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.
Victoria's Secret is best known for what it has to offer women. However, a few days ago as I was strolling around the flagship store on Bond Street, I discovered that the store also has a lot to offer men as well. Just not exactly what you'd think.
My experience began like many other shopping excursions, casually browsing for a few practical items. The store was bustling with women who were relaxed but focused on their own purchases. The women in the store all displayed a quiet confidence in knowing what to do and how to do it. My browsing journey took me into another room where I noticed a man behaving quite awkwardly while being guided around by one of the many well-trained twenty-something shop assistants. My first thought was: "Good for him coming in here alone! I imagine it isn't the most comfortable experience for a man." It was clear he felt out of place. His discomfort was obvious by the way he was shuffling around and avoiding eye contact with any women nearby.
This otherwise unremarkable experience sent a spark through my mind. This man was professional and smartly dressed; perhaps he could have worked for one of the many private equity, hedge fund or banking firms in the nearby area. I imagined that he was confident in his own world of work, but in this female haven he was not. He was the only man in the room, and it showed.
This world - that of Victoria's Secret - was not created to make someone like him feel comfortable. In this environment—a store catering to women, filled by women and selling feminine merchandise—the familiar patriarchal dynamics of the world had completely shifted.
This was a world that can transform an otherwise confident professional into an introverted, self-conscious and indecisive man who needed the help of a twenty-something female to make one simple purchase.
I have seen this story play out with the gender roles reversed many times throughout my career in the corporate world. Today, the culture of many companies are built and sustained by men, for men. Traditional male characteristics are still encouraged, rewarded and expected from female professionals, especially if they expect to reach the executive suite. Being the only woman in the room is still an everyday reality for so many women in business; most men do not understand how corrosive this situation can be to a person's confidence.
I have often heard men say that they believe gender inequality is not an issue in their firm. They hire women and now even have some women on their teams. Well, on those terms this man should not have experienced any issue either. There is no sign at the door of Victoria's Secret barring men from entry. Men are allowed to freely enter and buy whatever they choose. No woman in there would tell them to leave or suggest that to get to the front of the queue they must behave in a certain way. So, what was the problem? Why did this man appear so uncomfortable? Why did he suddenly lack the confidence he seemed to have in the outside world?
It's all in the numbers. If that store catered towards the needs of men, or if there were simply more men in the store (either equivalent to or greater than the number of women), then it is likely that man would have felt a greater sense of belonging.
Just because women are allowed into the workplace now, does not mean their experiences are equivalent to those of their male peers. Women, as the minority, simply do not have the same sense of freedom to be their true authentic selves in many corporate environments, even today.
Just like that Victoria's Secret shop assistant guiding the lone man through an ostensibly unwelcoming environment, so, too, do women benefit from the guidance of sponsors, helping them navigate the male dominated corporate world.
Before a man talks about gender parity, perhaps he first needs to take a trip to a lingerie store and experience what it is like to be the only one in the room. Maybe if more men had experiences like this, they may begin to understand what it is to feel so out of place. Maybe they would join us in creating greater gender equality in the workplace.