Strengthen female team members in 3 steps

How working with our own breath, resources and limitations can help us

A guest post by Felicitas Heger .

In my last post “Empowerment of Female and Diverse Team Members in Organizations” here on the blog , I mainly talked about why it is so important to allow femininity and diversity in the team. Especially if you want to become more agile, innovative and transparent together. I also wrote about breaking free from limiting thoughts with old role models and thought patterns as a team, but also about how difficult this path can be. Because even if this internal transparency has been established and the team communicates with each other in an agile manner and at eye level, it can still be the case that women in particular do not always dare to say what they really think.

So the question that arises for me here is:

How do we build trust here, reduce worries and strengthen the resources of each team member in the long term in order to be able to fully develop?

So this post is not about the big picture, but about conscious areas where we can empower ourselves as women and our female team members.

Mindfulness, resilience and self-esteem

I will write about mindfulness, resilience and self-worth. We have heard each of these words enough. In recent years they have become so-called “buzz words” that we constantly read and perceive, but do not really penetrate. What does it really mean to be “mindful” with yourself in a team and what role do your own limits play in this? Why does every team member need positive self-esteem so that we can work together successfully? How do we become more “resilient” against external influences and changes together?

So the big question is how do we create a strong foundation and awareness of our own abilities for ourselves and our team members . And to become a supporting pillar of the team and to be able to offer others a strong footing?

I have given the individual words methods and exercises that can be learned and experienced. They make it easier to understand the term as such, to work on it and to develop a routine that allows it to be integrated into our (organizational) everyday life.

  1. Mindfulness through an experienceable breath (according to Ilse Middendorf)
  2. Setting resilience through boundaries (according to George Kohlrieser)
  3. Self-esteem through strengthening one’s own resources (after Virginia Satir)

1. More mindfulness through an experienceable breath

“It is and remains a blessing
maybe the highest
to be able to breathe freely.”
(Theodor Fontane)

At the beginning of our life we breathed. Totally natural. Completely free. Without thinking about it. Intuitive, correct and healthy. And today we are short of breath, we catch our breath , we hold our breath or we ca n’t breathe anymore. Where does it come from? Why have we forgotten how to connect to our body through our breath? Because when our breath flows deep into our body and touches every cell, we feel that we are completely connected to ourselves. This gives us tremendous strength and energy, especially in difficult and hectic situations in our lives.

The way we fill our breath with life and sound also has an impact on us and our counterpart. How would you like to appear? How do you want to sound? How would you like to swing? The point is not that we all have to be trained as opera singers, but that we learn and know how we can make our breath sound healthy and expressive in the future in order to achieve what suits us. To express ourselves and take our standpoints within the team the way we really mean it. To be heard. This not only affects shy team members who are struggling with stage fright, but our voice always reflects the current state of ourselves.

Breath – The connection between body, mind and soul

The Berlin gymnastics and breathing therapist Prof. Ilse Middendorf (1910-2009) was a great woman and a real role model who understood how not to separate our breathing from our inner being, our voice and our body. She developed the Breath Experience method “to promote body awareness and self-awareness. The aim of the method is to recognize one’s own potential through conscious observation of the breathing process and to develop it further” (from the book Body-oriented approaches for musicians – methods for performance and health promotion by Sabine Seidel). And I would like to start with this “potential idea”.

By becoming aware of our own breath, we can mobilize the inner strengths in our body and learn to treat ourselves and other team members more carefully. As a team, we can also think of our own ritual, daily or before important projects, that lets us feel the energy of the breath together. For Ilse Middendorf, the power lies in the perception of the automatic and unhindered flow of the breath. This means that we have to learn again not to consciously control our breath and to feel it “experientially” that it flows and that we trust it.

Exercise 1:

Sit on the edge of a chair. Let your hands drop loosely onto your thighs. Now begin to breathe in slowly through your nose. Open your mouth a little and let your breath flow freely. Your body sets the pace. Trust that everything is going its way and that you don’t have to actively intervene.

This exercise can also be introduced before each team meeting as a ritual for two minutes to get into the room.

Ilse Middendorf explains very well how the breath can flow by itself in the following video on YouTube:

What does this mean for me as a woman? The more I am anchored to my body through my breath and feel a connection between my spirit, my soul and my body, the more confident I can appear in my own team and stand up for my positions.

2. Set more resilience through boundaries

“It is crucial
that we realize
that we always have a choice
how we think
want to feel and act.”
(George Kohlrieser)

The word “resilience” comes from the Latin word “resilire” which means “bounce” or “bounce back”. So when we talk about more resilience in life, we wish that we develop a kind of psychological resilience that helps us not to suffer any damage or impairments in difficult and changing phases of life. For me, resilience always means finding a way to clearly formulate and set your own limits. This is of the utmost importance, especially in such a rapidly networked, agile and complex work and organizational world, and the only way to stay healthy and continue to be receptive and productive. Because teamwork does not mean the complete self-abandonment of oneself and constantly exceeding one’s own limits.

Too often we hear from colleagues, friends and acquaintances sentences like,

“I don’t have a choice.”
“My situation is hopeless.”
“I feel terrible.”
“I hate it.”

The mental hostage situation

In doing so, we unconsciously exceed our own limits again and again and continue to spiral into a psychologically negative spiral. The well-known American psychologist George Kohlrieser (*1944) describes this form of self-awareness as a form of one’s own “taking of hostages”.

“The hostage mentality focuses on the negative, constantly telling us what we can’t do, how powerless we are, and that we’ll never get what we want. (…) It helps (us) see how the important thing is to find positive ways of describing emotional experiences. It’s a combination of self-talk and managing our emotions that determines whether we’re held hostage or not.” ( From the book “Caught at the Round Table ” by George Kohlrieser)

Kohlrieser is using this to describe the phenomenon that each of us has certainly experienced at least once and has convinced ourselves that we have no choice. We so involuntarily took ourselves “hostage”. Our brain is thus suggested to get into a form of “incapacity to act”. Because “depending on our state of mind, the same world looks very different. Learning not to hold ourselves hostage empowers us to take control of our lives without having to make external changes.”

Exercise 2:

The second exercise to strengthen yourself and not to bring yourself into a state of “own hostage” is to keep asking yourself the question in decision-making processes:

“What would be the worst that could happen?”

Consciously pointing out this obvious eventuality and maybe even writing it down minimizes the “hostage part” in us. We recognize the many choices in our various decision-making processes.

We ourselves are “Ms./Mr.” of the situation and have the conscious power to make active decisions for ourselves! This strengthens our own judgment in the decision-making process.

3. More self-esteem by strengthening your own resources

“We can every time
to learn something new,
when we think
that we can.”
(Virginia Satir)

Just as we can free ourselves from being held hostage, we are also able to visualize our own abilities and resources and to strengthen and expand them through conscious repetition. Because what we imagine and what we can recall strengthens our self-esteem. For example, what we have already achieved in the past. Practicing this mental ability of our brain over and over again and remembering it is particularly important for women. In our childhood, for example, we often grew up with beliefs such as “Don’t put yourself in the foreground!” or “Don’t be so cheeky and arrogant”.

If you are not unfamiliar with these beliefs, you should quickly replace them with positive “permitting sentences”, because they can severely inhibit and limit your personal and professional advancement. For teamwork, this means that your outside world senses and sees what battle you are trying to fight inside and cannot win if you don’t actively free yourself from it. Because “our body adapts to our self-esteem, whether we realize it or not. When our self-worth is in question, our bodies show it.”

The connection between self-esteem and body language

This is how the American psychotherapist and “mother” of systemic family therapy Virginia Satir (1916-1988) describes it. Based on this discovery and the connection between self-esteem and body language, she developed different physical postures of people and their form of communication in a group “to help people get in touch with parts of themselves that are obvious to others but not to themselves .” There are five forms of response here: soothing, accusatory, rationalizing, distracting, and congruent/fluent. “In (the last) form of response, all parts of the message are aimed in the same direction – the voice speaks words that match the facial expression, posture and tone of the voice. Relationships are easy, free and honest. There’s hardly any threat to self-esteem.” (Excerpts from the book “Self-Esteem and Communication ” by Virginia Satir).

How can we get closer to this state of our self worth and strengthen ourselves?

Above all, by becoming aware of our own resources and learning to draw strength from them. For example, the next time we’re in a meeting and don’t dare to say or do what we think is the right thing to do. Then what can we do?

Exercise 3:

A nice tool to strengthen your own resources for better inner self-esteem is Virginia Satir’s so-called “resource wheel”. Here a team colleague or a coach or we ourselves ask eight questions one after the other:

Own representation
  • what made me strong
  • Where do I come from? (in relation to family/environment)
  • How do I see myself?
  • How do others see me?
  • What am I better at than others?
  • What am I proud of?
  • Where do I want to go?
  • Where do I draw energy from?

Anyone who consciously asks and answers these questions will make a lot of progress in their own resource work, because just being aware of our own strengths allows our self-esteem to grow.

Only when I know who I actually am and what great things I have to give, only then can I be a wonderful and strong “bridge” for my entire team and communicate constructively and purposefully. Only then can we treat each other with respect and get rid of old role models and thought patterns. And this condition in each individual can then become the basis for agile, transparent and innovative communication in an intact team.


In my opinion, the strengthening of female team members in particular can only be over

  1. building trust in your own body feeling and this is especially easiest to achieve through the connection of the breath with the body,
  2. the liberation from one’s own “hostage” and inhibiting barriers in the head or the setting of limits to prevent oneself “exploiting” and
  3. the strengthening of one’s own resources for a positive and routine development of one’s own self-esteem.

In three easy-to-learn steps, we can do something for our personal development and at the same time for us as a team.

Because a functioning team consists of many strong and empowering personalities who know about their own and the entire group’s abilities, want to grow together and be successful.

About Felicitas Heger

Systemic organizational developer, sustainability manager and coach. Founder of . Felicitas Heger deals with the strengthening of women in teams and management positions by combining coaching and voice to actively name one’s own resources. She has also worked for many years in the non-profit and cultural sector as a project manager and organizational developer. She is still concerned with the question of possible solutions for more social cohesion and greater structural development in small to medium-sized cities.

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