Over this past year, I've been working on my personal and professional growth, but where I repeatedly kept finding myself blocked was on the concept of leadership.
For as long as I can remember, I've had a set, defined image of what being a great leader looks like or means. I built up this idea of a great leader as someone who isn't afraid to stand at the front of a team and takes charge! As an introvert, this concept of what a leader looked like really freaked me out. How could this ever be me?
The topic of leadership came up once again in my Louder Than Ten Project Management course during our module on "People, Skills and Team Building." The focus of this module was on championing our teams and how to unpack limiting beliefs. As we spoke about our limiting beliefs as a class, I mentioned my discomfort with being in the spotlight, which has translated into my unease with seeking leadership opportunities. (or, at least, what I had perceived as typical leadership roles).
Out of this class module came a personal project. I decided to better understand what others perceived as authentic leadership by interviewing women in leadership roles in my community. I would speak to them about their experiences in leadership and how they arrived where they are today.
I wanted to make sure that I speak with women from within arts & culture and include those from other fields to ensure that I cast a wide net of opinions. I interviewed five professionals from several different sectors -- Human Resources, Project Management, Digital Arts, and Music Management.
The question that I was seeking to understand was if my discomfort with the idea of leading was something unique to me or if others had gone through this hurdle as well.
Each interviewee responded to the questions that resonated with them the most from the list below:
- What are some words of advice that you received from former bosses/mentors/coworkers that have shaped you into the leader you are today?
- What do you consider the most important attributes of successful leaders?
- What's the most important risk you took in your career, and why?
- How do you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
- What are a few resources (i.e. books, podcasts etc.) that have inspired you to be a better leader?*
As expected, everyone had unique perspectives on what they considered essential leadership attributes:
"leadership means dealing with the shit and wearing it."
"a good leader celebrates their own differences as well as those of their team."
"great leaders are those that practice radical candour."
But there were three unanimous attributes that everyone listed – good leaders:
are empathetic to the needs of others.
lead through doing.
know themselves well (have a defined personal brand).
During the class exercise, I concluded that my fear of being in leadership roles was due to my discomfort with being in the spotlight. But what I came away with through these interviews is that I am already displaying characteristics of a good leader. I am already taking on leadership roles -- it's just that I wasn't seeing them through the prescribed stereotypical model that I had built up in my head.
Like many of the women I interviewed, I value collaboration and building trust to build up the confidence of my teammates. I realized that these principles all fall under Servant Leadership, which I've always identified with. I had just always that thought that I had to embody the stereotypical image of a leader first.