How to Lead Unapologetically As Yourself
“He that thinketh he leadeth when no one is following, is merely taking a walk.”
John. C. Maxwell
When we commit ourselves to being the best leader, it is all too easy to lose ourselves in the noise; to become what we believe a leader should be rather than the leader we can be.
Being a leader should never be at the expense of being ourselves, especially as authenticity is often what inspires trust and loyalty from those we lead.
That is why I am passionate about leadership being a journey of continuous personal and professional development. Opening yourself up to self-reflection, change and improvement is essential if you are to inspire the sense of conviction and confidence in those that follow you that expands their idea of what they are capable of achieving.
So how do we lead positively and unapologetically as ourselves in the modern business world?
Below I have outlined five key ways that have helped me in my leadership, that I wanted to share with you in this blog.
1. Overcoming the fear of failure
As young children, we don’t consider our actions will result in failure. We would build a tower of bricks not expecting it to fall and then when it did, we would simply rebuild it, without self-doubt preventing us from believing that this time it would rise taller.
Yet as we grow older and we experience the inevitable setbacks in our lives and careers, the fear of failure begins to influence our decisions, making us indecisive and cautious. Even when our tower is at its highest, we can become overwhelmed by the voice in our head telling us that it will fall if we add another brick.
But, failure in itself isn’t bad, it is how we deal with it that ultimately determines the ongoing influence that moment has in our lives. We are in control of how we approach those moments and the internal voices we decide to listen to.
Do we listen to the voice that tells us we can do something or the one that says we can’t? The one that makes us doubt ourselves in the face of failure or the one that gives us the confidence to dust ourselves off and learn from it?
No one can completely banish the negative voices in their head but we can learn to make friends with them. By recognising them for what they are – a reflection of our fears and doubts – we can start to relinquish the power those voices have on us. It’s not about ignoring those voices but attaching the right level of significance and volume when they speak to us. Knowing that those voices are a part of us, but they are not all of us.
Once we let go of the notion that failure is the worst possible outcome, rather than just one outcome out of many, we can begin to lead from a position of inner confidence and truth.
2. Recognising the power of gratitude
Starting from a place of gratitude allows you to take a step back from any negativity or stress that is consuming you and move forward with more clarity.
By taking a moment to stop and think about all the parts of yourself and your life that you are grateful for, you are putting your arms around yourself and reminding yourself that there is a lot of good in who you are and what you’re doing.
Anxiety and gratitude cannot exist in the same moment, so practicing this simple act can help to refocus you and reinvigorate you for the challenges of leadership and allow you to reconnect with yourself.
3. Remembering Feedback is Not Always the Truth
We all understand that receiving feedback is part of our professional lives. Even, or perhaps especially, as leaders we must be prepared to listen to feedback, both negative and positive, and reflect on what it means for us going forward.
However, just as being open to receiving feedback is an important part of leadership, recognising what feedback is helpful and what will only drag us down in the opinions of others, without providing clarity is an equally essential skill.
The most important thing to remember is that feedback is not the truth, it is the truth of the person speaking it. That means that just because someone calls you arrogant or bullish or too sensitive it doesn’t mean you have to believe it and doesn’t mean you should change to fit their idea of who or how you should be.
Ask yourself what the person who is giving you the feedback has to gain from doing so. What is their motivation? Are their words more a reflection of where they are and their own insecurities than a true reflection of you?
By understanding and keeping hold of the fundamental beliefs about yourself, such as “I am a good, kind person” you can start to filter the feedback you receive and let go of those comments that do not serve you.
That’s not to say all negative feedback should be ignored, but it is about being objective about your thoughts following that feedback. You can see your faults but you are not them. By doing that you can work on reflecting and improving, without second guessing and losing yourself in the process.
4. Letting Go Of The Labels
Often with feedback comes labels. We become known both by ourselves and by other people by traits or behaviors used to sum us and our leadership style up. Bossy. Confident. Outspoken. Decisive. Defensive. They can trap us in a box that restricts our growth and ability as leaders and as human beings, but the good thing about labels is that you can unstick them as easily as they become attached to you. You do not need to submissively accept a label that does not serve you.
Your job is not to make other people’s lives easier or for them to feel more comfortable, it is to be you. Claim your identity and let go of those labels you no longer want and then make room for new ones. Go back to those fundamental truths you know about yourself, attach those labels and wear them with pride. It’s time to invest in your strengths, not focus on your weaknesses.
5. Leading By Example and Embracing Vulnerability
Finally, and arguably most importantly, we must lead by example and let ourselves be vulnerable. I’ve spoken before about how allowing myself to be vulnerable when my team was offering me feedback, by admitting I found hearing it difficult, helped to create an atmosphere of trust and respect that hadn’t been present before.
Often as leaders we’re told to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ and that to be strong is not to show weakness, but vulnerability and showing that you too are human is a powerful tool in inspiring and leading our teams and keeping in touch with our own inner selves.
However, it is important to remember that as a leader our team looks to us for solutions, so whilst we should share what is troubling us we have to also show how we are overcoming them. By demonstrating how we deal with challenges and reminding people that even in a bad week, not every moment is bad we are helping our team to become more open yet resilient.
In my mind, the most courageous leaders are those that care and are sensitive to the world around them. The Coronavirus pandemic gave us all an unique opportunity to witness and appreciate the humanity of those we worked with. We saw into their homes, met their partners, children and pets, we learned they played the guitar and collected snowglobes, we saw them drop their games faces and gained a greater understanding of their everyday pressures and stresses as our team did with us.
Despite being more physically further apart than ever, we all became more connected with what made each of us who we are both in and out of work. Now that we’re moving beyond the pandemic and returning to the office, it is important not to lose touch with the quiet humanity that we witnessed and shared for all those months. By dropping the mask and allowing others to do the same, we not only lead as our authentic selves but we show others that they should too.
It is not always easy to keep hold of our true self as leaders. We are bombarded with opinions, feedback and advice on how to be strong and confident, much of which can lead us to believe that we must wear a mask that never drops. Yet authenticity is strength and by keeping hold of what makes us who we are and using that as our foundation from which to lead we become better, more inspiring and more effective leaders as well as healthier, happier people.
When you lead from a place of truth, others will follow and ensure you are not walking alone.
If you’d like to lead confidently as your true self, build courage and certainty in your leadership and get access to high-level monthly training and a supportive community, I’d love you to join me as a member in the Courageous Leaders Club.
You can find out more and apply here