On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Emily Soccorsy of Root + River get curious about how balanced feminine and masculine traits make the most effective leader
EP 75: Integrating Feminine + Masculine as Leaders
Kelly: So welcome to this week's episode of Thrive. I am joined by Emily Soccorsy, who is the co-founder and strategist at Root + River, an intrinsic branding agency for defiant leaders looking to scale their brand around their mission. Today, we're going to be diving into the integration of feminine and masculine aspects of leadership. And I've been so looking forward to this conversation. So Emily, thank you so much for joining me.
Emily: It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Kelly: So let's just, put it out there right from the beginning. The positioning of your agency is not like anything I have ever seen and that compelled me to be very drawn to it. So can you share sort of the path of how you arrived at it? Because it is just so different. It's so unique, and I'd love to just hear a little bit more about how that started. Maybe some of the work with your very first client.
Emily: Absolutely, yes. So thank you, because we work really hard to come at things from a different perspective and it comes naturally to us. But, yeah, let's see, 6 or 7 years ago, I was working. I was the VP of Corporate Communication for a human behavioral research company. And it had grown massively over the last 10 years in particular. So the brand was all over the place. I work directly with the CEO and he had 1000 ideas a day, and bought websites for all of them, bought URLs for all of them.
Kelly: I know not of what you speak.
Emily: Yeah, right. I remember I'd never forget, he handed me like the printout of all the URLs he had purchased. And I was like, wow, like, my God, Lord. And so I was really trying to get my arms around the brand in a very tangible way. My background is in journalism, mainly, and I get some PR mixed in there as well. And so I'm always looking for the story, right? I'm always looking for the lead. And it was just very difficult, very dynamic situation. And so, one of our major distributors knew somebody and he was a brand strategist. His name is Justin Foster, who ended up becoming my co-founder. But he and I began to have conversation around the brand, what it could be. He is brilliant and ended up bringing him into the company to help me sort of figure out what the brand was all about. When he came in, he did an amazing job. But he was like a street performer, right? He was playing guitar, hitting the drum kit, had the harmonica in his mouth. He's like facilitating and taking notes and doing strategy all at once and I just sat there going, that's pretty amazing, but I could make it so much better. And he had never really experienced someone like me where I was like, went up to him later and I'm like, this could be so much better. He's like, who are you? And let this conversation actually occurred. And I said, who are you? And so we have this like clashing of swords right away, but also, this deep alignment around the idea that every great brand is a spiritual experience. And people in business are so driven and they're so passionate, so spiritual in that sense, like they’re spirit is poured in their work, in their business.
Kelly: I like that you're redefining the word spiritual in this context.
Emily: Yes. I mean, that's how I deeply feel. I mean, having met hundreds of entrepreneurs and business owners. And yet, when it comes to articulating that, it's like a cliff. It's like they can't even navigate that paths themselves. And to me, that's a big injustice being a person who translates emotion into words just naturally throughout my life. So anyway, Justin and I had this meeting of the minds around this so he had a gig coming up and invited me. He's like, why don't you come join me for this gig? And, I'm gonna do my thing. I think he was maybe thinking he'd have another go and super impress me or whatever. But it was definitely this opportunity to work with somebody who is in the manufacturing industry in Chicago like hard-boiled Chicago guy. It was in Dallas, Texas. We rented like a conference room in a comfort suites or something like that, and spent the day and working with this guy, and going deep. I've always been an artist sketcher. Started college as a fine art major and left that behind. But it's always been a part of my soul. And I've always taken visual notes. So I just started taking notes in my notebook. And about halfway through the session, he's like, what are you doing over there? And I'm like, Oh; this is just the way I take notes. And he's like, well, can I see it? Like, yeah, sure. And so it was this moment of like bringing some worlds together. And at the end of the day, kind of immersed in our strategy and this deep dive into the soul. He was a puddle of tears essentially. And he said to both of us, I would have paid you 10 times what I paid you if I had known the power of what we were going to do. And we left the comfort suites. We got in the car. And it was just sort of that moment of like, exhale. And either I said, or Justin said, what was that? And the other person said, I don't know. But let's do it again. And it was just like, from there, we were sort of off and running. That was all we needed to realize this was bigger than both of us, and almost like a calling for us to come together and give people this missing piece, help them for that Canyon, and find a way to bring that energy of passion into the way that they articulated themselves in their business. So that has been what we call our intrinsic branding. We've played with the idea of calling it something else because it's so deep and it's pretty magical but it’s where we haven't done that.
Kelly: Yeah. I like the word intrinsic. I think, it's one of those memorable words that certainly like I said before, like compelled me to say I've never heard of an intrinsic branding firm. What are you talking about? Who are you? So yeah, learning a little bit about it certainly made me lean in. What I'm hearing is that there was sort of this balance or this dichotomy between you and Justin. And so I think, if you think about that, from the aspects of feminine approach, or feminine quality and a masculine quality, like being energy versus doing energy, we have this separatism around this. And what you showed just in that one story with that first client is that the magic and the power of what happens when you actually integrate the two of those because you need both of them.
Kelly: I think that there's a lot of misconceptions in our culture about what feminine aspects and masculine aspects actually mean. I think that we have a lot of stigma around it. And I think that there's just a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication. There was actually a book that you recently recommended to me Shakti Leadership. See that everybody? You have yours too. I mean, you told me about it. And I was like, I'm going right this second as we're talking to Amazon. But I actually wanted to share an excerpt from one of the books, early chapters, which is called transitioning from old to new, because I think that can sort of provide a little bit of basis for our conversation today. And something about it just really spoke to me. So I'm just going to read this if that's okay. There are structures and belief systems that have become rigid and calcified, causing people to behave in ways that are inconsistent with their humanity. This by no means makes us bad people. When we can look from the depth of our humanity and the humanity of others, we see that we’re all caught in some sort of a weird trance. If we can wake up from it, what’s waiting for us is love, compassion, forgiveness, commitment, courage and authenticity — true power. It’s just been blocked by the old way of doing things. There's something very powerful about that. And I think it's sort of embodies a lot of where we are right now. So just curious to hear your thoughts on that.
Emily: I agree. I love the word calcified.
Emily: I love that because it is not cut off. The way that we did things in what we term, the old world and not in any derisive way. But in the way that things were, it is not concrete. It's just calcified. So there needs to be an energy through it and what else struck me out of what you read was looking from the depth of our own humanity. And I think that separateness really has been a division between that depth of humanity and everything else that we were doing and paving in life. And it was like this idea that we had to set that aside, really coming out of the industrial age, and even the imperial age of conquering and a lot of masculine energy and not in a bad way. Like that's why we have penicillin. Like, that's why we are able to have sophisticated water systems sanitation. Like there's so many beautiful things that came out of that. But we kind of did it in a very separate way in general.
Kelly: Yeah, it was imbalanced.
Emily: Yeah. And it was heavily weighted exactly towards that. And now we have this opportunity to sort of shake that off, break up that calcification, recalibrate from the deepness within us. And that's okay. That's actually what makes things easier and more difficult. Because I think there was another lie or another idea that was out there, that if you came from the depths of humanity, if you were that vulnerable, if you did show your spirit and your work, that was a dangerous thing. And I think that was true, because there were a lot of forces that wanted to bridle that energy. And in my experience, that has not been true for me. When I unleashed a little bit, and pushback against the way even I thought I was supposed to behave with those feminine qualities in a work setting, or even in my personal life; when I pushed back and I let it out, and I was unapologetic about it. That's when people rallied. That's when leadership was like, okay, let's try it your way. And so I really feel strongly that looking from the depths of our humanity at the way where we behave every day and that will lead to that loosening of those calcifications and new understandings of how we can be in the world, bringing the feminine, and also integrating the masculine. And Justin and I definitely do have that dynamic. And sometimes, we often say in our sessions, we set out what we call elements of trust, sort of create the space that we can work in. And one of them is there's no silent dissent. Silent dissent is this huge killer of ideas and momentum and breaking through to new ideas and understandings when we keep that dissent inside of us. But even in our relationship, we'll say like mom and dad fight, but they still love each other. Like we are going to have conflict where that is good, because we're bringing both of those energies forward and they do sometimes, but it's in the moment when they clash and then you keep moving.
Emily: That you keep integrating, and you keep searching and you release some things and you say, well, maybe that's overplayed there. Let's bring this in. Let's leave that out or no, this is the right way to go. Just that moment of collaboration. That's really where the magic happens. And for our clients, that results in better work for them.
Kelly: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. It's about having those difficult conversations, because there will always be difficult conversations. There's always going to be some whether it's in your personal life or in business with a client, a team member, whatever it is, there’s always going to be things that arise because everybody's bringing their stuff to the table. And so, if we have these difficult conversations, and we both can show up in a way where I'm going to listen to you, you're going to listen to me, I may not agree with you, but if we keep walking and we keep exploring, I think it's the exploration process where all of that magic is. And you relinquish a little. I relinquish a little. There's compromise. There's compassion and respect for one another. There's empathy on both sides of the table. But that's a practice, right? That's a practice. And having those difficult conversations or moving through conflict, whatever conflict means. It doesn't have to be aggressive. Conflict could just be, hey, this is how I'm feeling. And I know it's not gonna make you feel good to hear this.
Kelly: How can we move through this together? Are you in an emotional space right now where you're able to hear me? So this is all nuance, and I feel like as much as the society masculinity gets associated with power, I was absolutely of that mindset for pretty much my entire life. But now I'm on a completely different end of it where I'm like, no, all the power is in the femininity. And masculinity is for execution because we have to get something done. Like, we can't just all be staying in that being energy, but there's so much power in that.
Emily: I think the power right now is in the feminine because it has been so long sidelined and like pushed aside. And so we've neglected this power source that is available within all of us male or female. It's there. And so now it's something that you're finally coming back to, and it's this wellspring of opportunity. And it's like the masculine has just been so drained and so convoluted and used for other ends, manipulated in a way and it's really taken to the far extreme and I think that's an injustice to that masculine energy.
Emily: But I do feel that that power rising in the feminine and you mentioned too, it's how you come to the table and we're all ready to like have a coffee. But I think in actuality, people come to the table and they armor up. Like okay, we're going to have a conversation or we're going to dive into the soul of our brand, whatever the moment is, we just naturally armor up. And what I try to do in my life and work is just let down a little bit of those guards, let go of the old ways that are coming up. And one of our other elements of trust is you might be wrong. Have a beginner's mind. So this idea that whatever's coming out, like it might be, I might be dug into something, my ego might be leading here. I might be following an old way of doing things and it's okay in this moment to not attach to any of those ideas.
Kelly: Yeah, I think there's an element of surrender there. Right?
Emily: Yeah, absolutely.
Kelly: Surrender and grace. And these are things that we don't talk about in the business context. And I think we need to change that. I feel very strongly about that.
Emily: I think that's where the power lies, that's where the creativity begins. And for me creativity of power just like side by side. And that's what really comes through. And it's funny in our sessions with our clients, we say in the beginning, this is a time to let all the shit, bubbled up and been pushed down, whether it's emotional ideas, whatever stuff from your past, come up. Those are the moments when people allow themselves to do that and say, hey, guys, I'm not sure how this is relevant, but it's coming up for me. Let me share, that's when we start on the real path to finding something that's true and resonant. But it's that moment and you have to give yourself permission to go there. It's transformative.
Kelly: So your brand is basically well, let's put it this way, though. The way that you convey the services that you provide or the value that you provide is that you say, your brand is the culmination of your leadership decisions, right? So within that context, why is this integration between the feminine and the masculine aspects so vitally important?
Emily: It goes back to that division and I'm a huge fan of Parker Palmer. He writes about this in the Hidden Wholeness quite a bit. It's this idea that I'm a leader. I have leadership skills. Also, I have a company and that has a set of systems and processes, and oh the brand, this other separate thing.
Emily: Yeah, exactly. Right. And, no, it's all in one messy jar. I like mixing together all the time. And it's our rational mind constantly trying to separate them out and that's really a fool's errand. I mean, it really is. So the more we can go okay with all of that together, we often say that brand is the only thing in your work that touches every other thing. So how you live your life, how you live your work life, which is one of the same again, it is your brand. So your being the way you are a leader is the way your brand is. Our definition of brand is how other people experience what you believe. And I don't know a successful leader who doesn't have a set of beliefs that are guiding her and a lot of times they're guiding them in a very covert way, not that they're being hidden, but they're in a unconscious way. They haven't sat down and really done that deep work in their soul to say, this is what I believe, here's why I chose that word, and here's how I'm going to live it out. And they may have gone through a values process, but typically those are just again, done in a silo mentality. And they're done without the silos mentality and now we know that as a leader like one of our beliefs at Root + River is in beauty. And so the standard that's associated with that is create every day. And for me, that's like a constant reminder, a mantra. If I believe in beauty, what have I created today? How can I add beauty into this thing that we're working on? And so that is where as a leader, if you're tapping into the masculine, the feminine, consistently and you're really being mindful of how those are showing up in your beliefs, you can create a truly integrated leadership and brand style that will be also very genuine to your values and what moves you. And so it is a practice as you said earlier, but the main thing is like, do it in a way that it's all welcome. It's all one thing and there is no separation between your leadership style in your brand.
Kelly: Right. So just maybe to give some examples like how does that show up or guide creatives with respect to living their mission in their lives and their businesses? As you said, one in the same. Like, what are some examples as to like how they can really embody that mission, and then sort of transmit that or convey that in their lives.
Emily: So, again, kind of broken record here. It starts with the deep work of understanding truly what your mission is. And we often tell people, your mission, people will say in sessions, okay, do you mean like my personal mission or like for the company? It's like, yep. One in the same. Your personal mission, which in our definition is the thing you're here to do that only you can do, that has a direct line of sight into your work, into your agency.
Kelly: Does that show up like in the way that they build cultures? Does that show up in the way that they communicate with clients?
Emily: Yes, it should inform. It will inform the client experience. It will inform the culture inside of your institution, or your team. So for Root + River, our mission is to inspire leaders to go inward. It means the top and the bottom. Like if we're not doing that every day, then we failed. And also, if we do that in a way that will make a dent in the universe, like it will expand out and change people's mindsets. And so every day we're like, okay, is what we're working on inspiring them to go inward, and we're getting really practical, which we love to do. So let's add some magic back in here. Let's pause. Instead of telling, let's have them do a journaling exercise. So really can help be this wonderful guideline to help you make sure that you're being very mindful about the brand experience that you're creating every day.
Kelly: So it's almost like a measurement against the actions, the verbiage, like how we're showing up every day as leaders, in every context of leadership or life or whatever you want to talk about it. But it's a measuring stick of how are we showing up and are we truly integrating these two different aspects of ourselves, that feminine, that masculine.
Emily: Yes. Another client that we have. Her name is Suzanne Daniels. She is the owner of Brentwood Social House in Austin, Texas, which is a gathering space, tea, coffee in Austin. Her personal mission is she believes people need a place to experience love. They need more places to experience love. And so she has made Brentwood, this place where people can come and feel loved. And so that goes into every aspect, the food she serves. She recently added a play structure in the back of the facility so that families could come, so that people feel welcome to bring young children, that people weren't like locked in. And she's carrying that out right now even during the pandemic time. So she’s doing obviously takeout and she has blackboards out where people can leave messages of things. And the way that she's operating in this time in particular still focused on how am I going to make people feel loved when they're coming here to buy their coffee or their tea. So really informs the brand experience. And, when it's so emotional, we often say like our rubric for mission, it's got to be evocative of emotions. Because if you don't feel it, nobody else is gonna feel it either. It's got to evoke emotions. And it's got to be big enough to make a dent in the universe. And here's the tricky one Kelly. Your mission will bring up insecurities for you. It's tough. It's like, am I big enough to do this? So those are some guidelines to help people understand like the depth they need to go to understand what that mission is.
Kelly: Yeah. So I always like to ask as we start to wrap the conversation up, what piece or pieces of advice would you give to leaders who are just starting to consider all of this new language and the idea of integration of their authentic selves?
Emily: Well, this has been really helpful for me lately. So I love to share things that have resonated. So recently, I read The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, and there was a line in there that we appreciate. And as a very driven individual, myself, I like to move fast. I like to get things done, and I'm very driven to be excellent at all I do. And I think in that pace, and that mindset sometimes really robs me of slowing down to appreciate whether it's things that I need to still work on, or excellent things I put out there and just sort of cast aside, to move onto the next thing. And I think looking at our abilities and looking at our masculine and feminine traits and how they're showing up, taking a moment to pause and appreciate the way we have showed up and then look at how we might show up in the future is an example of how we can appreciate what's within us and then let it go forward and then build upon itself and iterate in maybe more impactful ways. So I'd offer that up. That taking a moment to appreciate what you've done, where you've been, and then appreciate where you are in the moment and where you want to go. And really I love the word appreciate because it's not about self-gloss. It's not about being promotional or leaning too heavily on your strengths. It's about what we appreciate will grow for us. And that's a practice.
Kelly: Absolutely. I love that. Well, Emily, thank you so much for being here with me today and I use the word being on purpose. This is the conversation. This is where it's all going. So I really appreciate it.
Emily: It was just a pleasure to be with you. Thanks, Kelly.
Kelly: Thank you.