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“I’m not a leader” and other lies we tell ourselves

What’s your definition of leadership?

I ask this question on my client intake form, and I love reading the responses. Here are a few:

Leadership is finding ways for everyone to contribute; it’s about valuing individual skills and strengths.

Leaders direct teams toward the greater good; they help others to collaborate and grow.

Leadership is being a parent, owning my own business, being the oldest child in my family.

Do these answers surprise you? I thought they might, as they point out a disconnect with what many of us have come to believe – that leadership is about being smart, driving results, and being a visionary at the helm of a powerful entity.  Leaders are famous, and they are rare.  I’ve been hearing a certain comment again and again when asked what it’s like to be a leadership coach for women. It’s something along the lines of “Oh, that must be interesting to work with women like THAT. I’m not a leader, but I’ve always been curious about the women leaders I see”.

Really? I don’t think so. What I know, really truly KNOW, is that we’re all leaders. Every single one of us.

  • We’re women leading families, a mind-bogglingly complex job we do without any training or preparation.
  • We’re women leading within our careers. We impact those around us, whether our teammates, our employees, our bosses or our customers.
  • We’re women leading a social movement. This movement is about authenticity, vulnerability and courage. It looks like women speaking up, sharing their opinions, saying No to “should”, being willing to fail in service to learning.

And the world is finally noticing what women do. Even when we don’t take credit ourselves, we’re being recognized by those affected by our leadership. Why? Because it’s a welcome shift from the old command and control form of traditional leadership, and because others appreciate being valued and included.  And it works.  The style of leadership that comes instinctually to women is finally being seen as effective, sustainable and respectful.

It’s about time.

What I also notice, though, is the gap between this reality happening out there and the internal narrative women continue to tell themselves and act upon. We learned early on to keep our hands at our side rather than speaking up and risking embarrassment. We also learned that power looks masculine, aggressive and egotistical. And we took to heart the notion that vulnerability is weakness.

As women we’re changing the face of leadership simply by being ourselves in the roles we occupy. Bringing our tenderness, our compassion and our humanity to strategic conversations and challenges opens the door for others to do the same. It also elevates the dialogue, seeking creative approaches to getting results not by doing things the old way, but by calling in heartful collaboration, authenticity and empathy.

I wonder how it would change the way you show up in your life, if you were to see yourself as the leader you are. What would be different? How would we react to you when we experience you in conversation, at the soccer field, on a conference call?

I’m thrilled to see this happening in all sorts of unexpected places. Look for it, and I bet you’ll see it too.

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