I have relished the privilege of supporting and observing the Leadership Journey of our first two cohorts. The narrative below is not the description of one cohort member’s journey but rather the synthesis of anecdotes of how various women in our cohorts have experienced their journey. This connected thread of experience is a blend of their stories and my perception.
When one of the women leaders in our cohort cries during a touchpoint, I know we’ve hit the right note, not because I’m looking for dramatic thrills but because this level of vulnerability is the clearest indicator of safety.
Women feel unsafe everywhere. The degree may vary, but depending on the cultural context, we are prevented from showing up as our whole selves in some way, shape, or form. Don’t wear this, don’t do your hair like that, don’t say that, don’t smile too much, don’t laugh raucously, don’t take credit, apologize! Never cry, and definitely not in public — that’s the leadership death knell.
So, we bottle up, hold on tight to our emotions, regulate every response, and often forget what it is that we truly want from a position of power. What is our self-ordained purpose, our personal mission, our raison d’être?
When women start the Leadership Journey at WomenLift, our first job is to help cohort members disentangle their self-narrative from the outsider’s version of their story. It’s important to understand both these narratives separately and as a whole. This unraveling, if truly successful, can feel like an existential shift. When you realize the small and large self-reflections you have been burying it can be freeing and disorienting at the same time.
But our aim is not to dissect someone, analyze them, and leave them open on the table. They need a safe and brave space to begin exorcising themselves of limiting self-beliefs. The next step is to recognize that they’re not alone. At this stage it has started to sink in that they are part of a community of sisters who are collectively experiencing the supportive and strengthening lift produced by mentors, coaches, facilitators, and the network of WomenLift Health. Six months in, they start to feel a trust and camaraderie that has both been built on vulnerable exchange and fosters it.
Enlightened by self-awareness and lifted by their sisters, they enter the brave space of questioning. They question a lot — their role, their job, their institution, their sector. Not just the what but the how. How are we making decisions? Who is included or not included? How are we measuring success? What is included and what is not? They contemplate big leaps — applying for that big job, reaching out to that senior leader who needs to hear their voice, advocating for institutional change, setting up informal pathways to leadership where no formal ones exist. They are shifting out of their comfort zones, in a thoughtful, deliberate, and strategic way. They see the bigger picture which comes with a blend of excitement and fear.
But they’re not alone. They have their cohort, and, now more than before, they are hyperaware of their teams, their allies, and their stakeholders. They also feel the gift of the journey viscerally. It’s like that amazing book you read that you now want to gift to everyone. They have mentees, friends, and colleagues who continue to experience the lack of community that they themselves did before the journey. Their thoughts are now fully attuned to sharing and giving back. The community is one of practice and one for life. The Leadership Journey never ends. Our job is to keep providing the space.
When we arrive at Lift-Off we hear phrases like “life changing,” “not what I expected,” “these are not just skills, this is a mindset shift.” We say at the very beginning that you get from this journey what you put into it. These revelations and shifts are only possible because these women open their hearts and minds. This is only possible because these women bring the magic. They are the magic.