Young Women in Energy Book Club
Session # 2 – May 8, 2014

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By Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston

At the cusp of turning 50, author Joanna Barsh was looking for the spark of meaning, passion and success in her life. In her quest to create a comprehensive toolkit necessary for women to engage in fulfilling leadership roles, she assembled a team that conducted five years of exhaustive interviews with successful women around the world. She looked for commonalities in their stories and distilled a formula for success- five self-reinforcing elements that shaped the Centered Leadership model:

1)      Meaning compels the reader to be passionate about their work and pursue fields where they feel most fulfilled.

2)      Framing urges women to be optimistic and frame their thoughts to be more productive. They reveal that optimism can be learned and that viewing events in a positive light helps us adapt to setbacks with confidence rather than self-doubt and pessimism.

3)      Connecting discloses that none of the women interviewed claimed to be self-made. They all referenced to support given to them by parents, colleagues, teachers and mentors. Barsh and Cranston urge women to create extensive networks and utilize them for assistance and encouragement.

4)      Engaging emphasizes taking control of our lives. Most women who were interviewed acknowledged that often to embrace opportunity, we must take sharp detours and handle opportunities and the risks of unexpected changes.

5)      With the last component, Energizing, Barsh and Cranston encourage women to take time to feed their souls. They emphasize that if we are not conserving and refueling our energy, we will be unable to sustain our success.

One of the most compelling pieces of advice from the authors was to network with a purpose and create a “Board of Directors”. These are the connections we could turn to for advice in different areas of our lives. The book points out that women are not as skilled as men in building a broader, if shallower, network of colleagues and contacts. Men are able to create a larger network because they are better at strategic alliances which helps them to make connections that are overtly transactional, yet powerful and equally benefit both parties. Barsh and Cranston also note that “feminine” strengths, or the softer aspects of office interaction, must be exploited to develop deep, authentic connections that will help women find mentors and sponsors.

One grievance by the members of the book club was that some of the personal accounts of the women leaders interweaved with the different chapters lacked. Although Barsh and Cranston try to provide relevant examples, they fail to explain the detailed thought process and inspiration that incentivized the actions of the women.

While the advice in the book doesn’t seem groundbreaking, the book does achieve its goal of providing the reader with useable methods for coping with challenging professional situations and underlining the framework for managing our thoughts and behavior to ultimately achieve and sustain fulfilling careers.

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Figure 1: Five Elements of the Centered Leadership Model

If you wish to learn more about the Centered Leadership Project, please peruse the leadership development programs offered at The Banff Centre, starting October 20, 2014.