'A Group That Cheers Me on in Life'

By Linda Brandt

"As a Midwestern woman, it can be challenging for me to fully claim my strengths. But my Circle gave me swagger," says Linda Brandt, who leads Lean In Circles in Minneapolis.

Part of what makes me unique is that I grew up in the company of two brothers and a changing mix of 10 daycare kids. This start in life honed my ability to think about group dynamics. To this day, my default mindset is to figure out who needs what and what needs to happen to make things to go well for everyone. The downside of my upbringing was that I had to share everything. Trust me, you don't get attached to many things when they can easily get destroyed by toddlers.

When I got divorced in 2010, I had a chance to step outside this "don't get attached" pattern as I reorganized my life. I began to invest more time in my surroundings so that they reflect a truer picture of who I am. As luck would have it, I met a creative new friend, my Lean In co-moderator Kaylynn, who is a fashion and photo stylist. Kaylynn helped me transform my home physically and insisted that I truly "move in."

About this time I was hosting a moms group at my home and I realized I too wanted a group of women around me for inspiration and accountability. The Lean In circles looked like a great vehicle for getting closer to work colleagues, "moving in" to my home by hosting and doing feminist activism in a mainstream way.

As a Midwestern woman, it can be challenging for me to fully claim my strengths. But my Circle gave me swagger.

I want everyone to have a group that cheers her or him on in life. We are indeed more powerful when we put our minds and hearts together toward the same goals.

Host: Linda Brandt

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Occupation: Public Health Specialist

Circle participants: Members include professional and personal acquaintances, colleagues, friends, a few neighbors, and the dog sitter. The common denominator is my admiration and respect for these women. We are currently a group of 60 women who can meet in person and another 21 who primarily contribute online due to various conflicts. At our last meeting we experimented with having a few members attend via videoconferencing.

Circle location: Originally around my dining room table and now in my living room. It's working well to have a consistent location and it keep my goal of investing in my home front and center.

Circle Fuel:Quality listening is at the heart of what is making our group excellent. We break into pairs and small groups each time and get a chance to practice giving someone our full attention and using another person's attention.

Favorite Circle Moments: When we push ourselves to act powerfully both individually and collectively. Leaning In has included: telling courageous stories and personal truths, coming to a group where you don't know anyone, allowing stories to be videotaped and shared online, risking rejection by inviting others to join the group, making this group a priority despite other time demands, and taking initiative to contribute to the group's flourishing.

Circle Goals: The members of this circle want to form strong, supportive and collaborative relationships with one another; to have the courage to be their powerful, true selves; and to make intentional choices about goals, professional development and accountability. To show this concretely, a subgroup of our circle walked the Grandma's Marathon in Duluth on June 21, 2014 as a physical and mental challenge.

Circle Tips for Newbies:
* Set relaxed high expectations for yourself and others. Go for the type of group you really want.

* Don't go at it alone. Have a great assistant. Ask for help with snacks, announcements, games, logistics, timekeeping, photography, social media, roster keeping, etc.

* Over recruit. Expect that many women will lean out/back due to the societal training to put others first and because they are overextended.

* Be thoughtful, smart and courageous in deciding who to invite. Avoid putting someone in the position of being an "only" member of a particular group if possible.

* Above all else, put listening and fun at the heart of your circle.