Leadership Intensive Rundown – Friday 23 August, 2019

Pavla Miller – Feminist leadership

Have you ever sat in an important meeting and felt like a complete fraud?

Your heart quickens and your palms begin to sweat. You studiously avoid eye contact, hoping you will not be called upon to speak. You know that you have nothing of value to contribute. The minute you open your mouth, the game will be up. You have no right to be there. You are an imposter.

In 1978, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term imposter syndrome to describe a psychological pattern in which individuals are plagued by self-doubt and live in perpetual fear of being exposed as a fraud. Pavla Miller, highly respected interdisciplinary scholar and feminist, has held a variety of leadership positions over the past thirty years, but readily admits to still experiencing imposter syndrome herself at times.

“Feeling like a fraud, Pavla suggests, is natural by-product of the ferment of our times. We are currently living in the midst of considerable social and intellectual change.”

Her background has given her a distinctive perspective on the impostor problem. In brief, as generations of feminists argued, the personal is political.

Feeling like a fraud, Pavla suggests, is natural by-product of the ferment of our times. We are currently living in the midst of considerable social and intellectual change. As women, workers, people of colour and LGBTI individuals gain access to jobs and institutions previously reserved for wealthy white men, they are made to feel like they do not belong. In addition, previously accepted expert knowledge is under serious scrutiny.

On the one hand, what were once seen as established truths are being critiqued, updated and rewritten by those whose voices were until recently silenced. On the other hand, social and natural sciences, and those who work in them, have come under concerted attack by New Right politicians and activists, most notoriously in denying the extent of climate change.

In times such as these, it is of vital importance that we consider effective leadership strategies. How does one best lead in times of great social flux?

For Pavla, leadership requires a willingness to adapt to change, coupled with an awareness of your own strengths and limitations. Emphasise the skills, knowledge and experience you do have, she recommends, but don’t be afraid to admit to gaps in your understanding.

Rather than accepting ‘knowing everything’ as an ideal, attempt to find your place as a strong contributor to fruitful partnerships and collaborative learning.



Cath Smith – Collaborations and partnerships

Cath Smith, Principal of Changesmith and former CEO of the Victorian Council for Social Service, also believes in the power of collaboration and partnership.

Personal attributes and achievements are wonderful, she explains, but they will never bring about meaningful change in isolation.

Leaders must seek to understand the system within which they work and establish effective collaborations where required. It is only by working together that true and lasting change can be achieved.

Whilst collaboration is not always easy, there are things leader can do to increase the chance of success. Firstly, ensure that a shared vision is agreed upon from the outset. When collaborations fail, it is usually due to the lack of shared vision. Providing adequate time and space for this process is crucial. The more you push a group of collaborators to work quickly, the more resistance you are likely to encounter.

“Currently, we are working within a system producing ever-increasing inequality. As leaders, we have a responsibility to question and challenge this system.”

Establishing a shared vision at the start of a project takes time, but it is a worthwhile investment. Cath also recommends the sharing of risks, as this is an effective way to build reciprocity and trust among collaborators.

According to Cath, good leadership is about heart, mind and structure. The heart signifies a leader’s belief in what they are doing, the mind signifies their knowledge and understanding of their actions, and the structure is representative of the systems and obstacles they must deal with in order to enact change.

Currently, we are working within a system producing ever-increasing inequality. As leaders, we have a responsibility to question and challenge this system. We must ask ourselves: What can we do to make change? Where can we create hope? How can we move toward greater equality?

Small group discussions after the presentations were lively, with participants eager to discuss the vexed question of feminist leadership in the sector. Participants identified a shift away from strong feminist leadership of recent times, observing that the feminist voice is becoming increasingly diluted and suppressed.

In light of this, what does it mean to be a feminist leader in 2019? How do feminist leaders ensure that their leadership is strong and their voice is heard? How do they ensure that their leadership is inclusive?

Many participants also spoke of the rapid changes they have seen in the sector, and expressed frustration at current funding systems. In this time of uncertainty, regular evaluation of leadership priorities is a valuable exercise. It is worth considering questions such as these:

What is the best path forward? What should we be investing in? What changes have we managed to make? What impact have they had? What does being at the cutting edge of social change require of each of us, both individually and collectively?