The trouble with deciding to be “true to yourself” as a leader, is that first you have to know which self to choose. You in the car doing a one-woman karaoke version of a song you don’t actually know all the words to? Might not wash with the senior leaders who need to really respect your authority. You having a meltdown as you wrangle your kid back to bed fourteen hundredth time? Probably not the most diplomatic persona to bring to a tense meeting with a team member. And yet the version of ourselves we do often choose to show up as can feel just as narrow a way to contain all of who you are. So how can women leaders be true to themselves?
You contain many selves
We all contain a blend of personalities, whether or not we’re conscious of them. Some of them might be “inherited” from people in your life, maybe from when you were growing up. A strict teacher’s phrases might ring in your ears when you write important documents. Or your granny’s no-nonsense words might fortify you when you’re overthinking a decision.
Some of them have arisen from your own experiences, or just evolved with you over time. And they’re not always incredibly helpful.
For example, you might recognise some of these common personalities:
- The people pleaser, who’s always trying to keep everyone happy
- The worrier, expert in foreseeing the absolute worst-case scenario
- The inner critic, never happy with the standard round here
- The rebel, who thinks you can stick your spreadsheets where the sun doesn’t shine
- The dreamer, who…. sorry, what were you saying? I’d drifted off
From a psychological perspective, then, deciding to simply be “true to yourself” doesn’t quite wash. And there’s something else to bear in mind.
Society shapes (some of) who you are
The second thing to think about when it comes to being “true to yourself” is the impact society has on our actions and identities.
For example, research shows that, in the workplace, women are far more likely to offer to do non-promotable tasks. These are defined as tasks which “benefit the organization but likely don’t contribute to someone’s performance evaluation and career advancement.” (Think: organizing the office party, or taking minutes at a meeting).
In a Harvard Business Review study, researchers found that
“Although neither men nor women really want to volunteer for thankless tasks, women volunteer more, are asked to volunteer more, and accept requests to volunteer more than men. These differences do not appear to result from gender differences in preferences, but rather from a shared understanding that women will volunteer more than men.”
When a job’s identified, the group are asked to volunteer to do it, and that slightly awkward silence descends on the meeting? Women are far more likely to be the ones to sigh and raise our hands.
This kind of cultural conditioning is a tricky thing to navigate. After all, if we’ve been raised to be helpful, and the expectation is that we’re going to offer a hand if one’s needed, you could say it’s being “true to yourself” to volunteer.
But unconscious gender stereotyping like this is harmful. It plays a big part in the gender pay gap and the lack of women in senior leadership positions. And it relies on our tendency to have absorbed stereotypes like being helpful, pleasing people, and being “good” – which can be to our detriment.
Superwoman to the rescue!
So we’re more likely to volunteer to help out with “thankless” tasks at work. And we’re also more likely to be doing more of the day to day household tasks at home.
A Goldman Sachs report reported statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that
“over the past 15 years, significantly more women than men have spent time on household activities on a daily basis (84% of women vs 65% of men). And the women who engaged in these activities each day spent about 25% more time doing so than the men who engaged in them.”
The solution? Enter, Superwoman.
Superwoman is the archetype of our times. She doesn’t bat an eyelid at all these extra responsibilities. In fact, she also has several productive hobbies, eight children, a regular Pilates practice, a sex life that would make you blush and still finds time to let her hair down with the girls at the weekend.
Sleep? Who needs it!
It’s easy to laugh but when it comes to piling on the commitments, you’ve probably been guilty of going a bit too heavy on the multitasking yourself from time to time.
Conference calls while cooking dinner… business books on holiday… emails on the phone while you’re at the playground.
Ring any bells?
When we’re in Superwoman mode we can often feel like we’re being “true to ourselves”, or at least trying to be.
We’re endeavouring to live up to the idea we have of the perfect wife… mother… manager… friend.
But Superwoman only lasts for so long, before the cracks begin to show.
Burnout is the price we pay for ignoring the need to bring more of ourselves to the table. And when we burn out, we really do get to be ourselves. Just not as the leaders we’d imagined we’d be.
It’s tough. It’s avoidable. And for many of us it’s the wake up call we need to do things differently.
Is there another way?
Being true to yourself requires honesty.
So showing up as yourself isn’t as simple as just letting it all hang out, uncensored. There’s a bit more work involved.
Find out who you are
Beneath all the different roles you play in your life, what makes you tick? What gets you excited? What do you love to do, and what would you like to never do again?
A daily journaling practice is a great way to start when it comes to discovering who you are.
It might feel a little awkward at first – like hanging out with an acquaintance you’ve only just met. Keep going. Even if at first, you’re just writing “I don’t know what to write” or “I don’t know who I am” over and over again.
At some point, you’ll find your voice and the words will begin to flow.
Work through what’s holding you back
When you’re starting to show up as a leader without putting on a “mask”, it also requires that you deal, at least to some extent, with what’s going on in the rest of your life.
If you’re a raging ball of fury at home, snapping at your partner and roaring at your kids, it’s probably safe to say your team might not want to see you let your guard down.
Finding a coach to work with, or exploring a program like BePowerful, can help you safely explore the different aspects of yourself. When you’ve got a handle on any issues that are keeping you from relaxing into your unique self, you’ll find shining as yourself comes far more easily.
Allow yourself to change
Women are, by our natures, cyclical beings. We’re not the same, monotonous robots day in and day out (OK, I know men aren’t either – but you get my drift).
The Women’s PowerTypes™ are the 5 leadership archetypes we use to harness the very different energies we all contain – from cool, decisive Queen to fiery Warrioress.
The PowerTypes are the key to allowing yourself to embrace very different aspects of yourself without sacrificing your effectiveness as a leader. In fact, when you’re able to track your natural flow of energy you can consciously step into the right PowerType at any time – giving you access to a well of energy and leadership power that’s unstoppable.
If you’re committed to being true to yourself as a leader, that also means being aware that you’re going to change. You’re going to make mistakes. But you’ll also have more of an impact than you ever could staying stuck in one, narrow version of your glorious self.
In the words of Brené Brown,
“Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be; embrace who you are.”
More than just a snappy quote, becoming yourself as a leader is a process. But if we’re going to build a different world, it’s a challenge I think it’s high time we rose to.
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