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Embracing Feminine and Masculine Power in Business
By Nilima Bhat, Raj Sisodia
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Nilima Bhat and Raj Sisodia
All rights reserved.
When soul-force awakens, it becomes irresistible and conquers the world. This power is inherent in every human being.
— Mahatma Gandhi
What Is Shakti?
India's ancient adepts intuited and experienced the existence of a source of infinite creative power and loving intelligence. This same power and intelligence has created everything around us and within us. It is what enables our fingernails to grow and our minds to contemplate the deepest mysteries of the universe. They called that source Shakti: the generative, fiercely loving power that fuels all creation and animates consciousness. All of reality is intelligent; it is conscious. It is evolved by its own innate power — which creates, preserves, and transforms itself endlessly.
Think of an exquisite car that's been designed and built to perfection. Without the right fuel, the car is useless. Similarly, consciousness by itself is sterile, still, and inert. Shiva — the embodiment of consciousness in yogic traditions — is shava (corpse) without Shakti. Shakti is the power that fuels everything.
Shiva represents consciousness and Shakti represents energy. Each one needs the other. Shakti needs Shiva to ground it, otherwise it becomes chaotic; Shiva without Shakti is inert and sterile.
Shakti is understood as supremely intelligent and infinitely varied; it represents the full spectrum of energies that make up the universe. It is the fueling, dynamic power, the primordial cosmic energy that manifests this world and sustains it, from the smallest subatomic spaces to the whole cosmos. As author and spiritual teacher Sally Kempton puts it, "Shakti is the quality in life that gives life its luscious nature, its juiciness, its movement, its energy, its dynamism, love, joy, blissfulness, meaningfulness. Shakti runs our life, giving the energy that makes our heart beat and our brain have thoughts."
We all have available to us this infinitely powerful and intelligent source to draw upon, yet most of us try to manufacture our own meager and distorted power — or we try and extract it from others. We rely on our own egos and worldly position or other manmade constructs — constructs that we have invested with value and power but that are ultimately devoid of significance.
Advanced degrees and the trappings of success notwithstanding, if we are not rooted in our own creative power — our personal Shakti — we are merely a shell without a soul, a car without fuel; a being without its animating principle. We cannot come into any level of mastery until we become aware of and access this true power. But it must be responsibly exercised, nourished, and expressed for the fulfillment of life, rather than to serve a narrow self-interest.
True Power versus False Power
In her thought-provoking book The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist shares the three toxic myths of scarcity that many have come to accept as truths about money globally: that there's not enough, that more is better, and "that's just the way it is." Money is just one embodiment of power or energy; these myths can be applied to all expressions of power.
Reflecting our uneasy relationship with the very idea, the literature on power is marked by deep and seemingly intractable disagreements over how it should be understood. Leadership is the purposeful exercise of power to achieve desired outcomes. It involves applying one's will and life force to generate results. Unfortunately, most leaders throughout history have played fear-based or force-based power games. But that kind of power requires someone to lose in order for someone else to win. As Sally Kempton says, "Ego-based power comes from the experience of your own limitation and lack. You feel that because you are separate from the source, your power is limited to what you can grasp, stand for, hold. That is essentially a weak position because your sources are finite and therefore you're very concerned with holding onto that power, and you're threatened by anyone else who seems to have power."
What, then, is the difference between true power and false power? True power is not power over, but power with. It's the difference between competing against colleagues for personal gain versus leveraging everyone's capabilities and strengths toward common ends. When true power is exercised, no one has to lose for someone else to win.
In our world, in our lives, and in leadership, people frequently engage in ego- and fear-based power games. Such power transactions always result in win-lose dualities. They are based on the presumption that there isn't enough power to go around, that you need to extract power or steal it from those around you.
We will show you how to shift from dealing in the power of privilege — a win-lose proposition based on a power source that you can lose — to drawing from your innate, infinite power source, Shakti, which no one can take away from you. We need a radical shift from the way in which power has been gained and for the most part abused in the past, to a whole new base from which to operate: the power of presence. Unless we plug into presence and connect to the source of our true Shakti, we will continue to operate on false power.
Women especially need to learn how to operate with true power. Women who are not in touch with their wholeness and their Shakti are reduced to fighting for the scraps left over by men. One recurring theme that comes in interviews with genuinely puzzled male CEOs is, "Help me understand why I see women, more than men, work against women. Not only do they not look out for each other, but they often actively manipulate and scheme to keep each other down. That kind of behavior leads me to think women are their own worst enemies." This arises because most women are not plugged into true power; instead, they're working on a little corner of the field while the men, in the gender-based privilege of which they are largely unaware, are playing the big field. In this little corner, it is women versus women. The patriarchy has socialized and conditioned women into this to such an extent that most women don't even realize it.
Lasting positive outcomes can only come from the exercise of true power. Even if we think we are getting somewhere with our ego-based efforts, they disintegrate and do not endure. It is a waste of our time and energy.
Furthermore, tapped into their own unlimited source, Shakti-based leaders are able to share power with others and encourage them to get in touch with their own power. Presence is positively contagious; simply by modeling your Shakti-based power, you give others permission and inspiration to access their own. Some honest reflection will reveal that any lasting positive outcomes you have ever had, have come from exercising Shakti (the force for greater good) rather than privilege (the force of self-interest).
Shakti is the abundant, unlimited fuel, the power of life that makes electrons move and galaxies grow and seeds sprout and trees flower. By learning to tap into that unlimited source, you can have power with others, rather than power over them.
The Feminine Principle
Shakti is seen as inherently feminine and is personified in the yogic tradition in various goddesses. As the source of all things, Shakti is personified and referred to as "the Divine Mother," who worshippers and yoga practitioners experience as a being and with whom they enter into dialogue and a conscious relationship.
All over the world, societies, cultures, religions, philosophies, art forms, and literature make reference to and draw upon feminine energy personified in the Mother Goddess. Much of physical existence is given a feminine identity, such as when we refer to Mother Nature or Mother Earth. Yet for virtually all of recorded history, the feminine has been controlled and subjugated by the masculine, which deep down secretly fears the Mother's unfathomable depth and creative power.
The essential sustaining qualities of the feminine principle are present in our personal lives as the nurturing love and support shared with loved ones. However, it is largely absent from our professional lives. "Business as usual" has overvalued traditionally masculine qualities, while denying and undervaluing feminine capacities. The prevailing business culture is hypermasculine and holds most feminine qualities in contempt. To become balanced and integrated, organizations of all kinds need to value and cultivate feminine energies and qualities within their cultures — on the part of both men and women.
Stepping into Feminine Power
What we see in society today reflects the omnipresent impact of a hypermasculine culture. Author and cultural theorist Jean Kilbourne has been observing and documenting the pervasive and perverse impact the culture of exploitation and objectification has had on both men and women. She observes:
Some young women act more macho and crude in order to be more powerful. That has a lot to do with this culture's definition of power, and that power is defined as being one-up — power over somebody else rather than power being one's own ability to be effective and to make change. If that's the definition of power that girls get — and it is — and if that's what they see being rewarded, it's not surprising that they try that on themselves. Feminine values get lip service but very little respect; in fact there's a lot of contempt for them. So that's a very powerful message that girls are getting, about how they can be powerful. The only definition right now in this culture is to be more like a man.
Miss Representation, a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, depicts how media portrayals and the objectification of women rob women of political power, making them less likely to want to be political leaders. It also makes it difficult for the women who do try. Jean Kilbourne comments, "A female political candidate has to project femininity — because otherwise she is savaged — and she also has to project strength. And if you've got a situation where strength is seen as unfeminine, it puts her in an impossible double bind. If she's strong, she's not feminine; if she's feminine, she's weak. Girls see this all around them."
How can women reclaim their power after being so harshly objectified for so long? Jean Kilbourne does see some cause for optimism: "I think more and more people are beginning to see that these stereotypes and definitions of power aren't getting us anywhere; in fact, they're causing a lot of harm. What it's going to take is a critical mass of people who say we've got to change this, because it is doing serious harm to us and to our children."
The fact is that women already have a great deal of power in the world, but they don't always recognize it. If they can step into the power they already have, they can bring about rapid and wide-ranging global change.
Twenty years ago, there was only one female CEO running a Fortune 500 company; there are now twenty-two. While it is still a very low percentage, the trajectory is encouraging. There used to be only a small handful of women in the US Senate at any one time; now there are twenty. The progress is steady, but still far too slow. Miss Representation points out that if these changes continue at their current rate it will take something like five hundred years to finally achieve equality in Congress! Something must happen to bring about change more quickly. As Jean Kilbourne puts it, "There's all this power out there, but it hasn't been grasped or been utilized."
Blending Positive Feminine and Masculine Capacities
Within each of us, there is a feminine element that is both distinct from and entwined with a masculine element. There is a purpose for this: to generate the creative tension within and from which evolution can move toward its own fulfillment. We need to leverage this internal diversity in a way that allows each individual to find a unique balance of expression freely for themselves.
Traditionally feminine capacities that are gifts of tapping into Shakti include qualities such as surrender, receptivity, adaptability, intuition, creativity, beauty, flow, sensuality, nurturing, affection, sharing, gentleness, patience, vulnerability, empathy, inclusion, openness, variety/flavor, trust, and harmony. But when taken too far, feminine qualities can manifest in undesirable ways, such as smothering, being seen as overly sentimental, needy, dependent, exploited, unfocused, irrational, weak, and manipulative. These are considered hyperfeminine or immature feminine qualities.
Likewise, positive masculine capacities include freedom, direction, logic, reason, focus, integrity, structure, stability, passion, independence, discipline, confidence, awareness, discernment, authenticity, strength, clarity, assertiveness, order, and convergence. Hyper- or immature masculine qualities manifest as aggressive, cruel, mechanical, arrogant, insensitive, violent, power-hungry, and spiritually empty.
Of course, to categorize certain characteristics as traditionally masculine or feminine is not to say any of them are innate to men or women. Sally Kempton points to the danger of pigeonholing men and women based on gender:
I have a bit of a problem with the idea that the feminine is naturally nurturing and emotional and the masculine is naturally competitive and aggressive. I actually think that both genders are nurturing in their own way and aggressive in their own way. I would say that, in an individual, Shakti is really much more about finding your personal source of the vibrant fountain of power which is moving through your unique configuration — which applies to men and women.
Even as women rightfully fight for equal rights, opportunity, and status, it does not take away from the need to maintain this primary polarity in a healthy balance.
Author and educator Judy Sorum Brown notes that "leadership is ... holding both sides and valuing both." John Gerzema and Michael D'Antonio's research for the book The Athena Doctrine also supports the idea that individuals recognize the value of both types of traits. Eighty-one percent of survey respondents agreed that "(whether) man or woman, you need both masculine and feminine traits to thrive in today's world." Gerzema and D'Antonio note that individuals who "include feminine strategies in their decision making are twice as optimistic about their future."
A truly conscious leader is able to call on positive masculine and feminine qualities regardless of what gender they are. They know when it is beneficial to use more masculine or feminine energy, and are sensitive to the negative aspects of each. But most leaders disown their innate feminine capacities, which are devalued, and always choose more masculine capacities because these are what are seemingly rewarded.
Transitioning from Old to New
Human history is one long litany of the consequences of masculine values such as conquest and domination. Many increasingly recognize that the future needs to be more feminine, rooted in nurturing and caring. How will we get there? Will it take a revolution? Author and social activist extraordinaire Lynne Twist has a beautiful way to describe the transformation process: the simultaneous "hospicing" of what needs to pass on and the "midwifing" of the new wholeness:
In the Pachamama Alliance, we call ourselves "pro-activists," which means we're standing for, not against. I'm standing for a vision and I know there are things in the way blocking that vision. There are structures and belief systems that have become rigid and calcified, causing people to behave in ways that are inconsistent with their humanity. They are not bad people. When we can look from the depth of our humanity and the humanity of others, we see that we're all caught in some sort of a weird trance. If you can wake up from it, what's waiting for you is love, compassion, forgiveness, commitment, courage and authenticity — true power, but it's blocked by the old way of doing things. We need to hospice the death of these old structures and systems that no longer serve us. We don't need to kill them; they're not viable or sustainable so they're dying a natural death anyway. If we hospice their natural death they will die more quickly and with some respect and some grace, because they were useful until they became obsolete. We need to hospice the death of those structures and systems while we midwife the birth of the new structures and systems that are so obvious to us now. Midwifing and hospicing are acts of love and witness. A midwife doesn't give birth; a midwife witnesses and allows natural birth to take place. A hospice worker doesn't destroy or kill; a hospice worker witnesses and allows something to die gracefully with dignity. In many ways, that's the great work of our time, as Thomas Berry says: to transform the human presence from one that is destructive to a mutually enhancing and nurturing presence on this planet. It's an act of love, to wake up from the trance we've been caught in and re-dream the world from a place that's more conscious, more highly evolved, more loving. Rather than a "you or me" paradigm, it's a "you and me" paradigm, where you don't have to make it at my expense and I don't have to make it at your expense. Instead, you and I can both make it at no one's expense and everyone's benefit.
Excerpted from Shakti Leadership by Nilima Bhat, Raj Sisodia. Copyright © 2016 Nilima Bhat and Raj Sisodia. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsContents
Prologue: A Crisis of Confidence and Leadership
1. Seeking Shakti
2. Leading with Shakti
3. Presence—the Master Key
4. The Heroic Journey
5. Becoming Whole
6. Cultivating Flexibility
7. Achieving Congruence
8. Promise of Shakti Leadership—a Fulfilled and Free World
Epilogue: Shakti Speaks