Centered Leadership

I’ve just read a book called How Remarkable Women Lead by Joanna Barsh. The book was the end result of a watershed of self-reflection that led to an exploration of exceptional female leaders around the world. The lead author (Joanna Barsh) embarked on this exploration to help her better understand her own, personal leadership journey. In the process, aside from rediscovering her own purpose and reigniting her sense of excitement, Barsh and her co-authors (S. Cranston and G. Lewis) also identified certain pre-conditions and five recurring themes among these successful global leaders. Together they continued their research over five years and crafted the leadership model now known as Centered Leadership.

Pre-conditions of Centered Leadership

Barsh and her McKinsey team interviewed more than 85 successful women leaders from around the world, with direct reports ranging from a handful to 10,000. All were willing to share their leadership experiences and talk about the challenges they have faced. More importantly, they offered insight into what keeps them on a leadership course, in spite of the many obstacles. The researchers soon identified the following common characteristics, which they ultimately acknowledged as pre-conditions for Centered Leadership.

  • Desire to lead
  • Talent and knowledge
  • Capacity for change

But these characteristics were just table stakes. They formed an essential foundation on which the structure of Centered Leadership could be built.

The Five Components of Centered Leadership

Meaning: Without meaning even the most prestigious and lucrative job becomes a repetitive slog. Centered leaders know what motivates them and what makes them push forward no matter what life and leadership throws in their way. Making a difference, achieving something that matters–this is what inspires passion and brings meaning to the leadership journey.

Framing: How we mentally frame circumstances makes a significant difference in how we deal with them. Positive framing is not the same as having a Pollyanna perspective on the world (i.e. everything is positive). Reframing difficult circumstances in a positive light acknowledges the challenging reality and then proceeds to tackle it with all the resources at hand. Centered leaders understand the power of positive framing and use it to meet challenges head on.

Connecting: Reciprocity and a strong network are essential to long term success. No one succeeds alone and those who learn the value of connection will more effectively weather the storms of leadership. One the road to leadership, seek out mentors and sponsors who are invested in your success. Having attained leadership, centered leaders reciprocate and use the power of connection to help those who would follow in their footsteps.

Engaging: Those on the centered leadership path recognize the need to lean in. It’s not enough to do good work; you have to be seen to be doing good work. Take part in the conversation, contribute to the discussion, put your name forward for opportunities, bring new ideas to the table and always be learning. Centered leaders learn early-on to engage at all levels.

Energizing: Energy is a finite resource. Centered leaders know this and manage their energy accordingly. They take the time to identify what drains them and what recharges them. They limit their exposure to the former through delegation and the careful allocation of resources. They carve out focus time and work from their strengths to take advantage of the energy boost that comes from working in a flow state. And they know when to step back and recharge.

The Centered Leadership Payoff

The most common outcomes of the Centered Leadership approach can be expressed in both professional and personal terms. The exceptional achievements of those studied reflected a high degree of leadership effectiveness and success. The leaders themselves were more inclined to emphasize the attainment of satisfaction, happiness, and resilience in adversity.

Although Centered Leadership started as a search for understanding of how exceptional women lead, it has evolved into a leadership model “that responds to the specific needs and experiences of women and men who aspire to a more fulfilling and conscious realization of what leadership can be in their lives.”[1] In other words, Centered Leaders lead because it allows them to use their strengths in the pursuit of an inspiring vision. People find satisfaction in meaningful work and leaders are people too.


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Additional References

Joanna Barsh, Susie Cranston, Geoffrey Lewis. How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life

McKinsey and Company. Centered leadership: How talented women thrive Your Centered Leadership Journey

[1] The Banff Centre. Centered Leadership.

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