Finding My Voice

It’s always nice to find out that you’re not alone. This recent article helped me to feel this way by revealing how women face discrimination because of our voices.

I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I have a little girl voice (always by older men). In addition, I have received unsolicited and unwelcome coaching about how I could improve the tone of my voice by making it richer, deeper – more masculine.

Ironically, when I sing, my alto voice is much stronger than my soprano voice. If you’ve ever heard me speak, you might even be surprised that I can hit those alto notes (in fact, I can also hit some tenor notes too!). So it’s not that I’m not capable, or that I don’t have it in me – it just isn’t what comes natural to me. When we do things that agitate what feels natural and right, and takes us out of our comfort zone in a nonconstructive way only to please other people, it sets us up to be extra self-conscious and prone to making mistakes; it may even lead to violating other aspects of who we are.

This article just offers one more example of how male models of leadership dominate (as only male models of leadership could do). Let me say this as loud and clear as my so-called “little girl voice” will allow: the only way to dismantle such domination is to consistently remain true to who we are despite other people’s prejudice.

How to Be an Authority without Being a Jerk

If you’re anything like me, then the idea of claiming to be an authority seems a little bit distasteful. Not just because of imposter syndrome – feeling like ‘who am I to claim to be an authority’, but also because authority is so closely linked to the word authoritarian – something I do not wish in any way to associate myself with. Nope, not me – I’m all about cooperation, sharing, and other bleeding heart stuff like that.

On a recent drive along I-80 in central Pennsylvania (I have some of my best thoughts while on the road), it occurred to me that my repulsion toward the word authority may be rooted in my interpretation of the word rather than what the word could potentially mean.

The concept of authority has become entangled with authoritarianism and top-down, hierarchical leadership styles that are slowly, but thankfully, becoming a relic of the past. We think of the word ‘authority’ to mean ‘I wrote the book. I’m special and better than (collective) you because I know it all – and anything you say to try and challenge me is just going to make you look like a fool.’

I see authority as an active process of envisioning and creating. It doesn’t mean that you wrote the book that sits on dusty shelves and nobody reads anymore but that you are actively and continually writing – creating – in response to an ever-changing world.

If you think you know everything you aren’t an authority; you’re a jerk and nobody cares about your impossible and improbable claims to know everything. The only way to establish authority while also building credibility and respect is to take creative risks, learn, renew perspectives, and repeat the process over and over again. Let’s rewrite the script on authority.

How to Thrive When Your Boss is a Narcissist

Have you ever worked for a narcissist? It’s hard to feel like you’re making a meaningful contribution when your coworker, supervisor, or leader takes credit for your work, puts you down, and does whatever they can to draw attention to themselves regardless of the consequences.

Unfortunately, there have been several narcissists in my life — both professional and personal. Being around someone with this kind of personality can be really distressing. It has caused me to undervalue my work (and myself in general on a more fundamental level), to deflect attention from myself both intentionally and without any awareness of doing so, and to feel extremely frustrated and profoundly alone. It’s subtle but impactful psychological abuse that seeps into your intellectual and emotional processes – and it’s really hard to get past that. I’m still working on it.

The first thing to do if your boss is a narcissist is leave if you can. You’re not going to change them. No amount of false flattery, perfectionism, or working 16+ hours a day will get them to appreciate you. It’s just not going to happen, so let go of that fantasy. They don’t care about you like that. They are focused on illuminating themselves and leaving you in their cold, dark shadow.

If you can’t leave right away, then you need to figure out a way to effectively deal with the situation so that you can thrive. Narcissists aren’t clones of each other so you’ll need to get to know them and their selfish desires to develop effective communication and work strategies. It can be helpful to share how their behavior is impacting you in a safe environment. Don’t forget that their behavior – and everything they say about you and the world – isn’t about you. It’s a reflection of their insecurities. Know that you are capable and remain committed to your work and the contributions you can make.

You could also have a bit of fun with it and do whatever you can to upstage them and reveal them for the selfish jerk they are. But I don’t recommend that, because in the long run – no matter how clever you are – it will be used against you even if it destroys your career and whatever self-respect you have left.

So if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to work closely with a narcissist, know that it can be done. If you choose to stay in this situation for an extended period of time, even if you’re super tough, it’s going to hold you back in one way or another. Plan an escape. The mere fantasy of doing so will give you sustenance as you face your dysfunctional workplace each day.

How to Sell Yourself without Selling Out

I hate talking about myself. When I’m asked to share even superficial details about my life, I feel my fists (and teeth) clenching as my gaze drops to the floor. I guess people think something about me is interesting – and I’m flattered, really I am – yet, I can’t help but feel a little to a lot uncomfortable with any form of prompted self disclosure.

Yet, I’ve found it to be really helpful to not just talk about myself but – gasp – promote myself so that people can understand how I can help them develop and realize their goals and while also making things a little bit easier for them. I really do have a lot to offer; why is it that I feel an icky feeling in the pit of my stomach when an opportunity to share comes my way?

It’s because most models of networking and self promotion are just downright sleazy. And we’ve all been a victim of sleazy people who only care about promoting themselves and making money at the obvious expense of everyone else and values that you’d think are common sense. They stretch the truth or shift their focus to things that in the long run really aren’t all that important. There has to be a better, more sincere – and more comfortable – way.

Think of selling yourself as creating connections and sharing your many resources to create positive changes. If you don’t sell yourself, nobody will ever know who you are or what you have accomplished. Your example can be an inspiration to others, and your gifts can directly benefit people, organizations, and communities – if they are activated through dialogue and subsequent action.

Selling yourself is offering who you are and what matters most to you to the world. Not everyone will be interested. In fact, some people might really disrespect you for just being who you are. Focus only on the people who are open to learning about you and what you do – people who care and with whom you might share a genuine connection.

 

And to make sure you’re not a hypocrite, extend the same to others. Open up to them and listen to understand who they are and how they serve in the world. Selling yourself isn’t about compromising your values or making other people feel sick because you are overwhelming them. It’s about communication and creating opportunities for meaningful relationships to begin.

Build Your Leadership Skills this Women’s History Month

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This Women’s History Month, you can save more than 50% on the ultimate transformational leadership class for women — Leading with Love and Integrity: How to Get What You Want without Compromising Who You Are. After completing this four-hour, online course, you will be able to:

  • Identify the number one myth that prevents love from influencing the practice of leadership
  • Describe the three key differences between “being nice” and leading with love
  • Identify three ways to be vulnerable and vigilant at the same time
  • Identity seven warning signs that you are leading without integrity
  • Identify the five distinguishing characteristics of feminine leadership
  • Describe the three-step process to identify and overcome barriers to leading with love and integrity
  • Identify five gifts that distinguish you as a leader
  • Explain the five-step process to mobilize your vision
  • Identify three ways to help others create goals
  • Describe the five signs of healthy leadership relationships
  • Identify three helping, and three hindering, coaching strategies
  • Describe the three-step process to create deep, meaningful engagement
  • Identify the five key components of successful partnerships
  • Explain the six key ways to communicate with love and integrity
  • Describe eight ways to persuade with love and integrity
  • Explain five strategies to tap into the creative energy of conflict
  • Identify the ten warning signs of unhealthy boundaries in leadership
  • Describe the three-step process to fail with finesse
  • Identify five kinds of compromise and how to avoid them
  • Name eight concepts that can promote love and integrity through policies and procedures
  • Describe four meeting facilitation skills that promote love and integrity
  • Describe three ways to make the most of your limited time
  • Describe the five-step process for long-range planning that promotes love and integrity
  • Describe five coping strategies to deal with stress
  • Identify the eight steps to building a flourishing support network
  • …and much, much more!!

Click here to learn more about this opportunity to develop your leadership skills and enhance your influence and impact!

Q&A: Dealing with Anger as a Leader

Q: As a leader, I know that I should avoid getting angry and losing control, but it sometimes happens. How can I avoid this?

A: It sounds like you might be a little stressed out. I’ve been there. Leadership is indeed a stressful occupation. You have many responsibilities, and no one quite understands what you go through every day. So it’s not only stressful; it can be isolating which compounds that stress. Here are a few suggestions that might help you overcome this challenge.

  1. Recognize that you are not alone. There are leaders all over the world who have struggles and challenges that are similar to yours. When you are going through a difficult time, recognize that your experience – while it is unique to you and your particular circumstances – is in some way shared by many other women.
  2. Connect with a network. Find a mentor or colleague who can help you navigate challenges and identify your priorities.
  3. Remember your vision and purpose. There is a reason why you chose the path you are on. Immerse yourself in that vision and purpose through creative visualization and then translate that into daily action.
  4. Practice gratitude. It is easy to be overwhelmed by challenges. Yet, we all have something to be grateful for – our family, our health, the opportunity to take one more breath. Whatever it is for you, write it down and celebrate it.
  5. Take care of yourself. When you are engaged in important, valuable work, it can be difficult (and seem selfish) to take time for yourself. Yet, if you don’t make time for yourself, the quality of your work will suffer. Make sure you get rest, eat well, take breaks, and do what you need to do to nurture your physical and emotional health.
  6. Identify your triggers. If there is something or someone in particular that is triggering your anger? If so, either remove the trigger or create a plan to respond to it in a constructive way that is mutually beneficial.
  7. Reflect. When you react in a negative way that potentially causes harm, take the time to reflect upon what happened. Think about how you could have responded better and make a plan to act accordingly in the future.
  8. Build on your strengths. If you find yourself getting angry, impatient, or judgmental, use your unique gifts, whatever they may be, to change your behavior.
  9. Remember your role as a leader. As a leader, others are watching you. You are a role model. Other people will replicate your behavior, whether it is good or bad. You set the tone for your organization. In addition, as a leader, you have a responsibility to help guide and develop those around you. Take this responsibility seriously.
  10. Have fun. Make a plan to do something that you enjoy. Get out of your work environment and do something fun. It doesn’t need to be expensive – it could be a long walk or getting together with friends. Make a list of things that bring you joy – big and small – and do at least one thing every day.

These are just a few ideas to potentially avoid having your anger take over at work. If you have any other ideas, please post them in the comments below!

Your Questions Answered: Trust, Patience, Emotions, the Comfort Zone

Q: How can I trust others to help me?

I sometimes have trouble trusting others. I know that they are (generally) good people and mean well, but sometimes it just seems easier to do everything myself. But I know that part of my responsibility as a leader is to support, guide, and uplift others around me. To fulfill this responsibility, we need to give other people space to be involved, try, and make mistakes. Yes, we need to let them fail a little, but support and catch them before they cause real harm. If you can’t trust the people around you, then you might not have the right people on your team.

Q: How can I help other people understand my goals?

With so many competing interests and compelling things drawing our attention, it can be difficult to get other people to pay attention to, let alone understand, our goals. The first step is to make sure your goals are crystal clear. That means succinct, quantifiable, and easily digestible. Once your goals are clear, make sure you are able to articulate why this goal is important to you, your organization, your community, and various constituent groups. You can tell a great story by sharing why this goal is important to you, but don’t forget to put yourself in others’ shoes to try and see things from their perspective. You can also share your goals in an open way to provoke discussion. Perhaps other people can help you refine or expand your goals so that they are even better!

Q: How can I challenge myself to step outside of my comfort zone?

As leaders, it is important for us to push ourselves and redefine our limits. We can do this in ways that are directly related to our work, like making a presentation to 100 people, or in ways that expand us as a human being. Both are valuable and make use more adaptable and resilient leaders. To take on this challenge, make a list of things that you would like to do, but they feel quite scary. Think exhilaration. For me, that would be making a sales call (something I really don’t like to do, but I would like to do it because it is valuable) or, for a personal example, joining a roller derby team (which I might just do). After you make your list, including both personal and professional things to do – and you can take a few days to make your list – pick one and commit to doing it within one month. Over time, you can expand your list, pick more activities, and set more ambitious goals. Have fun!

Q: How can reign in my passion to focus on my goals?

You may be asking the wrong person. I am pretty much all over the place, and it is because I am a passionate person with multiple interests. I find it hard to focus and just do one thing. That being said, having this disposition has forced me to develop some discipline over the years to keep me on track toward my goals. First of all, you may need to prioritize your goals because, if you’re anything like me, you probably have more that you want to do than you could ever realistically accomplish. So write down those goals and prioritize them. Determine what is most important to you. Now, get out your calendar and write down specific things, even little things, that you can do to progress toward your most important goals each week. Even just one thing. So, you have prioritized your goals and scheduled time to work on them every week. Now, how do you reign in your passion? I’m not sure that you need to. Your multiple passions are what make you an interesting person, and they probably contribute to your sense of pleasure and fulfillment. And don’t forget that you have an entire lifetime to explore your passions. You don’t need to do everything right now. Keep prioritizing and adjust to keep yourself focused on your current goals.

Q: How can I use technology for my presentation without distracting my audience?

Yes, you are right – technology can definitely be distracting. But it can also be really helpful to communicate our messages. Think of technology not as a must have, but as something that enhances your delivery. In other words, don’t rely on technology, use it to add value to what you are saying. I find it is helpful to keep text to a minimum and use pictures to keep people engaged. But then, sometimes people start to write down every word because they are afraid they will miss something important! If this is the case, you can prepare notes and let the group know that you will make them available after the presentation. That way, they can just sit back and relax. Don’t forget to test out all of your technology well in advance of your meeting. There is nothing worse than having to postpone a meeting because the projector won’t connect to the computer (learned that the hard way!).

Q: How can I control my emotions so that I do not come across like a “boss?”

This is a delicate balance. Women are (too often) expected to be demure and nurturing; we are judged harshly when we exert our authority. Yet, for me, I resist authoritarianism and actively choose to engage with others in an open, responsive way whenever possible (I actually tend to be more rigid naturally, so this take some effort). I do this not to meet society’s expectations, but to align with my values. I suspect that you are similar to me in this way. You might want to read up Daniel Goleman’s concept of “emotional intelligence.” He has written a lot about the benefits of controlling emotions at work. It may benefit you to close your eyes for a few moments and take some deep breaths before you engage with others at work – especially those that might bring out the boss in you. You can also keep a journal to help you explore your feelings – their source, what provokes them, how you express them, etc. This may help you to identify ways to adjust to present yourself as the leader you want to be.

Q: How can I be a more patient leader?

Leaders are often involved in provoking change, whether it is change in organizations or change in communities. And change takes time. People don’t like change; they resist it and resent it. But, for change to be sustainable – to really get people on board with our vision — we need to work through all of its messiness. As leaders, we also try to provoke change in other people, like the people we supervise. It can be frustrating when we share our years of experience and wisdom with other people over and over again only to be ignored. Remember that you are the teacher, the guide, the source of support for others. People are looking to you for answers and watching how you respond (or react) as things unfold. Appreciating our position as a role model can help us put things in perspective and transform our feeling and how we interact with others. Our patience can also develop over time through persistence. We need to integrate both our immediate needs and our long term vision into our perspective.

Q&A: How can I create more opportunities for women as an educator?

Question:

In my society, women are not given higher positions even when she has quality, talent, and education. I want to be one of the people who can give leadership to women so they can stand on their feet. I am the owner and principal of a school. It is my soul. I am trying to make it better. What kinds of steps shall I take for its betterment? What do I have to do to become a successful businesswoman?

— Dedicated Educator and Leader in India

Answer:

Dear friend,

Your work with children is commendable. They need your time, your leadership, and your belief in their abilities. You have risen to this challenge and they, as well as your community, will surely benefit.

Your question raises three distinct but all very important questions which I will generalize a bit here:

  1. How can women succeed in a society that does not value them?
  2. How can I improve my organization so that it can have a stronger impact in the lives of children?
  3. What can I do to improve my own leadership and business skills to positively impact my school and my society?

These are all very complex dilemmas that impact women and leaders around the world. I wish that I could provide you with a simple, direct answer to these questions, but I don’t think I could fully answer these questions because 1) I don’t have all the answers; and 2) it would take a lifetime of studying, dialogue, and practice to discover the best approaches; and 3) I am not very familiar with your particular community and the specific challenges you face there. Nonetheless, I am going to provide you with some ideas that I think might be helpful not just for you but for the entire Women’s Creative Leadership Network.

Women are undervalued in many organizations and societies — in different ways and to various extents. I can identify with this challenge because I have witnessed and experienced this in my own country. We can be inspired by many examples throughout history, both in the past and more recently, of women beating the odds and attitudes about women evolving to become more understanding and inclusive. Yet, we still have quite a way to go.

There are a few things we can do, as women, to succeed despite the fact that we are undervalued in society. One of the key things we can to do to provoke transformation is to work together. We are stronger together than we are on our own. I have seen women turn against each other in competition to the detriment of our collective goals. We must support each other, uplift each other, and defend each other for our common good. My advice to you would be to connect with other women, share your struggles, ask for assistance, be helpful when you can, and have conversations about how you can collaborate. As we work on our own personal advancement, we must also stay focused on the bigger vision of creating opportunities for all women. Our success doesn’t need to come at someone else’s expense. We must also be steadfast in our insistence for rights, access, acceptance, inclusion, and appreciation of our contributions. When we are told directly or hear implicit messages that women are not good enough, we need to take action because we know better and the world will benefit from this knowledge. As women leaders, we need to actively educate and also stand as an example through our words and actions.

You do this all of this as an educator and as a leader. People look to you for guidance, wisdom, and support. By strengthening your school, you will also be able to address the needs of women in society. You can improve your school by: assessing what you need in terms of curriculum, facilities, materials, and support; developing partnerships in the community to improve the school’s access to what it needs; inviting parents and others in the community to get involved in the school through volunteer service that meet the school’s specific needs; remaining focused on your goals of providing a high quality education to your students; and continuing to learn about how other schools are addressing the challenges you are experiencing by reading and by making connections with your colleagues both in your country and around the world (you might be able to make some connections through the network). These are just a few ideas that may or may not be helpful depending on your particular circumstances.

And now for your final question. As an educator, you probably love to learn! To be a successful businesswoman, you need to never stop learning. You can learn by reading, participating in classes, reflecting on your experiences, and observing what other leaders in similar environments are doing. It is helpful to identify specific things that you need to learn and then seek that information, but another important part of learning is continually being open to receiving and re-interpreting information. There is so much that goes into being a good businesswoman, such as making good decisions, effectively managing resources, developing the right relationships, and taking care of yourself. Continue to practice and learn and your leadership and business potential will develop over time.

I hope these suggestions are helpful, and are the beginning of a conversation about how we can all create more opportunities for women in our societies. I invite all of our readers to share their ideas.