You are a leader. If you are reading this article, you are interested in the tools and techniques to achieve that which you truly desire and to motivate others towards the same.
However, did you realize that you, being authentically you, and creating the life and business that you truly desire (no matter what anybody else thinks, says or does) is already being a leader!
You don’t need followers to be a leader. It’s about making a demand of yourself and being the invitation for others.
What if only you could stop you?
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What makes a leader stand still?
Preconceived ideas about change.
It's our preconceived ideas that stop us; our ideas about our roles and where we see ourselves fitting into the world and our businesses. The funny thing is, we are the ones who have defined what that world looks like; it’s not real!
There was a time in my life when the technology company I was working for advertised for a Vice President (VP). With the open position, I was doing my Director role and I was already doing the work of the VP but I thought I wasn’t qualified to apply. Fortunately, a friend of mine got me to question all of my preconceived ideas about what it meant to me to hold that title and how that would fit into my preconceived ideas of what my life as a single mom was and what I could/couldn’t, should/shouldn’t be or do. I realized that I was already doing the work and that nothing more would be required of me than that which I would put into it anyway; which had been an unconscious fear stopping me from applying.
Any definition that you have of yourself, whether good or bad, is limiting you. It puts you in a box that has a subheading, “Therefore, I can’t.” For example, “I am a single mom, therefore, I don’t have the time to be a VP”, etc.
Fear of failure.
The most paralytic emotion is fear. A common fear for leaders is fear of failure. It stops you from making choices, which leaves you standing still. Any fear, including the fear of failure, is a distraction; something that holds us back from our creativity and power – stops us from living the life we truly desire and from leading through invitation.
So, what is failure? In my opinion, it’s not achieving your preconceived ideas! As I said above, these ‘ideas’ are just figments of your imagination, so failure is also not real. I once worked with an executive who liked to cycle to release his stress at work. He had a hard time climbing mountains, making him slower to finish his races. His preconceived ideas about his inability to easily climb mountains would intensify the effort, strain and stress. He had put the mountain in the category of being greater than himself and feared that climbing it could never be done easily. Once he realized his fear of failing the mountain was not real, he began to actually enjoy climbing it, and ended up finishing in the top one percent of all his races with and without steep mountain climbing.
I have worked with many executives paralyzed by fear of making a choice, and it is literally killing them; they present with a range of symptoms from disturbed sleep to depression.
Outlined, below, are three tools to free yourself from paralysis and move forward as the leader you truly are.
Steps To Move Forward
How do you identify yourself?
Write a list of all the ways you define yourself; your role as a mom, employee, executive, wife, etc., your characteristics, like friendly, nice, assertive, go getter, etc., your background, such as being the eldest child, from a middle-class family, a graduate, your ethnicity, age, etc., and everything that would build up a profile of you. Now, let it all go. Don’t use it to define you anymore. You are you, in this moment. That is all. And, in the next moment, you can be anybody you choose to be. This presents you with a clean slate that you can proceed from.
What fears do you think you have?
Take a look at what is underneath the distraction of fear. Write down all your fears around being a leader and moving forward. For example, do you fear that you are not good enough or that your current lifestyle might change? Have you made something vital for success and what would be left if it doesn’t actually work? Perhaps there are specific tasks or positions you are avoiding? Write it all down.
Now, let all that go. What if none of it actually meant anything? What if they were nothing more than mental alarms warning you that you are going off course and changing? Celebrate that!
You want to create the life you desire; not stand still in the same-old, same-old. Imagine that ‘whack-a-mole’ arcade game. Each time a fear pops up; whack it on the head with a “Thank you for letting me know that I am creating the change I desire.”
Make a choice and act on it.
It’s our lack of decision-making that gets us stuck in the same situation over and over. But if you don’t choose, the choice will be made for you, because the world does not stand still.
Any choice will do. Choice creates. And in that creation, you gain additional information, which will assist you to choose your next choice.
So, to stop standing still and to move forward into greater success in all areas of life, let go of your preconceived ideas, go beyond your fears and actively and consciously choose the life you truly desire.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.