Over the course of my Fellowship, one of the important realizations I’ve had about my leadership is that it too, like my life in general, is driven by both conscious choices as well as unconscious patterns. When I can bring more awareness to my unconscious patterns and beliefs around my leadership, it opens up choice and opportunities to respond in ways that are unavailable to me when I am living and working from automatic pilot. For instance, a pattern I have held for most of my life was to “keep the peace” at all costs. I learned from an early age that if people in my life were happy, or at least happy with me, they were less likely to lash out or chastise me. So, I became a people pleaser. Focusing on my own leadership over the past 17 months has brought to light these patterns and tendencies, and shown me that they no longer serve me, or those around me, very well. I have begun to ask myself questions like: what might it look like for me to really speak my mind and perhaps rock the boat? What would be the worst thing that could happen if I did? In what circumstances might I want to or need to rock the boat? And how can I focus on building strong relationships through being authentic and present versus being worried about making sure everyone around me is “happy”?
Another important change for me over the past year in how I view my leadership is the realization that I do not have to be the “expert” or have all the answers. It is easy because of ego, or even out of a genuine desire to be helpful, to feel like we need to have an answer for every question thrown our way. However, what I have come to understand is that good leaders create the space for others to connect to and share their own wisdom, which helps generate stronger solutions with the buy-in needed for real change. That being said, I have also found that one of the challenges with attempting to hold space in this way is that people are so used to, and tend to be more comfortable with being told what to do and how to do it. Unfortunately, many of our social systems have not been designed to generate genuine creativity and problem-solving opportunities for children. Rather they teach there is a right way and a wrong way; so this desire to want to do the right thing, like there is only one right way, often gets in the way of people tapping into their own inner wisdom to generate the plethora of options that are actually possible. Therefore, at times there can be awkward silence when questions are thrown back to the group and the space is held for their own wisdom to emerge. Yet given enough time and encouragement, I have found that the wisdom does come forward, and deep and powerful discussions are had. Knowing that I don’t have to have all the answers in leadership positions has been a huge relief to me and I find that I love experiencing the energy that occurs in a group when the space is held for collective problems solving and decision making.
Through focusing on my own leadership and personal healing, I have come to understand that the only real power I have at affecting change is in what I do on the internal front (within myself), which then ripples out to external change. Yet even then I cannot always direct how the external change happens, if it does in fact happen. So I have been working on recognizing and utilizing the power I do have to choose how I want to respond to the external situations I encounter but can’t control or change. When I am able to remain tapped in to what is coming up for me as a leader in different moments, I am better able to navigate my thoughts and emotions which allows me more clarity to make decisions or respond in ways that ultimately are more impactful.
Another related strategy I have been using that has changed the way I lead in my work is reflection. The concept of reflection for learning is not new to me, but what I have come to understand in a new way through really looking at and utilizing reflection in my leadership is that reflection is not the same thing as judgment or being critical. Reflection that is helpful isn’t about saying I did “bad” or I did “good”. This tended to be how I “reflected” on my work or leadership in the past; seeing it as good or bad. Instead, I am trying to ask questions like, what did I learn in this? What am I feeling? What came up for me in this situation? I have been actively practicing “noticing” as much as I can from the experiences while suspending or releasing any judgments I might have. I then ask myself, “what might I do differently next time?”
I used to view self-care as something that was important, but there were an awful lot of “shoulds” connected to my view of it that often kept me from actually doing it. I had a very black and white view of what I thought self-care was, when and where it should happen, and how often I should do it. Although I would set time aside in my calendar, it often got bumped for last minute meetings, events for the kids, and other duties I deemed as “more important” that came up. Also, because I believed self-care included only a few specific strategies, (like 20 minutes of daily meditation, or exercising for 30 minutes at least 3 times a week) I was boxed into believing there was a select list of things I could do, which limited my ability to listen to my body and really understand what it was I needed at any given moment for self-care. Sometimes I made time for it and got around to it, and other times I didn’t. When I didn’t get around to it, I berated myself for not “taking care of myself”, which of course was counterproductive and did not make it more likely for me to engage in self-care in the near future.
What I have since come to understand is that self-care is absolutely essential as it relates to my ability to lead and be in this world in the way that I want to show up. It is as important as breathing. I have also come to understand that there are no parameters around it regarding when, where and how it could be done; the parameters I thought existed were of my own making. Also, self-care is not a box I can check off daily if I get my 10 minutes of meditation in and then I forget about it for the rest of the day. Rather, it is a regular check-in with myself throughout the day to see what I’m feeling and needing in the moment. Sometimes self-care for me involves a few mindful breaths, sometimes it is a 20-minute meditation, sometimes it is reading a book for fun, getting out in nature, calling up a friend, getting a massage, or playing with my children. Self-care for me is about recognizing what I need at any given moment, then trying to meet the need as best I can.
Without daily self-care of some sort, I cannot keep my energy reserves up to do the work I want to do. In addition, I find that a lack of self-care makes it is easier for me to fall back into old patterns and habits that get me caught up in my thoughts and emotions, which limits my ability to see the bigger picture and the choices before me. I no longer see self-care as something that would be “nice to do”, rather I recognize that if I want to lead well and be effective, whether at work or home, self-care is an essential ingredient.