I’ve just emerged from a centered leadership bubble. Together we were 11 women, a gifted co-facilitator, and a top notch leadership learning staff, working and living together in a beautiful hotel retreat. Why only women? Centered Leadership is as good for women as it is for men, but something happens when only women come together. Almost immediately, participants feel safe. They turn inward faster. They dig deeper for insight. And they share more fully. As one participant put it, “I’m grateful for the openness and vulnerability I’ve been able to achieve. When I arrived, I didn’t think I could make it through one day. Now I feel refreshed and filled with energy and I don’t know how that happened!”
Silent, buttoned up professionals on Day 1, almost entirely made up of lawyers and tech managers—the two most skeptical professions I could imagine. This was a test for Centered Leadership, ten years into its development. And it was a test for me, five years post McKinsey.
I helped shape Centered Leadership with a talented team of facilitators and McKinsey & Company experts. At its core, Centered Leadership helps individuals gain self-awareness, perceive choices, and practice capabilities that separate great, from good, leaders. Meaning, Framing, Connecting, Engaging, and Energizing are the five you need. Mastery can take years. Still, the journey itself is fulfilling; every experience lends itself to learning. We start by learning to listen with empathy, to expose thoughts and feelings we prefer to hide from view, and to forge connections based on trust. We dare each other to: let go of perfection, be bolder in our visions, accept ourselves and others, and create the experiences we choose to have. We put ourselves in difficult situations, upsets, in order to learn how to shift mindsets and behaviors. We also experience who we were many years ago, recapturing some of that innocence and wonder.
And then we take steps. For someone like me—gritty, persevering, hell-bent on action—Centered Leadership links to high performance. We build energy, intention, determination, and resilience. I used to worry about how the world would receive this approach drawn from the ‘softer skills’ as hard-nosed business men put it. Planning, decision-making, metrics, agility, smarts are all assumed as the technical aspects of leadership. More is required of today’s leaders: purpose, values, humanity, vulnerability, trust, connectivity, positive emotion, energy. That’s how executives speak about great leaders they admire.
That’s what Centered Leadership aims to unlock in each manager who aspires to lead remarkably. It’s accessible to everyone with the talent, desire to lead, and openness to change. Eleven women proved the case last week.