Building your own ‘who’ as a woman leader
During the recent months I have been focusing a lot on high potentials at their first leadership position – young professionals who are recruited because of their high technical expertise and who get promoted to managing a team.
Out of the young professionals I have had the pleasure to work with, there is one case which I truly treasure and through which I am learning a lot.
Paola is a young woman in her thirties extremely dedicated to her job, hard-working and very reliable. With an international background, she is creative and passionate. Some months ago she was promoted head of a new function leading a team of people and reporting to a new boss. We met by chance one day at a breakfast table in an Arabic style hotel in Sicily where we were both on holiday.
I soon had the sensation that she needed to speak to someone, ventilate her worries. So we sat down and spoke. She shared her struggles in juggling with priorities at work and at home, pressures from the top and her admiration for her boss whom she respected because of his ‘confidence and enigmatic charisma’.
She then shared the challenges she was facing with her team ‘not respecting her and de-energising her’ almost working against her, rather than for her. In her description of her boss, Paola shifted a lot from deep admiration to frustration – he represented a model of what she felt she wanted to become. In exploring this 2-facet relationship of love and hate she had a sudden epiphany and said:
‘I never feel enough in front of him. I believe I owe him something because I am learning a lot from him and I would not be in the position I am if it wasn’t for him. Having said this, I always feel I am not given a chance to get my voice heard’.
I therefore asked her: Where does this sensation of ‘not being enough’ come from?
‘From the sense of gratitude I have for him but also from the sensation that everything that he does and says is right and that any alternatives I may suggest would not be equally good’.
So I prompted her and asked: Does he represent a model of what you aspire to become or of whom you would like to become?
Her answer: I admire the ‘what’ but I believe I can do better in the ‘who’.
Paola realised that her admiration was for her boss’s competence and knowledge. In her attitude towards him, she kept passively accepting everything he would say or do never questioning whether there were better or new ways. She also realised that this was massively impacting on her credibility towards her team who kept bypassing her because of her inability to provide confidence and a sense of direction.
Gently but consistently, Paola started asking herself: what can I add to what my boss says or does? What can I do to make sure I feel good enough? How can I learn from his competence and knowledge?
But especially: How can I build my personal style?
Paola’s journey of self-discovery as a woman leader has just started. There are ups and downs but there is a renewed motivation and energy in her.
Her priority now is not to prove to her boss that she is enough but to give herself the chance to discover what is unique about her. She has realised that by exploring who she wants to become as an authentic leader she is not ‘copying and pasting’ but she is believing in what she does and whom she represents.
Paola is realising that it is normal not to be liked by everybody. She has also realised that she does not want to be made to feel ‘not good enough’.
Her journey into ‘who’ she is as an integrated adult woman is priceless and is making her realise that by building her own ‘who’ she feels much less intimated by the ‘what’.
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