Book Review: Leading Gracefully

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Book Reviews


I picked up Leading Gracefully: A Woman’s Guide to Confident, Authentic & Effective Leadership by Monique Svazlian Tallon with a little trepidation, fearing I was going to be urged to ‘be ladylike’ and use feminine wiles to lead and exert influence. However, given my promise to myself to keep an open mind and consider a wide range of perspectives, I decided to go ahead and read it – it wouldn’t take me long to get the gist.

Well, it took me longer than I thought, not because it was difficult to read but because I felt compelled to actually do the exercises and found them so helpful.  In fact, I want to revisit some sections in the book to fully absorb the lessons. While many of the concepts are not really new to me in my work with women leaders in men’s worlds, the insights from the exercise were surprising for me on a personal level, drawing out new and poignant meanings.

Here’s what stood out for me, on the first reading anyway.

In the recent past, and even today, women in the business world have tended to believe that showing any type of weakness is bad and will damage their career prospects. The challenge now for women is to walk the tightrope, to “stay open and receptive while being decisive, to be assertive while practicing humility, to ensure we are liked and accepted by our peers and still be effective.

Monique depicts how these seemingly contrasting leadership qualities might be achieved in her Feminine Leadership Model™, noting that although some of them do in fact have a more ‘feminine’ quality to them, they are skills which will positively impact business performance and are attributes from which both men and women can benefit. Entreating women to embrace the strengths of humility, collaboration, vision, care, empathy, vulnerability and intuition, alongside those that have a more masculine feel to them i.e. assertiveness, daring, resilience and decisiveness, we are shown a possible route-map to a more just and equal world for all.

But where might we start, from a practical point if view?

What to do

  • The first step, in Monique’s view, is to explore how we as individuals relate to our femininity. The questions she poses led me to think deeply about how I do, or do not, care for myself, what kind of shame I might be holding onto at a deep level and what options I have for starting the healing process and making way for “energizing my core power.” Sounds heavy, I know, but the exercises are surprisingly powerful and have given me much food for thought.
  • The next move is to understand what our individual leadership style looks like in the context of ’empowered and disempowered feminine and masculine’ quadrants and how we could embody a balanced and inclusive approach, without jeopardizing our authenticity.
  • I hear what Monique is saying about setting a clear intention and communicating a compelling message. The evidence does point to women tending to struggle with ensuring grand visions are backed up with clearly set expectations, roles, responsibilities, direction and delegation. However I would take issue with ‘assertive’ behaviour reducing women’s chances of advancing their careers. Aggressive, yes, but assertive, which, to my mind, takes into account everyone’s needs, no. Perhaps a subject for another blog post …
  • What I really loved were the two chapters on vulnerability and self-care. Monique talks about the recent studies that show the decline in women’s happiness, both absolutely and in relative terms to men and how the pressure to ‘prove’ worth is contributing to that. We are encouraged to throw out the notion of doing it all and instead let go of control in favour of allowing in the help which would both improve effectiveness and nurture innovation. “By softening, I attracted people to me, and it was easier to build relationships of trust and in life.” After an interesting and perhaps slightly controversial section on “Women can’t have it all” there is a practical exercise on creating the structures that prioritize self-care. It’s a welcome inclusion and helps to move readers from the all-too-familiar oxygen mask metaphor to actually doing something about it.
  • There’s plenty more too on intuition, empathy, collaboration and humility and , acknowledging the warning to avoid taking on the world, I leave that for the reader to discover for themselves!.

Lastly, in the spirit of authenticity, I commit to, right this minute, spend time reflecting on, and answering one of my favourite questions from the book: “What are you saying YES to by committing to self-care?


Find out more about the work Clare McNamara does with leaders and their teams on influence and authenticity.

© Move Ahead Global 2016

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