The Bookshelf

Jocelyn Davis’ ‘Insubordinate’ is a leadership paradigm beyond “lean in”

We’ve all encountered the hero’s journey—Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, Luke Skywalker’s destruction of the Death Star, Spider-Man’s defeat of the Green Goblin. But what about the heroine’s journey? This is the question Jocelyn Davis poses in her forthcoming book, Insubordinate: 12 New Archetypes for Women Who Lead (Amplify Publishing, March 21).

Davis is an internationally recognized leadership expert and former head of R&D for a global leadership development consultancy who lives and writes in Santa Fe. The seed for her latest book was sown a decade ago, when Davis was fired from a job for “insubordination.” She carried that experience with her, and tells SFR she “always really wanted to write something about how we can use insubordination to our advantage.”

Throughout her career, Davis says, she’s seen women employ many different strategies to succeed—even when those strategies aren’t recognized as assets.

“I think women’s biggest strength is our ability to tap into a much wider variety of ways of being, ways of leading, than we give ourselves credit for,” Davis says.

But even as she recognized these different leadership styles in herself and her colleagues, she didn’t yet have the language to describe them. It wasn’t until she was researching the four classical elements—fire, earth, water and air—while working on another book that the 12-archetype framework occurred to her. For Davis, the qualities of leadership fit naturally into the schema of the elements, and her academic background gave her a rich cast of characters from legend and literature who exemplify these different styles: the famous storyteller Shaharazade embodies the archetype of the Mesamerist; the diplomatic Princess Savitri is the alliance-minded Amiga; and Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, is the wily Escapist.

Davis wanted to present a wider range of leadership styles than is typically encouraged in women; mantras like “lean in,” popularized by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, are only a small piece of the puzzle.

“There’s a lot more to say—and frankly, leaning in isn’t always the best strategy,” Davis explains. “I wanted to write a book that celebrated multifarious ways of leading and being for women.”

The 12-archetype model thus aligned with the types she’d seen in the workplace and in literature, and it encompassed far more ways of being than are widely accepted for women.

“We’re either told, ‘You gotta be tough, you gotta play hardball, you gotta be badass,’” Davis says, “or we’re told to use our softer talents: ‘Don’t try to be a man, be empathetic and tap into your supposedly more feminine side.’”

In Davis’ model, these modes are typified by the Amazon and the Empath.

“Those styles certainly work for many people,” she notes, “but what I saw both in the literary sources and in real-life women was a wider range of approaches.”

Davis herself identifies with the Snow Queen, her “home archetype,” which exemplifies the strengths she’s most comfortable exercising.

“I realized I could rely on the strengths of that archetype. The Snow Queen is introverted, very prepared, very intellectual and not terribly emotional. But I also realized that I needed to branch out and develop some other strengths.”

That’s where the full range of the archetypes came in. Looking to her role models in life and literature, Davis was able to see a fuller picture of herself and her strengths.

“I had role models who were almost my opposite—a Mama Bear, a Temptress, a Claimant—and I’m very grateful for that because I was able to see other ways that I can be, and talents that I can bring out that are actually in me,” she says, “but I don’t have to abandon who I am. I don’t have to abandon my Snow Queen nature to bring out these other sides of me.”

Insubordinate’s archetypes are useful beyond the corporate world, too. Davis tells the stories of women in various fields, including a nurse who’d cared for her in the hospital, a graduate student and even Davis’ own mother, who was the wife of a diplomat.

“We all are leaders in one place or another—with our families, with our friends, with our nonprofit work. There’s so many ways that we lead,” she tells SFR.

Insubordinate isn’t just for women, either. Davis says people of any gender identity can benefit from looking at themselves and others through the lens of these archetypes.

“It’s not about saying who’s better,” she says. “What matters is that we look to be inspired by women’s archetypes, because for thousands of years, the leadership models have been men.”

This lens can help you appreciate different strengths in others, too, Davis opines. One example she cites in the book is a colleague named Caroline, who embodies the Temptress archetype.

“I was a little bit like, ‘What’s she doing wearing fishnets and being sparkly and sexy at work? That’s not appropriate.’ But she was very successful and a great leader who made others feel like stars, that was her particular talent,” Davis says. “We often have a tendency to look askance at women who are not like us and who are using different strengths.”

What many people resonate with, Davis says, is the idea of using the archetype framework to embrace the totality of their gifts, even if they don’t track with convention. It breaks down perceived limits: One woman who blurbed Insubordinate credits this more expansive way of thinking with her success in switching between different industries and jobs. It celebrates identity as shapeshifting, fluid: from the vivacious Temptress to the ruthless Witch, Davis says, “we contain multitudes.”

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