2012: The Gate to the Garden Is Open

I was asked to sit on a panel at The Economist 2012 conference, which focuses on predictions for the coming year. My assignment was to make a prediction about the workplace and jobs.

Given that I look at organizations as complex systems, which are non-linear and highly unpredictable, I'm not a fool who rushes into these things.

But one prediction did capture my imagination. Despite their geographical distance, Mayan, Mongolian, and Hopi predicted that 2012 would be the end of an Era of Man. For some, this seems like the end of the world! But actually it marks an evolutionary shift in consciousness. The Era of Man was defined by the use of power: power over others. This use of power generated a domination-based society, defined by hierarchies, frontier mentality, celebrating the Lone Ranger style of leadership, and revering those qualities of independence, autonomy and individuality. Using power over others also is at the heart of racism, sexism, war, terrorism, environmental degradation, sex slave trading.

With 2012 a new Era begins, the Era of Women. Men, don't worry. In the Era of Women, women won't exclude men from the table of power as men excluded women in the Era of Man. Instead they will work together to create a more equitable and just world.

The late Congresswoman Bella Abzug predicted that in the 21st century, power would not change women, women would change the nature of power. This is what I found in my research on women leaders. Women are changing the nature of power from power over to power with and for others. In this way, they are midwifing a new era of collaboration and cooperation, what I call a revolution hidden in plain sight.

So, back to my prediction. It is my prediction that this revolution hidden in plain sight will become visible in 2012. For the past decade I have been watching women learn to collaborate and support each other in a way they have never done before -- it is revolutionary. Like smoldering coals, their behind-the-scenes work is ready to catch fire. At all levels we will see women taking their place as leaders, within organizations, as entrepreneurs, in politics. As they transform the nature of power, they transform the nature of leadership.

All those soft skills -- relational intelligence, empathy, intuition, holistic thinking, inclusion, consensus building -- will no longer be viewed as soft, but rather as powerful because these are the very skills needed to create effective collaborations.

In the past, women felt they had to develop their masculine skills in order to be successful in a man's world. Now they will fully balance those skills by embracing their feminine skills. Like Michele Bachelet, former President of Chile, and Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, President of Liberia, they will embrace the nurturing, strict mother within their leadership style. At a global level, being a leader will also mean being a healer in a world traumatized by the use of power over others, as these two women so clearly demonstrate.

The world is weary of male posturing disguised as leadership. I for one am done with the Putins, the Netanyahus, Boehners, not to mention all the Middle East dictators. Although the revolution I am talking about is led primarily by women, there are like-minded men who remain equally as invisible as the women in their leadership style.

I was talking with a Republican recently who said Obama is a failed leader. It all depends on what you mean by leader. From where I stand, I think he is part of this movement to move our society toward a more collaborative one. Unfortunately for those who identify posturing as leadership, they don't know how to respond to an open hand when they are used to fists. We have two mind sets at work and if you look at any models of organizational development, moral development, adult development, then you will see that a collaborative approach is the more evolved approach and a step toward evolving rather that devolving.

Here's a small example of the invisible becoming visible. A group of women, part of a women's leadership initiative in a large American corporation, decided to meet twice a month to discuss my book, Iron Butterflies. In the course of their discussions they began to know each other better, discovered what mattered to them, and began supporting each other in a way they had never done before. The outcome for one woman, who had a way of holding herself back, was to start a very successful initiative to help a women's shelter. Another woman, who was reluctant to speak out at meetings found herself speaking out more than ever. Women gathering together in support of each other become bold and visible.

A similar phenomenon happens with SheEO, a by-invitation-only organization, started by the founder of ZipCar, Robin Chase and Bettina Hein, founder of Pixability, a video marketing company. These primarily GenX women were once in corporate America and decided to leave and start up their own businesses. The group is all about women being honest about the obstacles they face, and supporting each other in making their businesses successful. One angel investor, who in starting her own company didn't have such support, said that she felt like drooling when she heard of women so profoundly in support of each other.

One last prediction. The poet Matthew Arnold made a prediction in the 1800s: "If ever the world sees a time when women will come together purely for the good of humanity, it will be a power as the world has never seen." That time has arrived. That time is now. Let's celebrate the New Era of Women in 2012. The gate to the garden open.