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Listening from the heart, listening from the future: Awakening female leadership

by Radka Dohnalova

Listening is important. How we listen and what we habitually listen for shapes our perception of reality, our world view, the paradigm in which we operate and are given by. In other words, our listening shapes our consciousness, happiness, and the world around us.

Leaders who are willing to shift paradigms listen from (i) their hearts to understand their purpose through which to best contribute in line with their passion and talent, (ii) others to awaken a similar enquiry in them, and (iii) the world to become aware of the paradigms which determine the real challenges requiring our attention. It is really about listening from rather than to.

Who am I to say this? Listening from ourselves, from others, and from the future – as well as others’ listening from us – has been instrumental in my inquiry into who I really am and why I am here. Moreover, my stand motivated me to study, across geographies, successful, fulfilled female leaders who are making a difference to the world, and I have observed similar listening patterns in them.

Listening from the heart

Making a difference always meant a lot to me. However, proving to myself and to others that I was a smart person was still more important. By winning admission to Harvard Business School, I passed a personal milestone, but did not feel fulfilled. Instead, I felt empty and by no means smart enough. I had to redefine my game. For the first time in my life, I began to listen intentionally for what my heart had to say about my calling. My heart seemed silent, but it was not. I had to learn to listen first. In the end, someone else had to listen with me to hear what my heart has been calling for. Listening helped me learn about who I am and why I am here.

Listening from others – and their listening for us

Just like many other people who turned to a coach, I also required someone to talk and listen to me to be able to listen from my heart.

Listening from my heart in our conversations, I discovered a commitment to transforming the world through empowering people, in particular women, to lead happy, fulfilled lives and contribute at the level of their full potential. I want to inspire women to make a difference by believing in their personal power to contribute and to achieving things they never thought were possible in a powerful, authentic and feminine way.

However, the conversations did more than show me who I am. They allowed me to pursue my commitment. When others learn about you and your passion, through the power of conversations in which you openly share your passion from your heart, they can act with that knowledge in mind, and create opportunities for you to contribute to the world.

Listening from the future

Listening from the world is equally important for people to lead fulfilled lives. Looking at the world from a distance allows us to discover long-term patterns, which are shaping the planet. Going against the patterns is bound to lead to frustration. One needs to believe that what he is contributing to makes sense in the long term, that it fits in with the patterns.

At the time of writing this, the media are focusing on the financial crisis. If we only listen from the present, we can feel insecure and tend to focus on protecting ourselves and our closest ones. If, however, we take a step back and look at patterns, we will realize that we are witnessing a change of paradigm.

Lynne McTaggart famously described the current paradigm in her book The Bond. “This paradigm of competitive individualism offers us a view of life as a heroic struggle for dominion over hostile elements and a share of strictly limited resources. There is not enough out there, and others may be fitter than we are, so we have to do our damnedest to get a hold of it first.” The current crisis may be a harbinger of its end. Therefore, trying to fight the crisis may be like rearranging decks on the Titanic.

Because obstacles to human progress are cultural, not technical, I believe that we can accelerate the evolutionary process towards a new paradigm of greater diversity, greater interconnectivity and greater collaboration and cooperation. Such a paradigm would be more sustainable, as confirmed by Bernard Lietaer, a financier and economist, whose work on the sustainable ecosystem is grounded in the scientific and analytical. Lietaer argues that complex systems with too little diversity tend to be more efficient, and those with too much of it more resilient. Either extreme is unsustainable. For any system to be sustainable, it needs to lean more towards diversity, inteconnectivity and resilience (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. The "Window of Viability", in which all sustainable natural ecosystems operate. Complex natural ecosystems invariably operate within a fairly narrow range on each side of the Optimum point.

Making sense of it all

In its research, McKinsey & Company identified nine leadership behaviors which have a positive impact on companies’ performance. Four of them are critical in order to meet future global challenges and are underrepresented in today’s corporate environment. Of the four most critical behaviors, three (inspiration, participative decision making, expectations and rewards) are more often demonstrated by women.

Helping to increase diversity in the world by helping talented women realize their full potential makes me fulfilled. Listening from my heart, I know that this is my purpose. Listening from others, I feel the need in many to be given a helping hand in realizing their full potential. Listening from the world, I see the need for more diversity in the world, believing that this will help to make the world a more sustainable place.


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