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A Change of Perception

There are three questions I always ask the women I work with – because the answers will dictate whether she’s going to flourish in her leadership role or work herself to the ground (and feel like she’s selling her soul in the process). 

They are:

  •  Do you see yourself as a leader?
  • Does your leadership role sit comfortably with you?
  • Have you found your place as a leader within your organisation?

These questions are an important part of the discovery process, for me and for my clients. Let me explain why. 

Not so long ago, I worked with an incredible woman in my Leadership Connection membership program. Let’s call her Emma (even though that’s not her real name). Emma had an enviable work ethic that kept pace with an extremely busy workplace. She was well-liked and respected by both her peers and the senior executive team. Following a restructure, Emma was excited to be tapped on the shoulder for a leadership position. 

In the new role, Emma found herself reporting to a director that was new to the organisation, and brought a leadership style she wasn’t used to working with. Emma’s new team included some of her former peers, and sadly the shift from colleague to leader did not go smoothly. 

Emma’s former peers were happy to keep her in a place of micromanagement, while the rest of the team (who were looking for strategic guidance) grew resentful of the lack of direction they were receiving from Emma and frustrated that she did not seem to trust them to just get on with the job. 

Emma knew she needed to step up, but being stuck in her to-do list, working ridiculously long hours and dealing with borderline-toxic team dynamics, meant she simply couldn’t see a path forward. She constantly questioned her capabilities, value, and worth.

This story is devastating! And, sadly, all too common.

The transition from peer to leader can be really difficult, and it is rarely an issue of competency. After all, you are employed as a leader in recognition of your abilities and hard work. However, at its core, leadership isn’t just a different way of doing – it requires a different way of thinking. And one of the biggest obstacles to this is how leaders see themselves! Throw in the good girl dynamic that’s so prevalent in our generation and it becomes even more difficult.

Embracing a leadership role requires a distinct shift in how women see themselves. 

Very few people are natural leaders (despite what pervasive mythology would try to have you believe). Effective leadership comes from developing a set of skills, and cultivating the perception that you are, in fact, a leader. And the most significant perception comes from within. 

So, tell me… do you actually see yourself as a leader?

When we step into a leadership role, our behaviour needs to reflect that as well. In performance psychology there is a philosophy of ‘behaviour informs action’, as a reflection of attitude. Put simply, action is (literally) the act of doing something. Behaviour describes the way you conduct yourself as you take the action. To step up into the next level of leadership, the way you behave likely needs to shift, along with your perception of yourself.

When someone steps into a leadership role, they’re really good at doing the work – especially when this role has come from a series of shoulder taps. And while this should shift in their new leadership role, it often doesn’t.

One of the frustrations women share with me (far too often) is that, while they recognise this new role should allow them to be visionary, set the strategic direction, and drive change, that is not the case. 

They find themselves still caught up with implementation (doing the do) and, in some cases, still doing big chunks of their old job! Very often they get stuck in that go-to-girl image.  Their title and official PD changed, but how they approach their workload does not. Which leads to resentment and burnout, with many women left wondering… is this is? Is this what I’ve worked so hard for? No thank you!

Which brings me back to those 3 important questions. 

  • Do you see yourself as a leader?
  • Does your leadership role sit comfortably with you?
  • Have you found your place as a leader within your organisation?

We start here because it helps us focus our work, and understand where exactly my clients need to shift their perception of themselves from the reliable, hard-working, go-to girl to the capable, engaged, and insightful leader they truly are. 

When they come to me, they usually understand the responsibilities, obligations and potential that comes with leading a team, but they are unable to see a path forward that gets them out of the busywork and into the big-picture visionary work that will move the organisation forward. That’s where I come in – so let’s start a conversation today.

By the way, if you’re wondering about what happened to Emma? Through our work together and her own commitment to shifting her perception and the perception of those around her – not only is she now wholeheartedly embracing her leadership role, she is respected by her team and peers and kicking goals!

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