One of the things that trips us up about leadership, is wanting our leaders to have the answers. We demand it, and so the story in our heads goes, ‘ hold on, if I am a good leader, I too should have the answers’. That story insists on a mindset that is certain, that believes it holds the truth.
That is, how can you be true to yourself and also show a willingness to connect with the other’s perspective?
When you share your opinion, your thoughts and feelings- is your heart big enough to believe in yourself and hold yourself steady, and also to extend to learning from the other?
Done well, this will increase your personal power, your ability to influence, particularly because you will be able to speak your truth in a way that has clarity and authenticity, and yet also makes a space for mutuality- for others to share their perspective, and build relationship. Trust and intimacy can flow.
Advocacy is the part of conversation most utilized in most places. We are most often tellers, not listeners. Our lack of intent to connect, to listen, is very evident in our advocacy. To be effective in building relationships, in resolving issues, advocacy needs to be balanced with inquiry.
How can we weave in both authenticity and mutuality?
Sometimes we do a shortcut and jump to listening to the other’s perspective without saying our own truth. In a workshop I was running recently, one of the participants, when practising her advocacy statement, noticed that she wasn’t telling her own perspective. Instead she was guessing the other’s. … it was a light bulb moment! She and her role-play partner both saw her habit of deflecting her own point of view- her perspective was not there at all, where previously she had thought it was.
Sometimes we find it hard to speak our truth with grace. There is no space for the other to have a perspective- what we think or need takes up all the space.
Brene Brown, the author of Daring Greatly… and a famous ted talk on vulnerability with over 31 million views, tells a story of herself and her husband on a family holiday with the children, getting up early to take a swim alone. It was a beautiful morning and when Brene attempted to connect tenderly with her husband, his response was abrupt.
As her feelings of anger and rejection grew, she chose not to shut down or become aggressive: “I feel like you’re blowing me off,” she said, “and the story I’m making up is either you looked at me while I was swimming and thought, Man, she’s getting old. She can’t even swim freestyle anymore. Or you saw me and thought, She sure as hell doesn’t rock a Speedo like she did twenty-five years ago.”
She then tells of Steve telling of his dream of the night of being on a raft with the children, with a speed boat racing towards them, desperately trying to save them. For him the swim had been a battle against rising panic.
The phrase “the story I’m making up’ created a space for Steve to respond. It also reminded Brene, that she didn’t have the whole story and yet allowed her to say what was true for her. It was truly courageous.
Sharing our perspective is important. It enables us to be known. When done in a way that values the other, it is a building block for trust and intimacy.
I was watching a film on the weekend that I found compelling - ‘Arrival’ (2016) Paramount Pictures. The hero was a woman, Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistic expert who finds herself in a potential doomsday situation, as she attempts to communicate with the aliens who have landed in 12 places around the world. Earth forces are panicking and want to attack; Louise is racing against time to show something else may be possible.
Her leadership was inspiring and totally unconventional. Brought in by the army, she had no position of authority and was under a lot of pressure from the men in uniform to conform to their way of working and thinking about the aliens as a threat. Not prepared to give the easy answers, and working in a soft yet determined way, Louise was courageous about what she considered important. She backed herself and took some risk. And from that place exerted powerful influence and humanity. The person she led primarily was herself.
I used this story to introduce the Women in Leadership Forums.
My intention in the forums is that in our discussions we start to connect to a more empowering understanding of leadership, a leadership of influence, inspiring change and enabling people to flourish. A leadership that springs from what we consider to be important.
To do that, we need to recognize the ideas of leadership that hold us back, the ones that often we have found it hard to identify with, and so have doubted our leadership capacity: the ones where we are meant to have all the answers, our title has a 'boss-like' quality, and where our followers fall in line. With those running in our heads, we can never measure up and are left feeling like imposters.
The freedom and the challenge comes with letting go these ideas, and determining what is truly important. For the women in the forum that will start by exploring key values, and choosing which to demonstrate more fully in their lives.
For many of the women it is deciding to make a difference.
By exploring and stepping more into what we value, like Amy’s character, we are in a more powerful position to influence and lead- whatever our position in an organisation.