The Modern Matriarchy’s Time Has Come—Find Your Place in It

Imagine a world where we selected leaders based on compassion, self-awareness, transparency, integrity, and meaningful results—and filtered out those with high Machiavellian scores. We would end up with better leaders and more women leaders, yielding better bottom lines in our offices, harmony in our households, and compassionate coordination in our communities.

These past few years have taught us that our world could, at any time, be upended overnight. In this ceaseless disruption season, I encourage you to choose to see a season of renewal instead. Though normal as we knew it will never be again –– there is beauty to be found in the wreckage. Let this be the call to normalize new and better realities. Let this be the rallying cry to amplify the impact of women’s leadership, ushering in The Modern Matriarchy.

Women Leaders Thrive in the Face of Disruption and Chaos - Modern Matriarchy by Barbara Waxman

Let me be clear— I don’t mean we should unseat every male leader from his post when I say this is the moment for the Modern Matriarchy. On the contrary, I work with and respect many excellent and impactful male leaders. To them, I say the Modern Matriarchy’s power is not a threat to your livelihood but a promise to improve your company, cause and country. However, we can’t get there alone. Men are needed now more than ever to use your platform to uplift, encourage, and invest in women leaders. Start small by sharing this article with the dynamic women in your circle.

Your Place in the Workforce

When women are meaningfully engaged in leadership roles, from legislatures to executive boards to community organizations –– laws, rulings, and decisions are more likely to be inclusive, de-risked, and effective.

Women Leadership Traits are in Needed - Modern Matriarchy by Barbara Waxman

Women Lead Effectively — In Every Realm

Women are powerful agents of change, bringing new talents, perspectives, and problem-solving abilities to the table. They are more likely to demonstrate empathetic leadership over authoritative leadership, making them more effective at influencing others. Women leaders, especially those over age 40, use their knowledge and wisdom as a palliative, not a weapon.

It is important to note I am agnostic regarding where people lead. I work with people leading themselves to their next life stage, their families, their communities, leading movements, and companies –- every modern matriarch in every place of leadership is equally essential.

Women Leaders are Naturally Better Communicators - Modern Matriarchy by Barbara Waxman

Women Are Naturally Better Communicators 

We constantly bemoan the rude roadster who doesn’t signal before changing lanes. Signaling lets us know each other’s intentions and act accordingly – it’s courteous and can also save us from catastrophe. Women leaders have mastered the art of articulating their intentions to others. They are willing to help everyone understand new strategies or directions so their companies, communities, and families feel stronger, safer, and saner.

Women Navigate Challenge and Change Better

While we can’t stop crises from happening, we can put more women on the frontlines to ensure they are handled nimbly and with grace. Purposeful change takes courage and requires insights into team health and what needs to happen to reach objectives. Reactionary change, such as in response to global events, requires compassion and calm. Adaptable, empathetic, and poised to handle crises with compassion and patience – women leaders don’t just survive in the face of change – they thrive.

Women Navigate Challenge and Change Better - Modern Matriarchy by Barbara Waxman

The Bottom Line

The Modern Matriarchy isn’t about eschewing male leadership; it’s about understanding that in this cultural moment, looking toward women will only help us all. I am not calling for us to draw a binary damning male leadership as inherently bad and lauding women leadership as inherently good — we have our challenges, too; advocating for ourselves and saying no are two of the biggest ones. So to the men reading this: I invite you to open the door, share this article with the women in your life who could use a loving nudge to lean into their strengths.

Your Place in the Modern Matriarchy

She could cure a headache with oil, water, and a hairpin when most can’t even cure it with Excedrin. She was very good at getting rid of warts. Nevertheless, she is banned from some US libraries and, as explored in a wonderful but irksome Washington Post op-ed by Ruth Marcus, she is launched as a cheap insult toward Middlescent women.

Who is she? Strega Nona.

For those who haven’t read the Tomie dePaola children’s book series, Strega Nona is an Italian witch (her name means “Grandma Witch”) with an overflowing pasta pot and magic touch. Although she is a witch, she isn’t a vengeful, corrupt woman. Instead, she conveys maternal energy — compassionate, nurturing, wise, and skilled. Carl Jung would qualify her as an archetypical crone — the wisdom-abundant third stage of womanhood after maiden and mother.

Strega Nona doesn’t have malevolence; she has wisdom— which she graciously loans to those around her. Strega Nona is embodied knowledge; Strega Nona is a Modern Matriarch.

What if you could tap into your Strega Nona, ridding yourself of your worries and {metaphorical) warts – and lean into the gift of your well-gardened wisdom, celebrating and capitalizing on what makes you so unwaveringly, wonderfully you?

Whether you are leading your life, leading a family, leading a company—or, most likely, doing all three at once—the one consistent element is you. Leadership is an inside job. Here’s how to start:

Dare to Find The Best of Yourself

Never has it been more critical to know yourself so fully that you understand how to invest in your energy and communicate who you are and what you can offer. That is the definition of authenticity: being genuine, grounded, and present. And what makes authenticity so necessary for this moment is that we live at a crossroads, perhaps more distant and confused than ever.

Rediscover what you care about, value, and your sense of purpose. Join me in embracing this ongoing instability, tightening up our cores, and finding the best of ourselves in this new balancing act.

Dare to Make Change Your Ally 

The (so-called) midlife crisis is frightening because so many of us feel it’s too late to make the changes that will bring us closer to self-actualization and joy. As a result, it creates tremendous and understandable fear. But, if you know that significant change is what you need, know this too: fear is not a strategy.

What if you could alchemize your anxieties into a greater understanding of yourself and those you love and lead in place of fear?

To make change your ally, you must cultivate self-awareness. After all, impactful, effective leadership is an inside job. Lean into the magic of change and middlesence. Dare to put your witchcraft –– your wisdom, strength, and resolve — into action.

Dare to Garden Alongside Your Gremlins 

Your gremlin is that unsleeping naysayer in your ear. Your gremlin loves chaos; calm offers them no fun playground to destroy. But to tame your gremlin, you must first understand and even befriend your it. So ask yourself: what is your gremlin protecting you from? Shame? Getting fired? What message do you most often hear from them, and what has it stopped you from doing?

Many women I work with believe they will never be entirely ready or qualified to take on a more senior role. It’s a chronic problem. In fact, in interviews with current and former female CEOs of the Fortune 1000, it was discovered that 65% of the women never sought to be CEOs until someone told them they had the potential. Only 9% said they’d always wanted to be CEO.

Generally, women don’t engage in self-advocacy nearly as much as they advocate for others. Turn your gremlin into self-gratification. By gardening alongside your gremlin, you can better understand your roadblocks and cultivate richer soil for yourself to bloom.

Dare to Redefine Purpose 

I have had countless clients come to me, people with tremendous wisdom, passion and courage, all bewildered by this quest to find their purpose. “I’m no Mother Teresa,” so many of them say. Well, Mother Teresa would be relieved to hear that. She understood that “purpose” as a grand quest could be counterproductive. “Not all of us can do great things,” she said. “But we can do small things with great love.

Obsessing over the importance of “Big P” Purpose—the grandiose, “save the world” kind—can miss the target. Few of us will change the world, much less save it, but we can do our small part, as Mother Teresa suggests. It’s just as important to have ‘little p’ purpose as it is to find your “Big P” purpose. Your “little p” purpose can be whatever brings you joy—for me, that means time spent in my garden, then sharing the literal fruits of my labor. For my friends Karen and Jim, it’s shopping for those who can no longer get out on their own; for my niece Lily, it’s wearing recycled clothing.

The world is your pasta pot. What little p’s will you use to fill it up?

Become a Modern Matriarch. Put your Embodied Wisdom into Action. 

Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. By intentionally informing every action, we can reach our desired destination faster with grace and gratitude. You don’t have to embrace every gremlin or launch a new business or community organization immediately. Instead, start small by committing yourself to assess your energy, read more about resilient leadership, or share and discuss this newsletter with someone who inspires you.

Five to Thrive Quiz

Resilient people rebound from discomfort with grace, stronger and more whole than before. Taking a post-2022 assessment of your personal energy resilience will help you create a micro-ambitious activation plan toward a more fulfilling 2023.

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The Future of Resilient Leadership

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