About Heather Plett

The place I do my best work is at the intersection of creativity, leadership, community, and storytelling.

I am a dreamer, wanderer, writer, leadership coach, teacher, and edge-walker.

I dream of a world in which we all learn to trust our feminine wisdom and let it impact the way we live, lead, and interact with each other and the earth. I walk the edge, always on the lookout for wisdom and stories that will impact positive change.

I love to do a lot of things in this self-employment journey. I am a creative midwife. Writer. Story-gatherer. Lifelong learner. Wisdom-sharer. Innovator. Facilitator. Wanderer. Teacher.

I live with my eyes and heart wide open. I delight in the wonder all around me, whether it is the intricacies of a frost pattern on a window, or the beauty of a magical a-ha moment when a participant in one of my workshops discovers something new about herself.

I would like to serve as your mandala discovery guideleadership coachtransition guide, or facilitator/teacher.

In my past life, I worked as a professional communicator in government and non-profit for fifteen years. I was in director-level positions for twelve of those years, and have studied with some of the masters of modern leadership thought (such as Meg Wheatley and Christina Baldwin). I was awarded with the 2009 Manitoba Communicator of the Year distinction by the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Public Relations Society. I teach university-level writing and have facilitated numerous workshops in leadership, creativity, and writing, both in person and online. I developed the three word video project for ALIA’s Change for Good campaign (and recorded all of the videos). I have had at least two dozen articles, poems, and personal essays published in local and national magazines and newspapers, and have been a runner-up in an international photo competition.

I have traveled all over the world, taking pictures, gathering stories, producing videos, and learning from every person I’ve met and every story I have encountered.

Let me tell you a bit more about the journey that brought me to Sophia Leadership…

My Journey to Sophia

More than a dozen years ago, I accepted my first formal leadership role almost against my better judgement. I had had no ambitions of becoming a leader, and yet a mentor who saw something in me I didn’t yet see in myself hired me into a director position in the federal government, catapulting me past the intermediate steps of supervisor and mid-level manager.

Needless to say, I was in a little over my head, and yet I took to it like a duck to water. Thankfully, I had a small, enthusiastic and engaged team, and a supportive cheerleader as a boss, so it wasn’t hard to swim at the start.

In those early days, though I wasn’t always confident, I trusted my instinct, creativity, adaptability, and heart to show me the path. At the same time as I was learning to be a manager, I was learning to be a mom and the parallels were remarkable. Leadership is leadership whether it happens at the kitchen table or the board room table.

Early Lessons

Toward the end of my first year, I had one of those awakening moments that taught me that my instinctual path was not necessarily the accepted path to leadership.

We had just wrapped up a difficult two day regional management meeting. We were all exhausted and emotionally drained from having to make tough budget decisions that included cutting some of our staff and programs. As I looked around the room at the worn out faces, I knew instinctively that, as a team, we needed some kind of emotional closure and even healing. I felt I had to speak up before we all left the room.

“I see the heaviness in people’s faces, and I know how much this has drained us all,” I said. “I wonder if it would be a good idea for each of us to share a little about what we’re feeling right now before we leave.”

In an instant, I could see that I had spoken something that wasn’t accepted in this room. Resistance was written on many of the faces. A patronizing attitude was written on others.

One of the more seasoned managers, who was also a mentor and friend to me, turned and said, in essence, “Feelings have nothing to do with management.”

I’m sure I turned bright red as the shame crept up my neck and onto my face. I had made a “newbie” mistake. Clearly I still had a lot to learn about being a manager. I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

I didn’t realize until several years later how much I had internalized the messages I picked up at that moment. “Even if you have an intuitive sense about what’s needed, you should never trust it. Just keep your mouth shut,” is what I heard.  And “A manager should never, at any cost, express her feelings or invite others to express theirs.”

Adapting to the Status Quo

I’m a quick study, so I soon learned to adapt to the accepted model of leadership. But you can only bury your authentic self for so long before it starts crying to be released. In my next management role, I was in a science environment where I was often the only one sitting around the boardroom table without a science-related PhD attached to my name. (I was a professional communicator – the person who helped the scientists speak in plain language to the public.)

In that place, my heart started breaking in a major way. These were not bad people I was working with, but it was the kind of place where they’d hired mostly good scientists to be managers without equipping them to be good leaders. Few people had a clue how to address the poor morale or increasingly toxic environment, and many of them were too busy to notice. Although I noticed, I felt powerless to change it.

Around that time, I started searching for something – anything – that would point to another way. I was desperate for some hope.

It was then that I discovered the work of Christina Baldwin, Ann Linnea, Margaret Wheatley, and David Irvine. Reading their books and websites felt like someone had lit a candle in the dark for me. There really WAS a different way to be a leader – one that recognized the power of circles, stories, intuition, spirituality, and authenticity.

Not long afterward, I met Bob Chartier, a visionary man working to transform leadership within the federal government through story, compassion, and connection. At a leadership conference in Quebec City, I cried on Bob’s shoulder and thanked him for offering me a lifeline.

Re-learning authenticity

The next leadership role I stepped into took me away from the government and into non-profit. I was in love. This was a place where I could more fully bring my authentic self, my passions, and my heart.  One of the greatest gifts of this new job was the opportunity to travel around the world meeting people who were demonstrating incredible leadership abilities in the middle of very difficult circumstances – like the young woman in Ethiopia transforming a remote desert village with her commitment to a water diversion project, or a young man in India who has dedicated his life to rescuing young girls from sex slavery.

Gradually (but slowly), I began to grow back into the kind of leader I’d intuitively been in the early days. I wish I could say I was always successful in that journey, but I wasn’t. Even in a mostly supportive environment, there was resistance against anyone who messed with the status quo. Old paradigms die hard. I wasn’t always strong enough to stand up for the change I knew was needed.

A couple of years ago, I started feeling the beginnings of a new calling, First there was the team retreat where I decided to step forward with courage and deliberately break the “rules” I’d internalized early in my leadership career.

There were undeniable deep dysfunctions in my team and I had to admit my own failings in changing the status quo. I knew I had to do something radical.

In an extremely vulnerable moment, I shared my feelings about what was going on and the way that we as a team were not supporting each other or creating a safe space for innovation and growth. I admitted that I didn’t know the next step and that I was even prepared for them to tell me that the next step would be for the team to get a new leader.

I was terrified, and didn’t know if I’d made a big mistake, but I knew that I was at the end of my rope and this was my last hope.

To my surprise and delight, my vulnerability shifted the tone in the room. Where there was guardedness, there was now softness. Where there was resistance, there was openness to a new way of relating to each other. As a team, we had been transformed by vulnerability.

Transformation is a hard thing to sustain, and, unfortunately, we started slipping into some old habits a few months after that. But we had, at the very least, been given a new language and a little glimpse into how we could be as a team. There was definitely growth.

Sophia Leadership Emerges

In the two years since that time, I have searched for every bit of wisdom I could find on leading with more vulnerability and authenticity. I read many books, some of which I rejected, and some of which I embraced.  I looked for supportive communities of like-minded people, and when I had trouble finding them, I tried to create my own. I started having regular lunches and coffee chats with mentors and friends going through similar journeys.

About six months ago, a conversation at an amazing gathering of authentic leaders gifted me with an epiphany. I realized that one of the greatest gaps in our understanding of leadership is that we have not learned to sufficiently incorporate feminine wisdom (intuition, creativity, spirituality, and holistic thinking) into our leadership models. Even though the feminist revolution got women access to the houses of power, it did not sufficiently offer us the opportunity to rearrange the furniture.

As Michael Jones (who I met at that same gathering) says in his book Artful Leadership, most of our leadership models are based on sports and warfare. These are models that fit with a primarily masculine way of interpreting the world.

Since that day, I have been on a quest to explore how feminine wisdom could transform our leadership models. That quest lead to the birth of Sophia Leadership and this website. It also lead to me quitting my job and committing myself to work that centres around the desire to help individuals and organizations unleash their feminine wisdom in their leadership and organizational structures.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this field, but I am an explorer and a learner, and if you’ll allow me, I would be happy to serve as a guide and companion on this journey we are all on.

Yin and Yang – Masculine and Feminine

Incidentally, there’s an addendum to the opening story that I feel I must share. Remember the manager who said “feelings have nothing to do with management”? Well, despite his words, and despite the fact that he could come across as fairly gruff sometimes, he showed me a very different side of himself about six months later when I gave birth to my stillborn son Matthew. Because he’d also had a stillborn child many years earlier, he knew how to reach out to me in a more compassionate way than many other people who didn’t have a clue what to say.

I share this to make the following point – feminine wisdom is not the exclusive property of women. We all – women AND men – know how to be compassionate, gentle, intuitive, creative, and spiritual. We also all know how to access our masculine wisdom – that which is rational, direct, practical, and assertive.  The problem is, in our leadership models, we have marginalized the feminine and over-emphasized the masculine.

When this man told me that feelings have nothing to do with management, there’s a good chance he was saying that out of a deep place of hurt, having experienced a time in his own life when he was taught to marginalize something that came intuitively to him. I like to think he was just trying to spare me the same hurt until I was strong enough to challenge it.

My mission is to help other emerging leaders – whether at the kitchen table or boardroom table – to be strong enough to stand with me in challenging the status quo.

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