was a very big wave. I acknowledged it in the session. That conflict was there… geographically, if not emotionally, far away.
It was a great experience and we were grateful for the opportunity to hold forth on the essential balance between the yang energies of setting boundaries, action, being bold, confident and determined with the yin subtler qualities of listening, caring, sharing power, holding uncertainty, and co-creating. There were personal stories of moving into leadership and the inner readjustment of traits required, the surprise of someone expected to be one way when – to be effective – she is the other way, and a tale of a wise feminine voice from the back of a hall stilling the crowd of mainly men to reposition an issue into its real significance.
The questions from the audience were thoughtful. With the current flowing, we drifted easily towards gender. Children’s qualities were shared and things heard were re-processed through whether male or female colleagues would agree. Was this or that specific practice “yin” really?
We were reminded then that gender is fluid, and that practices today reflect both styles. At our best, we are both goal-directed and open to the yin-like invention of what is possible recognizing that the future is being pulled from the complex present. For the flow in practice that we were gesturing towards, there is no good model yet -- one tested and proven that we can show our clients. There was discussion of how terminology is limiting and that management consulting would benefit from integrating models to guide us and others.
We did not experience a capsizing wave but we did realize how difficult it is to refer to masculine and feminine energies as descriptors and stay balanced, in terms of not ascribing gender, knowing that these qualities come through in individuals in different emphases at different times. It is also challenging to talk about subtle energies without a model we can point to and a framework that experienced consultant practitioners can help refine.
The response through chat from those attending was serious and appreciative. Some suggested a CMC project around this.
We have set down those paddles now having had quite an excellent ride. We are leaving the discussion to that day. This post is to share a bit of how it all went. I’m back on the dock and better in my own balance for it. Thanks to the wonderful panelists and attendees who were lucky enough to be there.
Check out the latest CMC-Canada events here.
About the Author - Lyn McDonell
Lyn McDonell is a Chartered Director (C. Dir) and a Certified Management Consultant (and Fellow). She is President of The Accountability Group, Inc based in Toronto. Lyn is the author of “The Art of Asking Questions as a Director” in the 2nd Edition of The Handbook of Board Governance published by Wiley 2020. Her keen interest is in regenerative approaches to organizations and society. Visit Lyn's LinkedIn profile here.