“To unlock the potential in others, I need to unlock myself first.” Incredibly wise words from an inspiring woman recently.
We were discussing the work she’d been doing since the workshop, courageously looking in the metaphorical mirror to find ways to evolve as a person and grow as a leader.
A successful and accomplished professional, wife and mum, this determined woman was ready for change when we met. She knew there had to be a better way than working even harder and longer, while trying to be everything for everyone at home. She was exhausted but kept it under wraps behind a smile and an upbeat attitude.
Like any high-achieving woman she had a plethora of reasonable reasons why she couldn’t spend a day on self-reflection, personal development and holistic growth. But instead she chose to be unreasonable. It told me a lot about how much she wanted to get out of her own way.
During the follow up call two weeks later, she shared excitedly with me all that she was implementing and the powerful and meaningful results she was experiencing.
Changes in communication and relationships at work and at home, changes in priorities and support, changes in how she was showing up as a leader, finding new ways to engage and influence.
Furiously scribbling down all the gold she was sharing, one nugget stood out as something I know to be true for many women, and has certainly been true in my own journey. She realised that every day, as she prepared for what was ahead, she was armouring up. Disconnecting from her intuition, sensitivity and compassion and putting on her ‘nice’ facade as a strategy to survive and conquer.
‘Nice’ for her looked like doing all the right things, giving to everyone, saying yes without considering herself and solving everyone’s problems.
But underneath she was tired, frustrated and realised resentment was building.
It can be a tough pill to swallow, seeing our humanity for what it is – not as sweet as we’d like, or sometimes pretend, it to be. It takes immense courage to look behind the veil, to acknowledge the parts of ourselves we don’t like or want to admit to.
But there’s no avoiding being real with ourselves if we want to unlock new growth in others.
Real Women don’t wait for permission.
For lack of an established alternative, women have long adopted a model of leadership that keeps their IQs over-active and their EQs under-utilised. It is a model that doesn’t traditionally embrace the innate feminine abilities, in women or men, of connection, engagement, compassion and inclusivity.
Sue Congram, an international thought leader and speaker, author and co-founder of the EB Centre for engendering balance in leadership, has undertaken ground-breaking work in the advancement of women in leadership. Sue shares that in 2016 she realised that the time had come for a bold step to address the challenge of female leadership progression.
Through her work, and together with colleagues Mary Mussellbrook and Rosie Mayes, they found that what limits women’s progression is far more complex and much harder to grasp than making changes in organisational policies and structures alone.
In their observations and explorations with women, they observed how women often eclipsed their own innate qualities and personal strengths, unwittingly overshadowing or obscuring them. For example, a drive to be assertive might eclipse qualities of empathy and compassion.
Women who desire to lead discover these qualities can be less valued than their drive, motivation and determination. Living from the neck up, many learn to relate to themselves as a mind with a body that has a sole purpose of moving their IQ from place to place.
After corporate burnout I had to face the impact on my life, and on others, of prioritising blind determination over inner wisdom, obligation over self-trust, fulfilling everyone else’s expectations first. I had to own how much I’d tried to prove myself through achievement and the subsequent empty cup I’d tolerated because I didn’t know there was another way to lead and succeed.
A way that had much less to do with a woman’s qualifications and capacity to work hard, and much more to do with her confidence, presence and conviction. A way to communicate, connect, influence and inspire that had nothing to do with earning worthiness or affirmation and everything to do with already being whole.
Supporting hundreds of women in leadership to evolve beyond their armour, I have discovered that many, not knowing any other way, limit themselves and their effectiveness in leadership through frustrating and unhealthy patterns that swing like a pendulum. Between dominating, analysing, controlling – and the complete and just as unhealthy opposite of – submitting, minimising and avoiding.
Neither extreme satisfying nor a true reflection of a woman’s rich capability and capacity for leadership. Neither able to unlock or mobilise the full spectrum of talent and skill within her people.
When a woman constantly drives herself harder, she disconnects from her valuable intuition and silences her self-trust, leaving her with no choice but to swing between pushing and pleasing.
Interrupting this pattern requires a decision to lead from a different paradigm. To learn through self-awareness how to drop the limiting armour, listen more closely to her natural intuition and engage others through trust.
A mentor once shared “there’s no shortcut to enlightenment”. Expanding our self-awareness is a daily practice and can be as simple as a deep and conscious breath to reconnect us.
Such a simple practice that we create infinite entertaining excuses to avoid taking just a moment to be with ourselves. Facing the underlying fear of dropping the armour, even for a second, can be terrifying.
But dropping the armour and being real inspires others to lean in. Acknowledging our imperfections, owning all that we are and all that we are not creates a space for others to do the same. And in that safe space, people dig deeper and contribute more because they are called to do so. Being real and courageous speaks to the heart in all of us.
Being a woman who leads a shift into a new paradigm of leadership where compassion empowers accountability and connection unlocks a passionate desire in others to grow and give, is a woman who is ready to get out of her own way.
She is a woman who doesn’t wait for permission, rather focuses on unlocking her own potential so that she may unlock the innate gifts and talents in those she leads.