Book Excerpt: Step Up by Sailaja Manacha

Step Up


Title: Step Up: Women’s Journey to Identity, Success and Power

Author: Sailaja Manacha

Publisher: SAGE India (SAGE Response), 2019

Links: Sage 




Our humaneness is the sensitive side of business and often the hidden side too.

We forget about what is happening inside ourselves—our bodies and our minds. We forget that we have to understand ourselves, look within, so that we can begin to change in order to lead ourselves.

Paying attention to our way of ‘being’ allows us to better understand our external behaviours and inner drives. Way of ‘being’ can be understood as our ‘inner self’ and this shapes our ‘outer self’ or our behaviours.

Our Personal History Shapes Us

What is the meaning of this experience for this leader I shared about? Every time he stood in front of a large group, suddenly his personal history appeared along with the memory of feeling stuck and frozen on stage. It was all happening unconsciously. It showed up in ways that choked him, blocked him and he would lose his voice each time. In that moment he would forget the successful leader that he is because he was in a different place and time, inside himself.

All of what we experience through our growing years, our years of young adulthood including early years of work—they are all part of the ‘self ’. This ‘self ’ has memories, full-blown experiences, filled with emotion and vivid images. It has beliefs and ideas about ourselves, the world and situations. All of this forms the ‘self ’ of the leader.

It is not just our thoughts, smart ideas or educational qualifications that we possess. Our profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook or a meticulously composed CV just don’t say enough of our ‘self ’.

We carry our personal history everywhere. We carry it into our homes, relationships and it is present at work each day. We carry it into our meetings and to every interaction and opportunity that we have to present ourselves. Our personal history is present in every moment and affects our behaviours, thoughts and emotional state.

We can see only what we see because we are influenced by our history.

Imagine leading without knowing who we really are! It is like functioning with a degree of blindness and having no connection with what has shaped us.

The ‘self’ is where one leads from. The question is, what is this ‘self’? Is there an entity like the ‘self’? What goes into the ‘self’? At the Institute of Generative Leadership USA, I was introduced to a twist in this word ‘self’ called SELPH. (2) It is a new way of looking at how we show up in situations. It is an acronym for us to acknowledge the different aspects of our human experience.

S: Somatic

What is the somatic aspect in our story? For this leader, it included his experience of being choked. He could do any amount of preparation the previous day, and it would still happen. Inadvertently, the body showed up because the self includes this somatic aspect. The word ‘soma’ means body.

E: Emotion

The emotional aspect in his case was fear and anxiety. ‘What is going to happen when I stand there to address everyone?’

L: Language

We communicate using language, but with language we also create, generate and take action, none of which would come about if we did not speak or did not have access to language. We create out of

what we speak as it leads to action in ourselves and others.1 I bring in another dimension to language, which is the inner chatter and thoughts going on in our mind all the time. In the case of the leader it was all that he was saying to himself about the situation: ‘Am I prepared enough?’ ‘When is my voice going to fade?’ ‘How will this impact what I’m going to say?’ Within just a few moments, all these thoughts are rushing through his mind. This dimension of language is about what we converse within ourselves about ourselves and the world.

P: Practices

I interpret this as behaviour that we have come to know very well as we have practiced it for long. His behaviour of becoming tensed and rigid, hesitating to leave his room every time before a public forum and a sense of withdrawing or shying away from that experience—these were the behaviours or practices that he had become familiar with over time.

‘I feel like I could really disappear, in that moment’, he said during our conversations. His self had practised those behaviours time and again, year after year in his 20 years of work experience.

H: History

We have a personal history. The leader’s history showed up unfailingly in how he came across to himself and to others. The failure from the past made itself present the moment he had to speak in front of a large gathering.

About the Book

Step Up is a transformative journey that provides women with the necessary tools to become powerful leaders. It is an ‘inner journey’ to reveal commonly held beliefs that women have of themselves and others, as well as patterns of behaviour and choices that form the lens through which they see the world. Being aware of this allows them to look at the world differently and make impactful changes in their professional lives. Borrowing from the well-known frameworks of Generative Leadership (GL) and Transactional Analysis (TA), the book provides an inside-out approach advocating potent practices that can create effective leadership.

About the Author

Sailaja Manacha is a psychologist, psychotherapist and leadership coach. Her commitment is to develop women in leadership at all levels so that women function with agency and become designers of their life and work. She believes that the world today is in immense need of the feminine energy and that women need to show up as a potent and powerful presence—be it in organizations, society or in family life.

Excerpted from Step Up: Women’s Journey to Identity, Success and Power by Sailaja Manacha, published by SAGE India.


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