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The Principles and Practice of Matriarchal Leadership

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By Tania Lo, Renee Mitchell, Hilary Henegar and Ashley Rae of Tandem Innovation Group

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It is time to reimagine, or perhaps remember, what it means to be a “leader”. 

Standing at the brink of all-systems collapse, we are living at a time of transition, from a dying age of colonial patriarchy and hyper individualism to an era defined by care, holism and decentralization. 

As culture catches up with the values required for our world to regenerate, a model for matriarchal leadership is (re)emerging and growing. Let’s explore how these principles can change the way we work and lead.

The Old Paradigm of Leadership

Everyday, we bear witness to the failures of a corporate leadership model that upholds the archetype of a patriarchal leader. This model typically prioritizes hierarchy, competition, and individualism, often at the expense of collaboration and inclusivity.

It’s a leadership style that values authority and control, perpetuating power imbalances and marginalizing diverse voices. This expression of leadership transcends gender, race and class, with even the most marginalized among us upholding the values of supremacy culture (e.g. perfectionism, urgency, either/or thinking, quantity over quality, and so forth). 

We are taught early on to “be professional” in the workplace, keep our emotions in check, and manage ourselves in such ways that prevent our full self expression. Vulnerability is a weakness, and to acknowledge weakness is to acknowledge failure and unworthiness. 

Colonial patriarchy negates the strengths of the feminine. It devalues the emotional and mental labour required to care for others, be they children, elders or even coworkers. 

The consequence is a toxic company culture, where finger-pointing and scapegoating edge out collaboration and problem solving. Where the lone wolf wins the top spot, even at the expense of wellbeing and connected relationships. Where the quality of our lives and the health of the natural world become the externalities of corporate profit. 

But times are changing, and a new culture of corporate leadership is emerging. 

A New Era of Leadership

Matriarchal leadership offers a different approach, one that’s more inclusive and holistic. Instead of separating our personal and professional lives, matriarchal leadership encourages us to bring our whole selves to our work and relationships. It operates on different timelines, and it seeks not to horde power but to distribute it.  

Celebrating the ways that matriarchs lead is the first step to this transformation, learning from traditional ways that are founded on community trust and fierce love, caring for each other and stepping forward in authenticity.

From our experience, an effective leader able to meet the complexities of our times is a deep listener; they celebrate the gifts of each individual on their team; they show up for others; and they invest time to develop themselves – personally, professionally and spiritually. 

When we weave these together, we are left with something stronger and more resilient than the brittle model of a leader we’ve been taught to admire. In fact, we end up with many leaders, as matriarchal leadership is inherently decentralized. Like the mother tree who works with the underground mycelial network to communicate with and support the health of her village of trees, we can each of us be a leader who uses our power and resources to nourish and strengthen our people. 

However, we can’t know what our team needs to flourish unless we lean into the challenge of unlearning the old models of patriarchal leadership and embrace the principles of matriarchal leadership.

Principles of Matriarchal Leadership

Deep Listening involves listening not only with our minds but also our hearts. We tune into the wisdom of the body and the quiet whispers of Spirit. The work is to sense what’s being said (or not said) in between the words being used, and make space to process and meaning-make what’s being communicated. Deep listening requires us to take in many perspectives, and let the voices of a network speak to us as if they are one. What is Life communicating to us through each voice and action, through the confluence of events unfolding before us, and in the stillness when we are at rest?    

Celebrating Individual Gifts builds belonging. It is born out of deep listening and requires humility, as we must acknowledge that there are many ways of knowing and being. We must be curious when others work differently than we might expect. It’s harder than it sounds. especially in the context of how most of us have been educated, where nuance and variability are rarely uplifted, and culture has dictated a moral imperative to conform. When we celebrate each other’s individual gifts we are engaging in an active revolution – and it can feel extraordinarily difficult because, let’s face it, we mess this one up a lot of the time. But it’s worth it, for in practicing this principle we are able to unlock the true potential of our team. When each member’s unique talents, gifts and ways of being are given space to be expressed and acknowledged as a gift, we gain superpowers we could never have hired for. And we discover new reserves of energy that fuel us in building impact together. 

Showing Up for Others means being present not just physically but empathetically, and adopting a spirit of service to our team and our community. Whereas the old paradigm dictated that “workers” serve leaders, the new era of leadership calls for reciprocal relationships of mutuality. Matriarchal leaders look for opportunities to enable the success of others, which might mean rolling up sleeves on a menial task, or being a compassionate witness to the suffering of a teammate. It might also mean sending food to a family in the community who’ve experienced a loss. 

Investing in Self-Development, whether through conferences, workshops, reading or meditation, is not just a choice but a responsibility. Deep listening, self-awareness and curiosity are the compass guiding matriarchal leaders towards new levels of self-development, shaping a mindset that naturally gravitates towards connection and interdependence. In our times, for most of us, regardless of our cultural background and positionality, the work is to unlearn supremacy culture and challenge the implicit biases we hold. We grow through living, making mistakes, and doing the repair work in our relationships to heal the harms we create. It’s meaningful work, yet it is also deeply uncomfortable and can butt up against our own fears of being exiled for not doing it all perfectly. The trick is to keep our hearts open, and allow ourselves to vulnerably name the seemingly unnameable. In so doing, we allow others to do the same, and create a courageous space that welcomes whole human beings. 

Spaces to Cultivate Matriarchal Leadership

In the transformational journey of redefining leadership towards matriarchal practices, grounding ourselves in community is the first step.

Observing how this leadership style works in action, and learning techniques through the support of other leaders allows us to continue the path of self-development.

Here are just a handful of organizations that proactively demonstrate matriarchal leadership through their work:

  • The Future Is Indigenous Women, an impact fund centred in the “5Rs of Rematriation”: Revolutionary, Regenerative, Restorative, Rooted and Relational.
  • Restoring Collective, a team of counselors, knowledge keepers and facilitators who mobilize Indigenous practices to interrupt the cycles of violence inherited by colonization, and cultivate a sense of belonging and wellbeing.
  • Indigenomics Institute, an Indigenous economic design platform for convening the people, tools, and resources to grow the Indigenous economy.
  • Coralus, an intersectional-feminist community and impact fund for women and nonbinary changemakers practicing radical generosity.
  • Social Venture Institute, a community and annual conference for social entrepreneurs doing the intentional work to learn/unlearn how to use the tools of business for social impact.
  • Trauma of Money, a psych-ed course for exploring and healing the layers of generational, relational, systemic and societal trauma that impacts our dealings with money.

Through our own journey of redefining what leadership can and should be, we at Tandem have found that nurturing strong relationships and a sense of community is the root of collective growth. We have taken this learning to heart, working with each of our clients to support their own (lifelong) journeys in slowly integrating and embodying the principles of matriarchal leadership. 

We’re here for the duration and hope to meet you along the path one day as well if we haven’t already. Reach out if you’re curious what that might look like.

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