Know your inherent value. Respond to adverse change with resilience. Choose and claim your hard work and merit. Faithfully follow your moral campus. Protect your childlike dreaming and passion. Learn from a place of openness and humility.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Kayne.
Andrea Kayne, the author of KICKING ASS IN A CORSET, serves as director of the doctoral program in educational leadership and is an associate professor at DePaul University. She has taught, written, and consulted in the areas of empowered leadership, feminist leadership, emotionally intelligent leadership, and internally referenced leadership. Her new courses, based on internally referenced leadership, are offered in partnership with DePaul University.
Andrea Kayne received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Vassar College, her Masters of Education degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and her Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Oak Park, Illinois.
To learn more, visit: www.andreakayne.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
As a young girl, I was taught to earn my place through unwavering obedience, sacrifice, and diminishment of self. Internalizing these values from my childhood messaging has served a purpose in my life. It’s been a strategy that enabled me to successfully navigate and be a dutiful soldier in home life, academic life, employment life. What I have learned from Jane Austen is that the fearful protection from other people — the paranoid mentoring — in the end requires that we turn on ourselves. Even with all the work I have done, this ubiquitous “be a good girl” recording can make itself heard when I am in a faculty meeting, presenting at a consulting workshop, or meeting with a client. If I don’t identify these so-called universal truths as not my authentic truths, they can undermine the way I speak (or don’t speak) at work and at home. As women and girls, many of us were socialized to forgo our own values and truths for those of others. We were told to be quiet, to be small, and to be like everyone else except ourselves.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
For me, Elizabeth’s saying no to Mr. Darcy’s first proposal in Pride and Prejudice is one of the most important and empowering passages I have ever read. It can be applied to the fields of leadership, psychology, and feminist studies. Even though she has no money and no prospects, she firmly says, “I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” She is okay and complete within herself. This gives her extraordinary power to be able to walk away from a potential material savior. Jane Austen suggests that Elizabeth Bennet is not for sale no matter how dire her situation.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
One of the great lessons I have learned is to trust my intuition even when it seemingly makes no practical sense. For me, it is trusting my “knowing” rather than my “knowledge.” For example, four years ago, I met a colleague in a stairwell and she asked if I wanted to go to Beijing to lead a 2-week professional development for 51 school leaders. Someone had dropped out, and she needed a last-minute replacement. Everything about this didn’t make sense. I had to reschedule everything else last minute and I was moving the week I got back. Although it made no sense, something inside me urged me to go. I am so grateful I listened to that intuitive knowing. That initial trip to China has completely transformed my life. Teaching the Tao Te Ching along with Western leadership theory to those 51 leaders has led to many beautiful and meaningful collaborations.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
I hope to show women, what Jane Austen has taught me, that they have been powerful the whole time; they just didn’t realize it. They just needed to see it and claim it. No matter what “corsets” or constraints they experience, they can always exercise strength and control of their own heart, mind, and spirit to anchor in their own peace and equilibrium.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
There are so many interesting stories. It is hard to choose. But let me share about Marcy. Marcy worked at a successful family law firm. We met at a women’s leadership conference, where she offered to buy me a coffee if I’d be willing to hear about her “well paid but stifling corset” — the law firm where she worked. She was having trouble fitting in at the office. Unlike her partners, whose application of family law was “extended scorched-earth litigation,” with all the fees it brought in, she preferred the relatively more peaceful, expeditious route of mediation. She explained that compared to her law partners, she was a lot more concerned with the impact of divorce on everyone in the family unit, especially the children and even the spouse on the other side. Marcy knew the importance of this from her own experience. Her parents went through a particularly brutal divorce with lasting repercussions. To this day, she never wanted to host Christmas at her home because her parents still weren’t speaking, even after twenty-two years, and she refused to pick sides. Marcy resented that as a child she was placed in the middle of her parents’ toxic power struggle. She described in vivid detail what it was like to be fourteen, throwing up in the bathroom the morning she “was forced to testify against” her father in a child support hearing. As an attorney, she tried to do everything she could to make sure everyone got through a divorce in a way that was as “healing and whole as possible.”
Marcy, herself, however, did not feel whole. She knew her clients appreciated her skill, but she told me “she would not be satisfied” until the partners at her law firm “validated her approach and her worth.” She wanted me to help her convince her law partners of her value to the firm. When I refused to begin our work together by creating a spreadsheet to document her value to the organization, Marcy was disappointed.
Inspired by the internally referenced leadership of Elizabeth Bennet, however, I felt my first (and maybe only) job was to convince Marcy of her value to herself. We went over the criteria her partners used to define success, which included billable hours, length of the lawsuit, and an assessment of “how badly the other side beat.” We talked about whether this reflected what was important to her. Marcy explored how her own criteria differed from the criteria of her partners, and together we developed a custom rubric to determine success on her terms. Her criteria included things such as how quickly the case settled; how peaceful the process was; and how well the children and parents were doing as the divorce was finalized and how they were doing one year later. When she used her personal rubric of success, Marcy had to acknowledge that she was indeed thriving. Moreover, once Marcy learned to define success for herself, she ended up actually bringing more money to the firm as word of mouth spread and women, in particular, sought her out to represent them because of her healing approach to an inherently stressful process.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
The concept of internally referenced leadership based on the principles of Jane Austen’s protagonists came to me at Old Ebbitt Grill while I was dining with my dear friend Maureen Collins in Washington, DC. We were in town to attend the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Conference in 2016. I was eating clam chowder as we were talking about the impact of Jane Austen on our personal and professional lives. I became very excited, oyster-cracker crumbs spraying from my mouth when I realized that the most important lessons I have learned about leadership came from reading Austen.
It struck me that each one of Austen’s heroines had inspired me to be a leader who felt empowered from an internal locus of control — no matter what my situation and no matter how little control I had in reality. By reading and imbibing Jane Austen all those years, I absorbed her prescriptions organically. She taught me that I could be confident, principled, playful, humble, pragmatic, and hardworking in spite of what was going on around me and how others viewed me. Through Austen, I learned that my perception of myself and my situation, which I do indeed have control over, is the most important leadership ability I could possess.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
It can be very difficult for women to see themselves beyond their roles as caretakers, whether at work or home. In working with women leadership groups, I often notice the tendency for the participants to define themselves relationally as caring for others. For example, I asked participants in a female mastermind group I was facilitating to name their most meaningful strengths. Almost to a person, they responded by describing the role they played in someone else’s life: I’m a supportive team leader; I’m a caring mother; I’m an inspiring mentor; I’m the glue that holds our department together; I’m a spouse who helps my partner be their best self; and I rally the troops at work and at home when times are difficult.
When I passed out a second index card and asked the group to name a meaningful strength that did not involve service to another, they took much longer to write. Eventually, the group came up with internally referenced strengths, having nothing to do with other people and not necessarily confined to their roles at home and work. These included attributes such as these: Creativity flows whenever I tap into that inner well; I laugh from my belly and can see twisted humor in almost everything; I may be 5’ 4” but I can walk down the street like I’m nine feet tall; and I sleep well most nights, knowing I tried hard. It can be very difficult for us to define ourselves irrespective of other people, but it is absolutely crucial for internally referenced leadership and for an internal sense of power that stabilizes us. This is what I worked with these women on, helping them remember and achieve internal wellbeing and state of equanimity no matter what other people think, say, or do.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- We can raise our daughters to be “obstinate headstrong girls” like Elizabeth Bennet who know their own internal and inherent value, especially in external environments that intentionally or unintentionally devalue
- We can support women and others to faithfully follow their internal moral compass and normative principles, speaking truth to power even in the face of external pressure, coercion, and material consequence.
- We can encourage women and all to be like Catherine Morland and protect their internal childlike dreaming, wonder, curiosity, passion, and hope especially in an external world that can be discouraging, disillusioning, and filled with despair.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
For me, leadership in work and life start with a profound commitment to self-knowledge and growth. A family, community, or organization cannot achieve and sustain its passion and purpose without leadership and leaders who are grounded and committed to authentic personal and professional growth for themselves and all their stakeholders. As chapter 33 of the Tao Te Ching reads, “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I wish I knew and lived these six principles much earlier:
- Know your inherent value.
- Respond to adverse change with resilience.
- Choose and claim your hard work and merit.
- Faithfully follow your moral campus.
- Protect your childlike dreaming and passion.
- Learn from a place of openness and humility.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
From The Wizard of Oz, “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” The most important aspect of my work and my life is to remind women that they have been powerful this whole time.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
My dream business mentor is Brene Brown. She blends leadership in the personal and professional sphere so that we can all live in the arena and be more open-hearted and avoid armoring up. Her motto, “Courage over comfort” is so Elizabeth Bennet, and is the ultimate in being internally referenced.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!