I led a salon, or small workshop, a few years ago to a group of therapists. I remember feeling nervous because I was younger than all of the attendees, shorter than all of them, less blond (i.e. brunette), and a woman among many men. I was anxious about messing up. I had a short presentation prepared and was worried that my material wasn’t unique enough. I geared up for the presentation by doing some visualization exercises, meditated on what would be the best and worst case scenarios and walked in with my head held high. I was ready as I’d ever be. I actually did really well and received positive feedback from the attendees, but never really felt like a leader.
Thinking back to this experience and others like it, I’m remembering what it feels like to be a presenter. It’s an awesome, uplifting, empowering feeling for me. Those are moments I’ve felt like a leader in my adult life.
But there have been many more leadership opportunities that I’ve taken and others I’ve surely missed. While writing this piece, I’m aware of all the opportunities I’ve left on the table. Why? Because I was probably waiting for someone else to tell me to be a leader. I waited.
Over the weekend, I was at a leadership refresher workshop. One astute participant mentioned something that totally rings true to me: that she’s waited for a “coronation” of sorts to lead. In other words, she hoped and basically expected her supervisors to say “Okay, now it’s time to be a leader” so she could step up and take this on. It occurred to her that this rarely happens. Instead, she needs to keep her leadership hat on and take back her power. How? Well, she intends to assert herself more in her work by giving opinions and expressing expertise. Is she ready? Of course she’s ready! She’s groomed herself for years to do this and now it’s time!
In high school, I was invited to oodles of leadership summer programs all over the country. I capitalized on the opportunities and then served on the student council, held leadership positions in countless clubs in high school and college and considered myself a leader when others (read: teachers) gave me more responsibility.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve been curious about leadership, specifically MY leadership and what it means. I’ve wondered if I can be a leader even if I’m not tall. I’ve considered if women leaders are looked at as bossy, masculine or aggressive. Is it possible to lead and be kind, warm, open and inspiring, or does leadership automatically suggest dictatorship, narcissism and dismissive attitudes? I doubted myself recently and thought I hadn’t done any real leading since my time in high school. This was clearly a misconception.
Then I look around and see people who start something, who lead others in small and large movements or who are different in many ways. And I realize there’s room for all of us. There’s not a cap on leadership, just as there is not a cap on love or friendship, and we can all do our part to lead in our daily lives. We can stand up for ourselves. We can organize in groups. We can lead companies, businesses, families.
Leadership is not only about presenting or public speaking. As a leader (and I don’t want to use the adjective woman before the word), leadership is
- knowing myself
- knowing what I need
- serving others
- acknowledging myself*
For me, leadership is holding myself at the highest level of service and asserting my voice whenever necessary in a kind, authentic way. Leadership is standing up for myself and others and guiding. It’s taking initiative.
I’d love to hear your perspective on leadership. What misconceptions have you recently been made aware of? Where are opportunities for you to lead?
This weekend, on Sunday, April 9 I’ll be co-leading a workshop on “Putting Yourself Out There” with the one and only Kim Perkins. We are also leading a four-month program for women called Here Now Next. You can get more information here.
To coach with me, please reach out. More posts you might like: 16 Tips I’ve Learned While Working For Myself, Self-Selecting In and Out and What’s It Worth?