Living in complexity

Living in complexity

Don't let this internal glass ceiling put a cap your leadership.

Growing up with a St. Patrick’s Day birthday was one of my favorite things about my childhood. I was only a little bit Irish. But it didn’t matter. In the small, steel mill town in Western Pennsylvania where I grew up, it was one of the biggest party days of the year.

My father, a salesman by day and a local musician by night, played in a classic rock band that would gather a crowd of fans at the local pub. And because he was my dad… and it was my special day… I was allowed to come in and watch, even though I was underaged.

I LOVED being an exception. I’d get a private booth (and a personal waiter to make sure I wasn’t consuming anything I wasn’t supposed to). I’d lip sync all the songs, dance on my little platform, make disgusted faces at the green beer, and eat chicken wings and onion rings with dad and his friends on breaks.

And sometimes, I’d even get invited to the stage to sing a verse of Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl.

What I remember about those moments was pure fun, joy and celebration. I had no idea about St. Patrick really… but I figured he must have been a great guy, if everyone still seems to party on his behalf today.

Ah, the simplicity of childhood… and the beautiful complexity of grown-up truths and life.

Fast forward to a few years ago, when I made the declaration that I would not only coach leaders, but also become a role model for powerful, centered and deeply feminine leadership. This is where the plot begins to thicken.

In a way, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. I was already deeply committed to supporting women and diverse leaders in my coaching practice. Because of my age and experience, I frequently had the honor of coaching the “onlys” – the only woman on a team of men, in industries like manufacturing, finance, tech and even defense.

What had always been clear to me was the level of complexity these women had to manage every day – often speaking both their own native tongue of emotions, hunches, relationships and intuition plus the default, often patriarchal, language of business. Of course, this is a broad generalization – I also coached women who identified strongly with drive, winning, numbers, data, and truly loved those football metaphors.

But a theme began to emerge as I discovered one of my own native superpowers: helping leaders (especially women!) love, own and embrace their softer, more feminine forms of genius in the workplace in order to build relationships, influence and drive change.

Doubling down on this work helped me see the deep beauty in complexity. It helped me truly practice ‘both/and’ in the context of my own leadership. And it showed me the power of embracing feminine wisdom at work.

So what does that have to do with St. Patrick’s day?

When I made my own bold declaration about modeling powerful feminine leadership, it asked me to step up MY game in speaking, trusting and embracing my own native tongue – which led me on a journey to better understand why exactly that had always been a place of troubled ambivalence for me in the workplace context.

Very long story short…

The “snakes” that St. Patrick was known for “driving out of Ireland” were not actual snakes at all. Real snakes had been absent from the continent long before St. Patrick’s time. Instead, the term “snake” most likely referred to practitioners of the more ancient, local religions that existed in Ireland before today’s Christianity spread and took root.

As a deep believer and embodied practitioner of “both/and”, and a woman who stands for social justice, this story – the implications it may have had for thousands of people’s safety and dignity at that time, as well as the ripple effects it still has on culture and belonging today – are hard to swallow.

Today I sit with these complexities: The privilege of my loosely Christian upbringing, the benefits I received and continue to receive from my whiteness and generally mainstream working/middle-class American childhood, the pleasure I have taken in wearing green on March 17th…

and the loss of a people, culture and wisdom that may have had important lessons to offer.

and the deep, feminine, wise an earth-based parts of myself that were driven underground in my own psyche for the sake of both safety and belonging – parts that are undoubtedly more akin to the “snakes” than to St. Patrick himself.

and the complexity of living in a society where some continue to benefit at the hands of others’ losses.

As I write this email, I am aware that there are other, potentially more pressing losses to name today, including recent Anti-Asian racist attacks and Wednesday’s atrocious shooting and killing spree impacting eight people, at least six of them Asian, in Atlanta.

We are a society still making sense of complexity. Still haunted by our past, even as we benefit from it. Still learning to understand and live with one another, and with ourselves. Still discovering ways to process our outrage and transmute our pain into the next generative thing. Still learning to be with power – our own and others’ – in a good way.

Still exploring what it means to have and enjoy, without alienating or taking away.

While I don’t have all the answers, I do have my own commitment: to take a good look at the places inside my own self where I quickly and unconsciously reject, abandon, judge, ignore, berate or abuse “the other” that lives inside of me. And, tracking how the complexities I carry may have unintended impact on others.

If any of this speaks do you, I invite you to explore your own version of these themes... and practice embracing the “and” in your own work, life and leadership this week.

If you’d like support, I'm always happy to talk more.

With care,
LeeAnn

For more about Cultivating Joy, check out Chapter 1 of my book Guts & Grace: A Woman's Guide to Full-Bodied Leadership on Amazon.

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