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Women take the lead
Feature: If you are a woman interested in formal leadership development, Minnesota is a good place to be.
Nancy Ninteman is program manager for the Center for Business Excellence at the University of St. Thomas. Photo by Lisa Radunz Strohkirch.
Nancy Ninteman is program manager for the Center for Business Excellence at the University of St. Thomas. Photo by Lisa Radunz Strohkirch.
AwesomeWomen www.iamserene.com
Center for Emerging Leadership www.emergingleadership.com
University of St. Catherine minerva.stkate.edu
University of St. Thomas www.stthomas.edu

by Michele St. Martin

You can take a class focused on helping you climb the organizational ladder, attend lectures and symposiums featuring women leaders, develop your management skills or participate in a reflective women's circle. Your workplace may even offer leadership training focused on women.

Defining women's leadership
Should we differentiate women leaders from their male counterparts, or is a leader a leader? According to Ginny Belden-Charles of the nonprofit Center for Emerging Leadership, "Words like 'commanding-control-vision' have traditionally described the masculine expression of leadership. It's such a prevalent view that that's often what we think of as leadership. We [Center for Emerging Leadership] believe that women need to feel comfortable in their own skin, with the archetypal feminine traits."

Marcia Hyatt, also of the Center for Emerging Leadership, thinks "women need a place to reclaim our own voice. Our intention is to support women in creating their own definition of leadership."

Not everyone agrees. Mary Angela Baker, director of the College of St. Catherine's Leadership Institute, said she thinks "there are lots of [leadership] theories out there ... [one is that] women are more collaborative. I don't like to frame it as 'us against them.' I don't think there's a man's way to lead or a woman's way, just an effective way. The model we use, the book 'The Leadership Challenge' was written by two men," Baker explained.

The Minnesota Women's Press discovered that there are as many definitions of leadership development as there are, well, leaders. What follows is a look at several popular programs that offer a variety of approaches to women and leadership.

Learning on the job
The University of Minnesota is one of the largest employers in the state, so it's not surprising that it offers in-house leadership training for female employees. DeeAnne Bonebright is the director of the University's Women's Leadership Institute, which began on a pilot basis in 1998-1999, and has continued since 2000-2001 as a full-fledged program. Approximately 200 women have been through the program, Bonebright said. She explained, "The goal of the Institute is to help women develop their perceptions of themselves as leaders." The program runs for a year and begins with a full-day retreat, and includes a number of half-day retreats on leadership topics. "It's very reflective, not a skill-based thing. There's a heavy focus on hearing the stories of other women leaders." In addition, the Institute enjoys the support of high-level women leaders at the University, Bonebright said.

She said there are two reasons for keeping the program internally focused. "The main reason we don't market the program outside the U is that we run it off the $75 registration fee, and that pays for some food and speakers' expenses. And St. Kate's does a great job with women's leadership programs."

The 500-pound gorilla
Where else can you take your pick of leadership education options aimed at women? With a mission of educating women to lead and influence, it's no wonder that leadership development is a big part of the continuing education arm of the College of St. Catherine. The school offers a rich variety of workshops, speakers' forums and classes, ranging from breakfast discussions featuring well-known women in leadership positions (most recently, former Minnesota Supreme Court chief justice Kathleen Blatz and radio personality Ruth Koscielak) to a six-month long "Leaders of the New Millennium" program. "Leaders of the New Millennium begins with a two-day retreat-Friday and Saturday during the day, and then one Thursday night a month for eight months," said Mary Angela Baker. "The program is designed for working women-we even have dinner waiting for them."

The women who participate in "Leaders of the New Millennium are, said Baker, "at a transition point in their lives ... they're not always quite sure what it is, but some sort of transition. We look at not only professional leadership skills but personal ones too. They work on a 'leadership map' and decide what their beliefs are and what obstacles they face. There are assessment tools, and they meet one-on-one with a coach."

The program, begun two years ago, has served about 100 women, and is so successful that it's spawned a counterpart, "Leaders of the New Millennium Women of Color." Baker explained, "Dr. Verna Cornelia Price felt there was a need to create a place for professional development for women of color, a place to talk about what that meant; [issues like] isolation, culture clashes." The first class of 14 women met in 2005; the second group has just started this month.

Baker thinks that what makes Leaders of the New Millennium stand out is that it "focuses on being an authentic leader. [It helps you explore] who you are as a leader, what's your leadership philosophy."

St. Thomas' take
Nancy Ninteman isn't just the program manager for the Center for Business Excellence at the College of St. Thomas-she's an enthusiastic graduate of its "Life Leadership Circles for Women Managers" program. For Ninteman, the program acted as a catalyst for discovering her own strengths-and acting on them. "I really benefited from the program helping me focus on my capacity. I was working in this environment with the opportunity to go to school, but I never really knew what to do. After going through the program, I decided to go on and get my master's in HR [human resources]," she said.

Each session, or cohort, of the program is targeted based on the needs of the women participating, Ninteman said. Issues generally covered include conflict management, leading from strength, managing up, negotiating, leadership presence, making a difference and accountability. The program stresses its ability to be a supportive forum where peer-to-peer learning is encouraged. There is time for reflection and planning. One unique feature of Life Leadership Circles for Women Managers is a large amount of individual coaching. The time the program sets aside for participants to reflect and plan is key, Ninteman said. The program's lead faculty is Rita Webster, Ph.D., a noted women's leadership coach and co-founder of Awesome Women.

Awesome Women
Awesome Women began as informal get-togethers of five women who wanted to help each other grow their businesses. The founders realized that they wanted to help other women's voices be heard, and in 2004, the organization launched its signature event, the Awesome Women's Night Out, held the second Wednesday evening of every month. Each evening has a theme and follows a pattern: a speaker, dinner, some music and, according to Webster, the most important part of the evening: the circle process. She explained, "The room breaks into groups of three. Each woman talks about what's important to her, using her true inner voice. The other women listen and mirror what she said, telling her things like "Your eyes lit up when you said that."

"What Awesome Women is about is really a way to grow yourself, grow into your 'big dream,' and make it a reality," Webster said.

Reclaiming feminine leadership
"When leadership development for women first came into being, it was about helping women succeed in a man's world," Belden-Charles said. "Many women had to sacrifice traditionally feminine traits to get to the top. They lost the heart of feminine leadership and were bad leaders, not interested in caring and compassion." At the same time, Belden-Charles said, "Women get involved in a 'Catch-22.' If a woman leader [exhibits] traditionally masculine traits, she's a bitch. Men who develop traditionally female traits like collaboration are praised; women who do are disappeared, not seen as leaders."

Belden-Charles, Hyatt and the other women at the Center for Emerging Leadership's Women in Leadership program are out to change that. They believe strongly that in order for women to be effective in their lives, they need to be authentically themselves, and that includes a congruence in all parts of their lives. "A lot of women come to us burnt out," Hyatt said. "They reconnect and then wonder, 'what do I do next?' They are feeling a dissonance between who they are at home and who they are at work. They need to turn up the volume on their voice."

Belden-Charles and Hyatt don't tell women how to do that, though. "We do very well at not being the sage on the stage, even in disguise," Hyatt said. "Our facilitators do have the responsibility to hold to our principles and practices, but we are a very powerful learning society." The Women in Leadership program is nine months long. Each group meets four times for a 48-hour period and women often stay in touch after the program ends, Belden-Charles said.


Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Article comment by: Liz Jones

Great article. I love the Leaders of the New Millennium program at St. Kate's!

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