When people talk about leadership, they are often referencing the expressions of leadership and not leadership itself. They’re talking about messaging, speaking on stage, rallying people in service of a vision. But at its core, leadership is the state of being that allows all of those things to be done with depth, potency, effectiveness and alignment.
Without embodied leadership, any expression of leadership will fall flat. Presentations will feel like performances, requests will feel uninspiring, and messaging will feel bloated or deflated.
When leadership is deeply embodied by a leader – a mother, a CEO, a volunteer coordinator or a project manager – our presentations, requests, visions and messaging feel grounded and inspiring.
In working with women to nurture the development of their leadership, I’ve located one big thing that determines their success:
Their ability to embody both sensitivity and resilience.
Sensitivity translates to receptivity, openness, tenderness. A courage and willingness to feel deeply, and feel it all. Sensitivity is a permeability, an allowing. It’s a connection to our humanity and the value of being open.
If we’re overly identified with sensitivity – disconnected from our resilience – we’ll experience fragility. In this fragile state, we may find ourselves cowering and quivering, feeling tiny and insignificant to ourselves or others, playing out stories of victimhood, or feeling small and numb.
Resilience is the bamboo-like blend of strength and flexibility. A courage and willingness to rise strong, and lean in. Resilience is a groundedness, a moving-towards. It’s a connection to our divinity and the value of being devoted.
If we’re overly identified with resilience – disconnected from our sensitivity – we’ll experience rigidity. If we’re rigid, we might experience ourselves as hardened and emotionally disconnected, fiery and quick to anger, playing out narratives of right and wrong, or feeling tough and numb.
When there’s a lack of integration of our sensitivity and resilience, we’re suspicious and untrusting of ourselves and others, emotionally cut-off or wildly emotional. We feel cold, unpredictable or unstable to others.
When we’re integrated in our sensitivity and resilience, we’re tender, open, receptive and feeling, while at the same time being strong, flexible, grounded and devoted. We feel warm and trustable to others.
Most of us were not modeled the embodiment of sensitivity and resilience by our parents, teachers, and other close adults in our lives. In a culture that praises toughness and rejects sensitivity, many people perceive themselves as overly-sensitive and push themselves to be tough, but are actually out of touch with their sensitivity because they don’t allow themselves to feel.
In new age circles, we often praise sensitivity and reject toughness, resulting in a disintegration of our resilience and an inability to be focused, clear and decisive, while being open-hearted.
TRANSCENDING RIGIDITY & FRAGILITY
DIGNIFY SENSITIVITY & RESILIENCE
To transcend the loss of power that occurs when we’re out of touch with our sensitivity, resilience, or both, we must first know the value of each. To understand the value, connect with the true qualities and not the often perceived qualities; We commonly mistake sensitivity for fragility (“doormatting”) or resilience for rigidity (“bulldozing”). In connecting with the true qualities of each and seeing how they complement and enhance one another, we can begin to embrace and cultivate those qualities within.
ACKNOWLEDGE WHERE YOU’RE OUT OF TOUCH
Simply acknowledge to yourself, with honesty and forgiveness, the ways in which you’re out of touch with sensitivity and resilience. Remember: we want an integration of both.
LOOK FOR MODELS
Whenever I want to embody a new quality, I seek out people who are already doing it with grace, and seek to model them. I do this by spending time with them, or if they’re unreachable to me on a personal level, I connect with their work (watching interviews of them, reading their books, etc). In the same way that a child learns by watching how the adults closest to them act and react, we can be influenced by those we seek to learn from by getting closer to their orbit.
BE WILLING TO SWALLOW THE JAGGED PILL
The hardest thing about transcending rigidity and fragility is that it requires us to drop the victim-perpetrator narrative. It requires that we – as free adults – recognize that we have the power to make choices for ourselves today, and that if we don’t like the unfolding story of our lives, we can either choose it or change it. If we don’t, and keep running our lives from a sense of duty or martyrdom, we’re essentially waking up each day and knocking on purgatory’s door. For example, for someone super-identified with their sensitivity and feeling victimized by the harshness of others or the world, I would ask them to recognize (here comes that jagged pill) that they are choosing to relate to the world as harsh and themselves as unable to handle it…that regardless of what “proof” they have that it is so, it’s a limited and limiting way of perceiving things and not ultimate truth. I would ask them how running this narrative was negatively impacting their life. I would ask them how this narrative might be keeping themselves and others in a holding pattern of disempowerment and disconnection. I would ask them to open their heart to consider a different story.
—> In the comments below, I want to hear from you. You can share… Where in your life do you feel out of touch with your sensitivity or resilience? What are some of the stories you tell yourself about why you’re not soft enough or strong enough? What are you committed to learning to embrace?