Take Your Career to the Next Level: Empowering Women Leaders Through Conscious Awareness

Written by
Jennifer Kelly

Apr 1, 2024

Apr 1, 2024 • by Jennifer Kelly

It's a memory that has stayed with me vividly: I was sitting in a conference room, meeting with my supervisor who happened to be the highest-ranking academic leader in our university. We were discussing grant allocations and plans for the future when she mentioned her hesitancy to address a related issue with her own supervisor. Curious, I asked her why she didn't speak up, and her response shocked me — she was afraid of losing her job. It was surprising to hear that someone in such a powerful position could still have such fears.

Although I appreciated her honesty and vulnerability, I couldn't help but wonder just how many women in leadership positions in higher education were putting on a facade of strength while secretly living in fear. And even more concerning, how many of them were completely unaware of it? How many truly believed that the job they are in is their Source [sometimes referred to as your inner Wisdom, Higher Self, God, Spirit; the part of you that trusts you’re infinitely provided for and abundant]? I started to recognize that operating from a space of fear was disempowering and caused one to do and be things that really do not align with who they truly are inside.

As I reflect on my personal journey as a woman leader in higher education, I can see the gradual awakening that took place within me. I slowly became conscious of the tendency to get entangled in institutional politics and drama that often came with holding a leadership position. I lived from the voice in my head that analyzed, criticized, argued, defended, and incessantly classified individuals based on their behaviors. This colleague was bad and this one was good, when in fact that was only my perception. No one is either bad or good, they just are who they are.

I then started noticing how these ongoing dialogues within paralyzed me from making decisions because I wasn’t sure of the source of my decisions, and whether that was my fearful self or my inspired self who was making decisions. Depending on the day, I was absorbed by my emotions and toggled between fear, anger, and happiness. I not only recognized this in myself, but I observed other leaders being led by their emotions as well. I thought, how can one make the best decisions for the greater good when we were seeing through the lens of our emotions in the moment?

I wanted to change the kind of person I was being immediately, and I knew that change had to be deeper than leaving my current job or modifying my behavior or responses to situations; I inherently knew that it had to be a deeper change within — a shift in consciousness. However, it became clear to me that there were, and are, no specific levels or timelines when it comes to shifting consciousness. It's not something that can be forced or rushed. I couldn’t pressure the fearful one inside me to change. Instead, shifting consciousness is an invitation to awareness that unfolds in its own perfect timing.

The first invitation is to simply OBSERVE more clearly what is happening both around and within you. It’s about taking a step back from the day-to-day grind and examining your own mindset and behaviors. It's about becoming aware of the fear-based mindset that may be holding you back, and consciously choosing a one-percent shift towards a more objective and empowered perspective. A one-percent shift for example, might be simply observing your own triggers, like when you get upset over something that was said in a meeting. You might still be upset and then reflect about how you received it and how you feel. Doing so, instead of living from one reaction to the next is a small shift towards a new consciousness or way of being.

When we first start the shift to becoming even just one-percent more aware, it may feel like everything at work is happening “to us”. We may fall into the trap of blaming external circumstances or individuals for our experiences. We may identify with our own critical inner voice, the small "I", that questions, critiques, judges, and keeps us up at night. This initial stage of awakening is characterized by limited awareness and a victim mindset.

Typically, we view situations through our own lens, colored by our life and work experiences, history, traumatic life experiences, and judgments. In the early stages of awakening as a leader, it's crucial to shift our consciousness and become objective observers of our thoughts and experiences. It's important to recognize the underlying fear-based mindset that many women in higher education leadership may operate from.

Some of the underlying mind-sets include: I’m not good enough, there’s not enough to go around, others have what I can’t have, I am powerless, I am an imposter, and I’m not safe. Such mind-sets may cause one to react defensively or close down to protect themselves. As we reflect on our own journeys, we start to understand that true leadership goes beyond leading from these mindsets, exerting our power, and pushing our way to get things done. It requires a shift in consciousness towards self-observation, surrender, staying present, and embracing the flow of life.

However, as we progress on our journey towards becoming awakened leaders, we develop a greater sense of awareness and the ability to step back and observe. Work and life are no longer things that happen to us — we become witnesses to all that unfolds. In one sense, we move from a victim mind set, where we perceive everything is happening to us to a more objective mindset, observing what is happening instead of personalizing and identifying with it. This shift allows us to detach from the critical inner voice and see things more objectively. We may notice a reduction in the use of the word "I" as we speak less from a place of ego and more from a place of understanding. We may notice we have an economy of words because our words are no longer about defending our position, making our point, touting our knowledge, asserting our position, or talking about others. By becoming observers, we transcend the victim mentality and gain a more neutral perspective. This newfound awareness becomes the foundation for our conscious evolution as leaders. Not only does it transform our own leadership style, but it also has the potential to awaken others and reshape the educational landscape.

So, the first step in awakening is to make the decision that you want to let in just one-percent more awareness. This desire alone will shift your consciousness because of your willingness and openness to learn and see anew. When you choose to become more aware, you are asking that the lens through which you see be cleared just a little bit so that you can objectively observe all that is going on in you and around you without judgement. But be aware, because the part of you that chattered all day is still there and will draw you back in to judging, labeling, arguing, and using anything to fortify the consciousness inside you that needs to be right and in control. Your recognition of this is the first step in the unfolding of leading from awareness.