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Developing Whole Women Leaders

Wendy Tan, PhD, CSP

Author, Keynote Speaker & Managing Partner of Flame Centre | Future Skills Institute

First published in Today's Manager

Developing Whole Women Leaders

To develop authentic and powerful whole women leaders, focus on three aspects: anchoring our goals, balancing opposites, and clearing our mental space, so we create great organisations where human spirits and business thrive.

It is a known fact that we have fewer women leaders at work. Many organisations in Singapore respond by promoting diversity and having women leadership programmes. However, it is women themselves who decide if they want to step up. I interviewed various women leaders for my book Wholeness in a Disruptive World: Pearls of Wisdom from East and West to find out how they derive a sense of wholeness and rise up to the leadership challenge. There are unique dilemmas that women leaders face:

1. “I am comfortable where I am, I don’t need to be at the top”,

2. “Do I need to be more masculine to be successful?”, and

3. “I am ready to quit the job I love; I cannot balance work and family commitments”.

Applying the pathways of wholeness (the ABCs—Anchoring, Balancing, and Clearing), this article leverages insights and inspirations from women leaders who have walked the path, found ways to be whole, and sustain their good work as leaders.

Anchor your Goals

A Harvard study shows that fewer women are in leadership positions because they do not want top jobs as much as men do. 1Power does not motivate women as strongly as it does for men. However, motivation is a function we should care about. Ms Claire Chiang, co-founder of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts and a champion of social, environmental, and community causes says: “I have chosen to do all this work because I love and care about my family, work, people, friends, and country. Contributing to the community is integral

to all aspects of my life.”

So while women are less likely to go for the top job for power, the desire to create a better workplace or a better community can fuel this ambition. Beyond our individualistic focus on what is personally important to us (our values) and how we see ourselves (our identity), a larger collective focus on our purpose and sense of responsibility can motivate us as well. Having the bigger picture in mind can motivate women to step up. The digital conversationalist, Ms. Andrea Edwards, shares: “I don’t like to be in the limelight, but I say ‘yes’ to being on YouTube and on the stage, because I have a message to share.” So women leaders, do it because you care and when you receive power, use it to make a difference.

Balance Opposites

Since leadership positions tend to be filled by more men than women, it is understandable how some women think that we need to be strong, assertive, and domineering like men in order to be successful. Some successful women leaders also act in more masculine ways. However, whole women leaders are able to embrace opposites and still be effective.

For example, can we take charge and take care? Can we be directive and nurturing? Can we be persistent and patient? Of course we can! The authors of Fear Your Strengths, Mr. Bob Kaplan and Mr. Rob Kaiser cautioned against overusing strengths and being both instead. This requires the ability to flex and be comfortable with tension. For example: Lily, a procurement director challenges her managing director sharply with a different point of view but ends her sentence with a genuine smile. He understands her intention is not to provoke but to help make a better decision. There is steel in her gentleness. So women leaders, embrace opposites and be comfortable with tension in order to be effective in different situations.

Clear Your Mental Space

Women have an endless to-do list: looking after the kids, guiding them in their school work, buying birthday presents, engaging team members, doing a good job as leaders, exercising three times a week, checking in with friends occasionally, taking care of aged parents, and

dressing well. It comes as no surprise then that Harvard found that women anticipate more negative implications with promotions than men.

However, this means that women leaders need to have more strategies to take care of themselves. Ms. Claire Chiang says, “When I move from one activity to another, I find myself having to clear my mind.” One practical way to do this is breathing. As you walk from one meeting to another, take a few minutes to breathe deeply.

Clearing our mental space gives us the opportunity to empty the clutter and focus on the moment and what matters. We can’t do everything all at once, but we can do everything over time, just one thing at a time. So women leaders, sense your own energy and breathe to clear your space, so you can take charge and take care of others.

In summary, to develop whole woman leaders, focus on three aspects: anchor to find a larger reason beyond yourself to step up; balance opposites to flex behaviours—masculine and feminine, taking charge and taking care; and lastly clear your mental space to focus on

what matters at the moment.


1 Nobel, C, 23 September 2015, Men want powerful jobs more than women do, Harvard Business School, assessed via


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