Claiming a New Paradigm in Leadership

To create a new Paradigm in leadership, we must be the trailblazers.

“I’m not ready to lead—I’m not a leader.”

It’s one of the most common refrains I hear from women. I’ve been that woman, too.

“I’m the quiet one. The one behind the scenes. I lead by example, not by leading a movement.”

As a leadership coach who primarily works with high-performing women both in the corporate world and with entrepreneurs, the notion to shrink behind our conditioning and stories is more prevalent than you might even realize. Sure, we hear it in ourselves, our friends, our loved ones. But even some of the most distinguished leaders I have had the joy of working with still have that fear.

The idea that “I am not a leader.”

And guess what? It’s not our fault.

We’re conditioned by the media–-movies, television, advertising, presidential campaigns, news outlets, you name it. Each post we’ve seen, each TV episode we’ve watched, every movie we’ve ingested, has conditioned us (men too, but especially women) to believe that a man in a suit at a podium is what a leader looks like. A phenomenon I like to call MOPP, or the Man on Podium Paradigm. It’s the reason why someone like our current president gets elected. Because a MOPP beats a woman any day, any time.

A MOPP is a manufactured authority. A MOPP wears and possesses clear triggers that allow anyone who grew up in the United States (and much of the world, to be honest) to recognize said MOPP as a leader.

Just take a (generally white) man, a suit, and a bone to pick—and that is what leadership looks like. It is how we’ve been conditioned to experience leadership, both with fictional leaders and real leaders alike. They almost never win on merit, and frequently, their merit is lacking in many areas.

Because of all this, we’ve been taught that to lead as a woman, we have to emulate that version of leadership. We, too, must don the ever-beloved pantsuit, modulate our voice, and lead with authority. Because authority and masculinity have somehow been collapsed into one another. They are utterly and completely synonymous.

We’ve been sold the idea that a leader who happens to be a woman doesn’t wear dresses and makeup. She isn’t demure. She must command space, but not too much. Be pretty, but not too pretty. Shrewd but not shrill, because heaven forbid! A woman in leadership should never be shrill. (Except most women in leadership are considered shrill or labeled as such at one point or another.)

And that is where the fear comes in. To step into the spotlight and claim your birthright as a leader requires you to put yourself under the microscope of society. To be filtered through the lens of the Man on Podium Paradigm. And if you don’t match it? You must prepare to be ridiculed. And if you do match it? You must still prepare to be ridiculed.

But what if we decided, as the new culture of humans on this earth, that we could all be leaders? That the Man on Podium Paradigm doesn’t have to define us? That we can stand up loudly and speak against injustice, build businesses based on love, and lead from our hearts rather than the misconstrued pain of the world?

To trail-blaze, to be the loud one, requires such a seemingly infinite well of courage. But women have courage in spades, and we’ve all (men and women) weathered the MOPP long enough. And now is our time to rise.


1. Command and Own Space
This is a hard one, I admit. As a very tall woman, I have been taught to shrink myself my entire life. I have been told that the space I occupy isn’t valid–-I’ve been told this by partners, employers, and the clothing that didn’t exist to fit my frame until the past few years. But it is crucial.

We must own the space we occupy, and command it. This means that when we walk on the streets, we don’t let people bump us out of the way. When we post articles that get trolled, we don’t shrink. When we feel in danger because of the space we occupy? We find other people to stand by us—be our signal booster, be another body to occupy space.

2. Support Each Other
Beyond being a support to one another, we must also actively support others, especially those whose voices are not viewed as equal. If you are a man, amplify a woman’s voice. If you are a white woman, amplify the voices of women of color. If you’re straight, stand up for someone who is queer. We must find the structures of support so we can adequately build and develop capacity with each other.

3. Find YOUR Paradigm of Leadership
If we know that the MOPP is based on cultivated authority that has been crafted for years, we must begin to cultivate our own vision of leadership. We must be the leaders we want our daughters to adore, and we must find our own way of being in the world. And we must be the change, so to speak. And to do so in our own ways.

Leadership means taking up space. Leadership means being a system of support. Leadership means being yourself.

So, if the MOPP’s time has come. what CAN a leader look like?

A leader looks like YOU. And me. And yes, you, the one reading this. And a leader stands up when the chips are against us, so each of us must claim what we are called to lead. Because together, we can and must rise.

Leadership isn’t simply being a thought leader, or leading a movement. Sure, that is one way we see leadership manifest in the world. But leadership comes in many shapes and sizes. There’s personal leadership, community leadership, movement leadership, and organizational leadership.

If you’re a leader seeking greater capacity to lead—personally or professionally—I offer ongoing leadership coaching in the Integral Coaching method. My program, Integrate, allows leaders to identify their current way of being as a leader, and develop a new way of being.

What are you longing to lead? Are you ready to expand that capacity?

Integrate is for you if you’re looking to radically expand your capacity to lead effectively in organizations, your own business, your community, or your life.

Avatar photo

About the Author | Makenna Held

Makenna Held is an author, entrepreneur, & leadership coach for high-achieving humans looking to expand their capacity to lead–personally, in their communities, and careers. A globe-trotting nomad, she finds herself most often drawn to Macon, GA and the South of France. You'll often find her cooking up a storm in the former summer home of Julia Child, where she runs the Courageous Cooking School.

Leave a Reply

0 comments to "Claiming a New Paradigm in Leadership"