Book Excerpt: Enlightened Power

The Community Practicing ‘Enlightened Power’: In this excerpt from Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership, Lin Coughlin defines Enlightened Power and uses her own values-based journey through corporate America to make a compelling case for inclusive leadership styles and organizations.

Book Excerpt: Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership by Linda Coughlin (Editor), et al

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Belonging is a powerful phenomenon. When we feel accepted and validated by others, we reconnect to our inner selves and to the world around us. This is why leaders find the company of other leaders reinforcing and emboldening.

The “permission” we are granted to safely share defining experiences and complex, confusing emotions stimulates us to look inward.

In turn, the realization of that inner awareness—that powerful reflection point, that ability to awaken an internal voice of authority, that quiet of deep resolve, that “still point” catalyzes, defines, and solidifies belonging.

The result: the bold, confident expression of an outward-directed passion and vision.

For women leaders, the affirmation and support of a larger community are still uncommon.

Women leaders can feel alone in the most crowded of rooms.

Whether in the ranks of middle management, in the high echelons of the executive suite, at the helm of entrepreneurial or philanthropic ventures, or in a political arena, we are constantly reminded—subtly and not so subtly—that we are not truly welcome as we attempt to impart perspective or advocate a point of view.

This type of repeated rejection has a profound effect.

We doubt our own ideas, intuition, and knowledge. We lose our self-esteem, confidence, and desire to contribute. We do not feel valued or resilient. Although every woman leader knows the personal costs of such marginalization, it is hard to imagine the losses we have incurred in organizations as a result.

There is hope, however, in a new kind of leadership called Enlightened Power.

There is an impassioned, liberated, life-loving community of leaders who are making a difference. They are committed to achieving a powerful sense of belonging.

Women, in ever greater numbers, are truly leading the way to challenging the status quo and demanding a more inclusive, enlightened approach to the use of power. In fact, men and women alike–representing a synthesis and symphony of many voices–share the belief that thriving, wealth-producing organizations and societies are ones that promote the full and equal partnership of men and women leaders. This is a community that embraces the practice of Enlightened Power.

What is Enlightened Power? Enlightened Power is:

  • leadership that redefines power beyond control or dominance.
  • leadership that is conscious of its impact—positive and negative.
  • leadership that incorporates more than just a minority of women’s voices.
  • leadership that identifies the organization as a collective of human beings.
  • leadership that supplants hierarchical, dictatorial and empirical management.

Together, we are coaxing a shift from a hierarchical privilege for a few to an inclusive empowerment of all.

We are emboldened by the potential of this tectonic shift, not only for moral reasons but because we have experienced its social and economic benefit: greater personal fulfillment, extraordinary business results, and more humane organizations and societies.

As individual family members, leaders of organizations, and members of society, we are changing the nature and use of power through our practice of Enlightened Power. This is manifest as we:

  • Enact inclusive leadership models that bring to bear the full and equal partnership of men and women leaders.
  • Link productive, economically rewarding work with positive, personally fulfilling, and sustainable change that benefits all stakeholders—customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers and the “community” at large.

The message is emphatically not about exclusion.

It is in fact the “enlightened” and impassioned males who are willing to champion the collaborative, solution-focused discovery process that will catapult us all in the quest to achieve the full partnership of men and women leaders.

The realization of this partnership is a passion of mine—one that I, like many others, bring to my role as a leader in business and to the dialogue now taking place on a global scale regarding the roles of women in leadership.

In the generative space of Enlightened Power, we find ourselves addressing the compelling questions:

  • How can leaders bring their whole selves to the practice of leadership? In this regard, how can the development of a new type of power—one that is internally generated and derived from a way of being—be hastened?
  • To what extent could the practice of Enlightened Power be accelerated if it were recognized that women and men are gifted in a variety of ways and that we need the feminine and masculine perspectives to be represented in balanced and complementary ways for society to thrive?
  • How can each of us locate, develop, and express the values of authenticity and the celebration of uniqueness in our leadership roles?
  • How can these attributes of authenticity and uniqueness be assessed as legitimate performance criteria of results-oriented leadership in our organizations, communities, and the world?
  • How can the practice of “social entrepreneurship” be advanced, focusing on the realization of “value to the third power”—that which involves leaders’ development of themselves and others, leaders’ delivery of breakthrough results at high-performing organizations, and leaders’ support of the communities their organizations operate in, locally and globally?
  • What could be expected in the way of enhanced organizational performance if appointments to positions with the greatest power, responsibility, and influence were truly a function of measurement against clearly articulated performance standards, instead of gendered perceptions of leadership potential?
  • To what extent might rising levels of social, political, and economic uncertainty be abated if power and its consequences, in terms of influence and financial reward, were shared equally by women and men?

What marks Enlightened Power? It is a focus on the willingness and ability to shift to new contexts in a fast-changing world. . . its recognition of paradoxes and polarities that must be reckoned with. . .its assessment of the ways inclusive organizations and their leaders are redefining the workplace. . . and its emphasis on linking productive work outcomes with positive and sustainable change to benefit all stakeholders.

The resounding vision is one where organizations invoke the full participation of men and women leaders toward transformative contribution. The result is the social and economic well-being of the organizations they represent, their communities, and our world.

Linda Coughlin, editor and contributor to Enlightened Power: How Women Are Transforming the Practice of Leadership, is the Chief Administrative Officer of Cendant Corporation and the Vice Chairman of Linkage, Inc. 

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