What Girls Know About Leadership that Women Forget
Remember back in grade school when you bartered your baloney sandwich for a bean taco in the cafeteria? How about the first time you won a foot race or a game of chess? Maybe you bought 100 bite-sized chocolate bars in bulk and sold each piece individually to make a profit? Or, perhaps you took home a blue ribbon for your science fair project?
Of course, you remember! You loved winning and weren't shy about enjoying your successes!
Flexing our leadership skills, discovering we have the agency to move the needle and celebrating our wins unabashedly are defining moments in our young lives. They help us feel hopeful, liberated and powerful. Repeated over time, these experiences grow into strengths that support career advancement in our adult lives.
However, something seems to happen as girls grow into women. Instead of being wild-hearted, beaming beacons of joy and possibility, we get hung up about winning, standing out and owning our power.
Deepak Chopra describes this process as, ‘the gap’ or that ‘in between’ gray space in our brains where we ask ourselves, who am I to lead?
For many women, our aversion to risk outweighs our willingness to play or experiment. Self-doubt undermines our innate confidence and though we may be highly qualified to lead, we wonder if we are best suited for the job.
Kids are often successful because they are not yet haunted by the failures and pitfalls that inevitably occur throughout life. They have less to lose and a fall from 3 feet is a lot less painful than one from the height of a full-grown adult. In this case, being naive is truly the gift that helps young people fervently follow their dreams without overthinking or second-guessing.
As women, transitioning into a new leadership role or becoming more visible in a current role can spur feelings of imposter syndrome and a spiral of other negative emotions. I’ve experienced this phenomenon when I’ve lingered in my comfort zone for too long, allowed myself to be affected by outside opinions and succumbed to cultural or environmental influences that did not feel supportive of my growth.
Through my experiences, I’ve discovered the only way to mind the “gap” Chopra refers to is to take a giant leap of faith into the wilderness. It’s scarier, it’s riskier and it’s where I’ve discovered the biggest rewards, which also makes leaping so much fun! I’ve learned to prefer “playing in traffic” over sitting on the sidelines.
Being a mentor and advisor to others allows me to reflect on where the gap comes from. Why do we shrivel up or question our leadership ability when promoted to a new role? Perhaps it is because we haven’t seen others that look like us win at this level or we are the “first of.” The tendency to downplay success or play it safe is happening across the board, from women who are just starting out to those who are in established careers.
Maybe we’ve bought into the competing stories that women have to do everything perfectly yet do everything humbly.
Who do you think you are, anyway?
Look who’s getting too big for her britches!
So, how can we refrain from becoming our own worst critics? What can we do to tap into the adventurous spirit and willingness to leap that we had as children?
Growth can feel disorienting, but this feeling also indicates you have an opportunity to level up. Fortunately, it’s never too late to hit the reset button and shed the old mental conditioning and programming that no longer serves you! If your career has either felt stagnant lately or you are struggling to adapt to your next level of success, try adapting the wisdom from your youth:
1 - Consider what the worst thing is that could happen if you fail. (Humiliation does not count as a good reason to chicken out.)
2 - Set your ego aside and just give things a whirl. There is no handbook on how to do it right, so have fun trying new things just to see what happens.
3 - Leave it all on the field. No kid plays tag halfway. They run and sweat and pant and play as hard as they can. Sometimes you’ll be tagged out and sometimes you'll be the victor, but you must give it your all to have a chance at winning.
4 - Celebrate your wins, unabashedly! Don’t be afraid to shine your light; it’s what you were made to do.
Developing a certain amount of grit and surrounding myself with other women in leadership roles has shifted my own approach to the gap. When fear or feelings of inadequacy do rise up, I question where these feelings originated and then honestly assess if my hesitancy will keep me safe or stagnant. I also believe it’s perfectly fine to prepare for a big leap by taking a few practice jumps and asking others to assist me.
Next time you are called to lead or be promoted or recognized, be mindful of the gap but leap forward bravely and take stock of the rich foundation you have created for this moment in time.
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