The Capacity-Building Guide: Learning from one another.

(This guest post comes to us from Molly Cox.)

Molly Cox

I was one of the writers who collaborated with Barbara and Pat Hughes on the capacity guide published in the Developing Women’s Leadership ~ Around the Globe. project. My roots are with Antioch’s Center for Creative Change where I received my MA in organizational psychology and it is where I met Barbara Spraker. Barbara and I clicked immediately over our passion for women and leadership, she as the master and I as her student, eager to learn from her global women’s conversations.


The Capacity-Building Guide: Learning from one another.

As a member of the writing team I participated in the collaboration meeting Pat Hughes facilitated for construction of the Capacity-Building Guide. The room was filled with eager writers.  We had prepared by reading all the transcripts the Country Conveners had provided from their local Conversations.  We broke into smaller workgroups while Pat led us through a process where key messages, patterns, themes and unique scenarios were identified and written on sticky notes in phase one. Phase two involved affinity mapping.

Capacity Guide Collaboration Meeting, Pat Hughes top right in red.

This sounds boring when I write about messages and themes yet it was exhilarating to get to know each of the Country Conveners and their Conversation members. I learned about intelligent, hard working women who came together to create a space to support, learn and grow.

I had the privilege of writing the summary for Question Four: How do you imagine you might develop these skills?  The Capacity Guide outlines four themes that arose across the globe – in  response to this question.  These four themes were:  creating a safe environment, taking care of self, having an opportunity to learn, and practicing for experience.

The Handbook of Leadership Development published by the Center for Creative Leadership in 2010 describes four leadership practices that cultivate positive relationships in what is referred to as cultivate-and-encourage leadership. One of these practices is called boundary suspending.

“The practice of boundary suspending creates a neutral zone or safe place where interactions are individualized rather than group based.” (Leadership, 2010, p. 389). This action creates a space where diversity and individual uniqueness can bloom. In the writing process I noted that each of the County Conveners naturally engaged in boundary suspension in their leadership practice in order to invite inclusion and safety.

The idea of boundaries in group relationships becomes a very powerful concept when facing the challenges of a global community. Suspending boundaries as an active means of cultivating an open environment goes hand in hand with communication skills such as paraphrasing and active listening. The transcripts of the Conversations revealed many examples of ways the Country Conveners invited positive group engagement.

This is evident in the amazing Conversations and stories told in the Capacity-Building Guide.  For example, the group of women in Guatemala led by Mabilia discussed the commitment they felt toward helping other women:

“Teach other women so they can also participate. Make constructive criticism to help improve others. Give space and opportunities for others to speak, respecting their opinions and helping them build confidence. Teach one’s experiences; many of them have overcome difficult situations from which other women can learn.”

I was truly inspired by each Conversation and I found that Guatemala and Mabilia said it best.

We can develop our own leadership by “. . . .listening to other women, as many women seek to tell their problems and ask for help . . .and by helping women work together.”


Leadership, T. C. (2010). Handbook of Leadership Development. In Ellen Van VElsor, C. O. McCauley, & M. N. Ruderman. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.