Interview with Dion Johnson: Strategic ally for women in senior leadership

Dion Johnson, aka the Womanologist is MD at Woman Leader Global, a corporate events company specializing in on-going senior leader development for women. Dion works both behind the scenes as a strategic ally to women of influence across sectors and on various speaker platforms nationally and internationally, including the Global Women’s Leadership Summit and the Royal Naval Women Leaders Development Forum. She is all about challenging and changing the inner narrative about what it means to be a credible influencer in today’s fast changing work space. Dion’s signature development framework “The Influence Blueprint” is the subject of her second book “Woman Influence” set for release in Autumn 2018.

 

What distinction do you see between ‘leader’ and ‘leadership”?

The challenge I see is that too often high-level leadership roles are more explicitly expected to be about management rather than envisioning/reimagining industry systemic outputs and initiating, innovating, inspiring and influencing BETTER client and customer outcomes and results. We need more leaders who are prepared to set sail on new seas, aspire to make impossible things possible and truly lead. Of course, that’s a big job. True leadership has personal costs attached… and in my work I help senior leaders to heal and evolve their capacity and ability to pay that price.

 

You refer to yourself as a Womanologist. What does that means in practice?

The term “Womanologist” came out of feedback from my clients who appreciated the focus of my work being on the development of their identity, not just as leader and changemaker, but as woman too. One called me a woman doctor – she shared how in her zeal to “be professional” and “do well” in the corporate space she had unconsciously been hiding, suppressing and depressing her true feminine self – dismissing her caring compassionate intuitive nature as irrelevant and inappropriate in the culture of the senior leadership team she was part of.

Also, I have and continue to invest heavily in my own personal and professional growth and as part of that process have thought long and hard about what distinguishes me from other leadership consultants and coaches. I’ve found that at my core the inner workings of a woman is what I know most about. I was a midwife for over 20 years before going into business and had the great privilege of being alongside literally thousands of women navigating pregnancy and the transition to motherhood. I learned a lot about the physical, emotional, spiritual, relational and social workings of “womanity”. I care about leadership, but not more than I care about the leader, the WOMAN behind the title. The moniker “The Womanologist” just feels right.

 

The key target with your work is Women in Senior Leadership (WISL). Why this group?

Although I am an advocate for leadership at all levels, the reason I focus on senior leaders is that for the kind of big change that I want to see in our world, like inequality, inequity, injustice, unfairness, exclusion and imbalances to be eradicated and transformed, we must challenge and change the organizational, institutional and constitutional systems that create below potential outcomes and results.

This kind of change needs strong, courageous, mission driven leadership at the top. Over the years of supporting leaders at every level, I have become fully persuaded that if the top is not engaged in audacious aspirations for audacious new level results, other attempts for radical change are stifled and stunted and not much changes overall, in the long run.  I work with senior women because I am fully persuaded that hidden in the heart of womanity are new ways of doing things, new ways to lead, new insights for a fairer, better world.

 

What are the big challenges WISL tell you they face and how does your work prepare them to surmount these?

Women are under pressure in high-level leadership. Three common themes I see:

  •  Pressure of the times and season globally – The world is shaking; these volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times at the coal face of public sector and third sector senior leadership demands are high, nuanced and intense.

 

  • Pressure in the Power Structures – Women are still underrepresented in high-level leadership, women of colour, even more so, and the masculine power structures that we find ourselves leading within can often be a prolific breeding ground for things like politics, power-struggles, personal and professional push-backs. To cope many women harden and fight fiercely to be seen, heard and taken seriously, or many back down and quit. They play small. The trouble is both fighting and quitting takes its toll in the soul of a woman.

 

  • Pressure from within: I see and perceive that thousands, perhaps millions of women are waking up to a deep and personal knowing that there is more for them to Be, Say, Do, Create, Express and experience in leadership and life.

 

A big part of my work is helping women to reframe the pressure. My signature strategy “The Woman Influence Blueprint” is a leader development framework that guides leaders to evolve and transition to a whole new dimension of influence and leadership in an elegant way that does not require us to sacrifice our health, energy, enthusiasm, ethics, earnings or self esteem in the process.

 

How might WISL be more influential in bringing about systemic change, big solutions etc?

We must develop our capacity to be seen, heard and taken more seriously in the policy setting, culture shaping realms of the global marketplace so we can be the initiators, innovators and influencers of a transformed public sector and third sector results that really matter. In other words we need to be more influential. To do this we must develop:

  • Radical Self Awareness – Become conscious to WHO we are, why we are here in the organization, how we are showing up professionally as complicit co-creators of the status quo and WHO we are yet to become.

 

  • Relevance – We must articulate the relationship and relevance between WHO we are (our unique value and what we bring to the table) and WHAT needs to be done – (The Mission/The Challenge).

 

  • Respect – We must heal resentments, bitterness, hurts and old wounds so we can truly respect ourselves, the people we work with and the people we serve.

 

I call these the three commitments and it is my truest conviction that if we, as women in senior leadership, dared to invest attention here, we would evolve and become increasingly influential giant-problem slayers.

 

Your idea of the ‘Power of one’ – of individuals to start, drive, influence change etc. What do you think will give people confidence to do this at a time when most people only expect significant things to happen through groupings?

First, in my opinion, confidence is overrated, and yet valued so highly in senior leadership that we spend a lot of time and energy trying to fake it and avoid anything that threatens our confidence act. I have seen this to be a key reason that brilliant ideas and insights and influence never see the light of day and why broken systems persistently go unchallenged. We must develop our capacity to show up and speak up with knees knocking (that is even when we don’t feel confident).

Secondly, it’s true… significant things happens through groupings – team work, networks, but, almost invariably, those groups, teams or networks start with one, a man or woman who is compelled to do something out of the ordinary about something they want to change.  And that’s the key – we’ve got to be captivated by a mission, inspired by a compelling vision and personally, genuinely motivated to make the difference

The Dalai Lama says “Be the change you want to see in the world”… I like to say BE The Influencer of the change you want to see in the world; why? because the transformation we are talking about here is bigger than any one of us.

 

How do you feel you are evolving as a woman leader and what ‘bold things’ do you anticipate you could help bring about because of developing this way?

I was born with a pronounced facial disfigurement and when I was four I was gifted an artificial eye and dark glasses to hide my facial flaws, blend in and look more normal, I call that the beginning of my life behind the masks. Then in 2009 my life took a turn and through a seemingly random stream of events I found myself being challenged inwardly to unmask,  show up for real and let people see the real me.

That process has been and continues to be the making of me. My personal ongoing objective is to master the art of showing up for real in leadership. So I am once again being challenged to show up professionally with a new level of transparency – this time in relation to my faith. My worldview is biblical and although I haven’t deliberately hidden my spiritual identity, I have not been totally free with sharing the extent to which my faith inspires who I AM and what I teach and create. I figure, if I am teaching women how to be more influential, I have an obligation to practice what I preach.

 

For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development please go to www.verangoma.com or http://j.mp/verabooks

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