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.
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.
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.
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.
Q: How can I establish myself as a trusted and respected leader?
As leaders, we have the opportunity to have a positive influence on other people, our organizations, our communities, and beyond. Establishing yourself as a trusted and respected leader will lead to even more opportunities to do good in the world. But this is easier said than done. Here are a few suggestions for you:
- Be honest, even when it hurts. Be open and truthful, and others will know that they can trust you.
- Do what you say you will do. Always follow through on your promises. There is nothing more disappointing than being promised something and then being forgotten. Demonstrate that you care by only making promises that you can keep and by following up on all of your commitments, no matter how minor they may seem to you. Life happens; if you aren’t able to do something or to do it as quickly as you had hoped, let the other person know.
- Be consistent. Other people will trust and respect you they know what to expect from you. This creates feelings of safety and comfort that support healthy relationships. But don’t be afraid to change your mind or your way of talking about or doing something if it is a reflection of your own personal growth. Let people know that it is natural to change and evolve over time.
- Be present. To be trusted and respected, you need to be seen. Make the time to interact with other people and use this opportunity to demonstrate your leadership ideals through your personal example. Being present doesn’t just mean being in the room; it also means being aware and engaged.
- Check impressions. You want to be trusted and respected, but how do you really know whether or not other people trust and respect you? The truth is that you don’t. And if some people trust and respect you, others may not. Be aware of how other people respond to you. If you think you are not being clearly understood, ask others how you are being perceived. Reflect and check in on a regular basis to make sure your inner and outer worlds are integrated.
- Find a mentor. Mentors can help you get established by opening doors that would otherwise remain inaccessible (or, in some cases, that you might not even know about!). In addition, a mentor can be your sounding board to explore your ideas and insecurities. Make sure you choose your mentor wisely and clearly outline your expectations for the mentor’s involvement in your life.
Q: How can I be an effective public speaker when I have an accent?
Your accent is a part of who you are. It makes you unique and can distinguish you from the crowd. On the other hand, when we speak with an accent other people might misunderstand what we are saying or not take us seriously. Despite taking Spanish in school for several years and being around Spanish speaking people most of my life, I sound absolutely ridiculous when I try to speak this language (I know what it should sound like, and that’s not what is coming out of my mouth!). I more than make up for this with my French, which might be passable in certain regions (though I’m not sure which ones). I really appreciate your courage because I know how uncomfortable I would be if I were in your shoes.
Identifying that you have an accent and that this might interfere with your effectiveness as a public speaker demonstrates critical self-awareness which is really important for any leader! Whether we are speaking in our native or another language, we can always improve our word choice and elocution so that we are can deliver a stronger message. I’m a native English speaker and my public speaking ability in my native tongue is completely different now than it was five, 10, or 20 years ago. This takes preparation and practice, practice, practice.
Don’t let your self-awareness turn into self-consciousness or self-criticism. If you feel self-conscious about your accent while you are speaking, you may project nervousness that distracts people from your message. Be proud of who you are and what you have to say! If you think the audience is not understanding you, check in with them and look at their reaction. You can also use visual aids, like presentation software or a handout, with text to help people grasp the key points of your speech.
Remember that we all have different linguistic abilities. I’m referring not just to you as a speaker, but to listeners as well. It can be harder for some people than others to interpret meaning when the speaker has an accent. Be compassionate toward them, and yourself, to develop a rapport that will make your audience want to learn more from you.
Q: How can I better manage my volunteers?
As a person who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 20 years, I know how important volunteers are to the mission of our organizations. I also know, having volunteered for a variety of organizations, that the process of creating a great volunteer experience that leads to people feeling truly engaged can be mystifying. The administrative aspects of managing volunteers, like recruitment and keeping track of contact information and hours contributed, is relatively easy. Developing your volunteer base is not difficult, but it does require intention and consistent effort. Here are a few tips to help you improve your volunteer management.
1. Ask volunteers to fill out an application, just like they would for a job. This helps you to assess the best ways that each volunteer can contribute to your organization.
2. Interview prospective volunteers. Give each candidate the opportunity to ask questions and to decide what their level of commitment can be to your organization.
3. Get to know your volunteers. The process of getting to know another person takes time, so your assessment of volunteer interests and skills can’t be limited to the application and interview process. Show interest in each volunteer and provide them with opportunities to develop their skills and explore their interests.
4. Consistently communicate. Volunteers want to know what is going on in your organization, and they want to hear it from you! Make sure your volunteers receive regular formal communications with important updates, like printed newsletters or email. Invite volunteers to all of your social media accounts. Make sure your volunteers hear about important changes from you rather than through the grapevine.
5. Check in on a regular basis. Call, email, or schedule a meeting with each volunteer at least once a month to see how things are going. Ask them to provide you with recommendations for how the organization can create a better experience for them.
6. Recognize each volunteer’s contributions. Tell volunteers directly that you appreciate what they are doing for your organization, and do it often! For those who don’t mind the spotlight, you can also feature volunteers in your newsletter or on social media.
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!
You haven’t heard a lot from me over the past year. I won’t bore you with excuses, except to let you know that I experienced a prolonged illness, was involved in two minor accidents, continued working two to three jobs, provided extra support for my family, and finally finished my most recent book, Whole Happy and Healthy. Now that this difficult year has passed, I must turn my attention to the topic that I have been avoiding for more than six years: my dissertation topic.
My problem has never been that I don’t have any ideas; in fact, I have too many. Committing to one topic in which I will immerse myself for the next few years is a bit scary. But I am at the point where the ‘rubber meets the road,’ as they say, and my goal is to complete a concept paper if not a full proposal by the end of this summer. I want my topic to be something exciting to me but also relevant and helpful to others in the field. I have narrowed it down to the following broad ideas; let me know if you have any suggestions!
- How professional and personal identity is constructed within the context of experience with progressive social change organizations
- How social justice leaders experience and perceive social myths and how they intentionally contest and change prevailing narratives
- The interaction of social justice leaders’ interpretation of their life stories as related to class, gender, race, ability, and other identities and their lived experience and how those interpretations and identities fluidly evolve over time
- How social justice organizations unintentionally reproduce the social conditions they were designed to ameliorate (i.e. income inequality)
- How women experience inequity and exclusion as workers and volunteers in social justice organizations