2018 Women Leaders Up and mentors
There’s Maud right next to me in the front row, surrounded by this year’s cohort and their mentors. It’s damn cold, but we’re warmed by the excitement we all feel!

Last week, I spent a wonderful three days teaching 23 rising women leaders in Sweden. Why snowy Sweden of all places?

It all began in 2012 when Secretary Clinton launched the International Council on Women’s Business Leadership. It took about a nano second for me to decide. A politician named Maud Olofsson invited me to join her Leadership Working Group. Our mandate was to help the world prepare more women to lead. Sure thing! Maud argued that the perfect place to start our movement would be in Sweden.

Maud is Swedish.

So that’s exactly what we did. The 2018 program is our fourth. Thanks to McKinsey & Company for hosting, sponsoring, championing, and generally being all-around fantastic, because there were humongous obstacles in getting Women Leaders Up off the ground.

Really, this blog post is about obstacles.

We all face them. They stand in the way of our advancement. They make it ten times harder to get stuff done. They drain our energy. There they sit, stubborn as the North-facing Zax. (Here is the link to learn the sad fate of the Zax if you’re hoping for a brief diversion.)

My usual method for facing obstacles has been to run into them at full force. Kind of like the South-facing Zax, but with much more energy. It worked out well for me. My top strength is industriousness, diligence, and perseverance according to Marty Seligman’s VIA Character Strengths Assessment.

Of course running into obstacles has side effects. Like exhaustion, invisible body armor I couldn’t remove, and the fact that even my mother didn’t like me very much. Still, I advanced in my career, hung on to my marriage, and gave birth to two incredible daughters.

It never occurred to me that there were alternatives to facing obstacles head on. At work, I gathered a reputation of being direct, unrelenting, can-do, and resilient. Ok, stubborn. At the time, my husband did point out that I always seemed to take the ‘goat path’ on hikes when the well-marked trail, the ‘highway’ as he called it, was so obvious. That’s because I never saw the trail (a call-out to all volunteer trail-keepers). It was the same with obstacles. If I ran at them hard enough and long enough, they gave way and I got to the top.

During last week’s seminal training, another path appeared to me. It was so simple. And it had no side effects.

Instead of running at the obstacle, I realized I could step back. With nothing to push against, the obstacle shrank in size. With distance, I could see it better. I could find another route. Or what seemed to be an obstacle would prove not to be one at all.

I tested this path out a few days later during an escalating argument with my husband. Fearing the kind of knock-down quarrel that leads to nothing good, we both slept on it. The next morning, I  listened to him with empathy. As David talked himself out, his voice softened and quieted. I found myself agreeing with his good points. I stood in his shoes and felt compassion for him. It was easy-peasy from there. We found the solution quickly.

Stepping back to see objectively without emotional distortion is not that hard. I can learn to pause. Accepting there is no good and bad, no I’m right and you’re wrong, is harder–but doable. By practicing acceptance, I can take more in. My horizon expands.

I learn something every time I teach Centered Leadership. Swedish Women Leaders Up has given even more than it demands. Tack  mycket!

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