How to be a leader when you don't feel like being a leader

Anyone else having “one of those weeks” lately?

It’s been a bit of a rough ride for a lot of the women in my life recently and I know all too well what it feels like to be in this space.   

Even if it’s not your current state of reality, you likely know exactly what I’m talking about:

Everything feels hard, everyone is pissing you off, and everywhere is a place you really don’t want to be.

But if that doesn’t sound familiar, maybe this will:

The days seem dictated by an endless to-do list, emails are going unanswered, people are trampling all over your boundaries, deals are falling through, things are tense with your significant other, and every single task takes about a million times longer than it normally should.

And the nights are not much better – maybe even worse. You spend hours upon hours tossing and turning as your head incessantly swirls with ALL OF THE THINGS. The quiet dark tends to create optimal opportunities to obsess over the minutia, dwell in the past, and catastrophize the future.

From dawn to dusk, sun-up through sun-down, you just can’t shake some feelings, which typically play out, spiral, and circle back around as some version of:

Uninspired. Unmotivated. Unimpressed.

Undervalued. Unsupported. Unappreciated.

Unseen. Unheard. Unwanted.

For a few or more days, you’re pretty much teetering on the edge of becoming entirely unglued. And then it passes.

Something shifts, there’s a sigh of relief, and you’re back to business as usual. (And if it doesn’t, reaching out to a helping professional might be suggested.)

It’s not a whole lot of fun in the meantime. Totally get it. And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been there more than a time or two. 

The truth is that no matter how successful, centred, and secure we  are, we’re all going to inevitably land in this place from time to time. As Pulitzer-winning poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay has put it, “Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.”

The trick is to have some solid strategies in place in advance to get ourselves back into the light more swiftly and surely as possible.

Baby, It’s Not You, It’s Me

The starting point typically has to do with radically transforming your foundational mindset and perspective – ideally in a time when you’re healthy, strong, sane, and settled.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll hit the repeat button on my trusty stand-by about what it means to show up in your life, work, and the world as a leader:

Leadership is not a position, it’s a constant, conscious, and very often, courageous decision.

At its core, personal leadership is the unconditional, full-spirited acknowledgement that you are 110% responsible for your own life, without excuse or exception.

Leadership is neither a title nor a standing; it’s absolute ownership of your capacity to make smart, hard, deliberate and enlightened choices in response to every experience, emotion, person, and circumstance you encounter.

What this means is that in every moment, it’s completely within your power to step into leadership, or not. That should sound like good news for most, but in reality, this can often be a hard pill for some of us to swallow; when the going gets tough, it can feel far easier to pass the buck and blame, deflecting or denying our role in any given negative situation.

If you’re not convinced of my take on this, I’d invite you to consider Oprah’s thoughts on the matter (and watch the fantastic short video that the words are linked to):

“YOU are responsible for YOUR life. And if you’re sitting around waiting for someone to save you, to fix you, or even help you, you are wasting your time. Because only you have the power to take responsibility to move your life forward. And the sooner you get that, the sooner your life gets into gear.”

And the sooner, I would add, that you might begin to be recognized and regarded as a leader by others. If you’re someone who is able to fully embrace, embody, and exemplify this truth with some consistency, chances are pretty good that people will eventually begin to turn to you in good faith for guidance, support, encouragement, and expertise.

You must be able to lead yourself before you really have any business leading others; until you’re standing solidly in your own sovereignty, your shoulders simply aren’t strong enough to lift up others. 

At this point, you’re probably like, “Um, thanks for the soapboxy leadership lecture, Jami, but how do I actually make this actionable and useful in my life?”

I’m getting there right now, I promise!

Enter in The Feminine LeaderShift.

In the darkness, or when we’re at our worst, we’re typically in the mode of command, control, compete, compare, and criticize.

In the light, or when we’re at our best, we’re typically driven by connection, contribution, collaboration, celebration, and compassion.

It’s actually in the space between these two states where the opportunity for genuine leadership emerges.

Leadership lives in the moments when we consciously decide to engage our agency and activate our capacity to choose a different way of being. Here’s how it works:

1) Moving out of command and into connection.

In the darkness, we tend to descend into a domineering and solitary headspace. Often we will gravitate towards isolation in order to increase our productivity and indulge our perfectionist leanings. However, rather than retreating from the world, the Feminine LeaderShift would implore you to instead opt for some fresh air, commune with nature, have lunch with a girlfriend, or pull your child out of school for an impromptu adventure.

Connection is truly the best elixir for heightened creativity, the solution for “stuck-ness,” and the cure-all for complacency.

2) Stepping away from control towards contribution.

When we’re stressing over how rent is going to get paid, how we’re going to meet a tight deadline, or how we might respond to an unhappy client or customer, many of us automatically fall into fear. We move into scarcity and out of service, rejecting abundance in favour of the fervor to please, prove, perfect, and perform. 

Rather than lingering in lack, actively seek out opportunities to be generous, to give back, or otherwise make a difference in a selfless way. Write a cheque to your favourite charity, volunteer some time at an organization, or gift some of your products and services. As Francis of Assisi has so beautifully said, “For it is in giving that we receive.”

3) Releasing competition to make space for collaboration.

One of my favourite sayings is, “A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it, it just blooms.” As I see it, the more blooming that occurs, the more stunning and glorious the garden. The same is true of the world

In her brilliant 2013 article, Shine Theory: Why Powerful Women Make the Greatest Friends, Ann Friedman wrote, “When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”

Truer words have never been spoken. When you encounter someone doing beautiful and brilliant work in the world, your aim should never be to overshadow it, but to figure out how to best bask in the glow.   

4) Trading in comparison for celebration.

Relatedly, so many of our heartaches and headaches come from letting the successes of others act as a distorted fun-house mirror of all of things we ourselves haven’t achieved, accomplished or experienced.

But instead of being a Bitter Betty about somebody else’s drool-worthy vacation, the incredible publishing deal, the aww-mazing blog post, or the hard-earned community award, be a Queen about it: send flowers, write a note, offer up a loving comment, or share a post. 

You can never, ever go wrong with the currency of celebration. Even in the event that it happens to go unnoticed or unacknowledged by the individual, you’ve earned yourself some serious clout with the gods of good karma.    

5) Rejecting criticism in favour of compassion.

When people stand us up, let us down, waste our time, or hurt our feelings, we generally do one of two things (or, often both):

      i.         We get all up in our egos and berate their thoughtlessness and/or incompetence

     ii.         We get all up in our own self-worthiness and berate ourselves for not being good enough or important enough to deserve something different or better from these individuals

The enlightened alternative, and the way of the Feminine LeaderShift, is to gently re-wire our default responses to incorporate inquiry, along with a little more kindness and humanity - for both ourselves and others.

We never really know what’s going on behind the scenes with other people and on the flip-side, we can often bring a lot of our own baggage into any given interaction. Be thoughtful enough to consider in advance that something entirely unrelated to you and the current situation might be happening.