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Women, Power and Leadership

iChicks note: This is the second in a series from Cindy on female leadership. The first in the series can be found here. Her new book, SQ 21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence launches October 9th, and anyone who purchases the book on that day will receive access to a free short version of the SQ21 assessment to measure your spiritual intelligence!

What is power? I think there is a simple idea of power expressed in a phrase like “the power company.” Electricity itself is just a thing. It has no inherent goodness or evilness about it. We can use it to power medical equipment that saves lives, to power our computers and the whole Internet, and we can use it to kill people.

Power in leadership is the same as electricity. If you find you tend to recoil from the word power, or find it distasteful, just notice that. It is a common reaction in women. For now try to put that aside and see power as exactly the same as electricity. It is energy. It helps to get things done. So let’s define power as “the energy needed to get something done.”

And let’s define Leadership as the ability to create or attract followers. Why would we want followers? Followers mean extra people helping to power change…to get things done. So Leaders need what I will call “Power-To”* make stuff happen and create followers.’

How does Power relate to Leadership? If you have no energy can you lead? Understanding the nature of power is really important if you see yourself as a potential leader…which is what this series is about. I am going to talk about a developmental sequence of power-styles. And there are 2 competing power styles: Power-With vs. Power-Over. My argument is that women have culturally been trained to access and prefer “Power With” and dislike and avoid Power-Over. We hold ourselves back because of it.

Look at this simplified table of Spiral Dynamics stages in history and associated preferred Power styles. Read from the bottom up to see historical flow.

Spiral Dynamics color
Power to get
things done

or Female/Feminine?



Begins second tier

Power-To Accomplish
Flex and Flow. All Power styles used as needed.
Beyond gender assumptions


Power-With Others
Focus on consensus,
allowing, emergence.
Feminine. May make males wrong.


Power-Over Others that I earned
Personal Power earned through skill, playing the game.
Masculine due to low empathy & high competitiveness.


Power-Over Others that I am given
Positional Power
Male/Masculine Women held in “proper role”.


Power-Over Others
Brute force
Male, Physical power.


Power-With Nature
Nature rules, we appease it.
Both. Male and Female are honored.


Power-With Instinct
Instinct rules
Both. Instinctive roles apply.


Historically, women have learned that Power-Over is for men to use. Gloria Feldt, author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power points out that as women we were often victims of Power-Over. We equated power as a word and a concept with injustice. Power-Over became bad in all cases at all times. This unconscious old story is a big problem.

Gloria reminds us of how baby elephants are sometimes trained by humans. If you take a baby elephant and chain it to a stake it learns that it cannot move away from the stake. Later in life you can tie that adult elephant to a stake and even though the elephant could now pull up the stake, the elephant won’t leave. It has surrendered to a belief it holds about its own power. It believes it is powerless. Limiting beliefs keep the elephant from using its power.

Culturally women in developed nations are like the adult elephant. We feel individual power is bad. So we don’t lead. Ego-based self-interested Power-Over understandably scares us. We don’t want to become “like them” (the men). We don’t want to be “ball busting bitches.” We are trained to be nice. We need a new model. Can’t we lead AND be nice?

Ego-motives are rarely enough to help women break out of their cultural programming. Trying to get excited about promotions may or may not work. More likely women will step up if we feel we are defending something. We need a powerful answer to the question: “WHY do I want to lead?” If the answer feels genuinely noble and selfless – if we can activate our inner mama tiger – women can find their “Power-Over” and get it done.

You are asking now: “But why do we NEED to use Power-Over? Isn’t there another way?” Yes and no…

What does Integral Theory help us see? Using the values model of Spiral Dynamics we can see that the key is not to ignore any form of power. It is all needed. Fit the form to the function. Flex and flow with the situation. This is Second Tier leadership (Yellow+). It takes wisdom and compassion to do this. And to motivate us, we need a Higher-Self derived intention to do what is uncomfortable.

As Don Beck always says, the question is “Who leads whom to do what and in what context?” It’s not just what you want or like to do. If you want to “do the change the world needs” (another Don Beck saying) we need to consider what the situation requires of us. Or as I like to say – am I taking care of my needs or am I taking care of the other or the whole? What is the loving thing to do here? And the answer is that the loving thing might be uncomfortable.

Not everyone is going to respond to Power-With. Red stakeholders won’t be persuaded by pretty words and noble ideals – they want to respect their leader for his/her use of Power Over. Yellow’s most important use for its own Red energy is in setting strong and healthy boundaries. This is crucial when dealing with Red center-of-gravity person or group, or a person or group currently acting from their Red structure. Match the energy or lose the respect of people at Red. You will not be a leader in that context. Match the Power-Over style of Red and redirect the energy toward constructive engagement with change.

Similarly, a Tier 2 leader must provide Power-Over in a “might serves right” way for people at Blue – along with structure, rules and procedures. We must provide “Power-Over” through better thinking (IQ) and play the strategic game well to lead Orange. We must show high emotional and spiritual intelligence (EQ and SQ) to engage the beautiful heart-mind of Green.

Fearlessly examine unconscious assumptions about what is “good” or “bad” forms of power or leadership. Your noblest self needs to be able to kick ass as well and mend hearts and “hold space.” We cannot afford for 50% of the world’s potential leaders to limit themselves to only using “Power-With” based on old stories. We need Power-TO, and that sometimes demands Yellow high SQ (wise and compassionate) use of Power-Over.

Drive your noblest intentions with flexible forms of power. The world needs 2nd Tier leadership. Ladies, let’s release the old stories. Don’t play small and delicate. Live out loud. Live large. Love courageously. Do the uncomfortable and you’ll get good at it. Get out there and help lead toward a better future. We need a world that works.

1. Thanks to Gloria Feldt for the phrase “Power-To” – although I use it slightly differently than she does. See her wonderful new book for women leaders, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.

What’s Hot for Cindy Right Now…


Currently Reading: Evolutionaries by Carter Phipps

Practice Focus: Body awareness – managing my tendency to get overly enthusiastic and work too hard!

Currently Watching: Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 1. I am a Trekkie!

Link of the Week: What Next

Currently Listening To: Amazing Things by Michael Gott

Shadow Element or Emotion Discovered While Writing This: I get annoyed by women who act helpless when they are not. This is not really a discovery. I get to play with the voice of “Cindy the Feminist” whenever I write or talk about women and leadership. She has calmed down a lot since I was in my 20s, but she still wants to make her point.

Cindy Wigglesworth is President of Deep Change. She has a BA and MA from Duke University and has 20 years of experience in human resources management with ExxonMobil. She founded her business, now called Deep Change, in 2000. Cindy is certified in Emotional Intelligence and has created, validated and researched the first skills-based Spiritual Intelligence Assessment instrument for business and personal use.

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2 Responses to “Women, Power and Leadership”

  1. Patricia
    September 30, 2012 at 5:01 am #

    Can you speak more to ‘turquoise’?  What is it to come together with our precise gifts and talents for a larger purpose or venture that couldn’t happen without all of us?  How to navigate that?

  2. Russ
    September 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Your definition of leadership is very non-integral. Happy to discuss this. Maybe check out the LInked in Integral Leadership Review site or my article Integral Leadership and Diversity in ILR or the interview with Barbara Kellerman in ILR.


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