In our last post, Miriam Meima and I outlined the three unspoken challenges of women in tech — being seen, being heard, and being ourselves. We have had the opportunity to coach a number of today’s most successful women leaders. Through that work a fascinating paradox has emerged — that the path to being seen and heard is letting go of needing to be seen or heard. The key to being seen and being heard is unapologetically being yourself.
Underneath this conversation lies an emerging potential few are even aware of.
How we got here
It’s hard to be yourself when you’re pretending to be somebody else.
We’ve all been distracted by trying to ‘do it right’ in order to be effective. For so many of us, it has been ingrained that to lead well meant to lead like a man (perhaps you even read the book Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman or one of the many others). These books are red herrings. The old, stalwart models of leadership — or the behaviors and characteristics that we associated with effective leadership — were created by men and for men simply because men happened to be in charge. After all, it was only just 1972 when Katharine Graham became the first female CEO at the helm of a fortune 500 company. When all of the specimen of study are of one gender, it’s no one wonder all the supposed signifiers of effective leadership would be those we we associate with masculinity.
Because the older model is heavily masculine, women in particular feel called to find a new way: their own way. The emerging “model” is in fact no model at all. Instead it is the belief that to be a powerful leader, one must find their unique way of leading from a place of deep authenticity.
The emerging potential: radical self-inquiry
Exceptional leaders are willing (even deeply desiring) to develop their own leadership model, one built on a deep understanding of their own beliefs, values, motivations, experience and shadows. They are boldly raising the conversation to a whole new level:
- What does it look like when women are in charge in the public sphere?
- What does it look like when women are equal to men?
- What does it look when I’m not attached to the issues and problems…when I am authentically my gender and not a victim to it?
We are seeing an evolution from the idea that there is a clear and relatively narrow view of what effective leadership looks like, to the understanding that a myriad of unique and authentic styles are possible. We are experiencing the dawning of an age of leadership diversity, in which we begin to experience many different highly individualized leadership styles. Shedding the belief that effective leadership is defined in a gendered way. Emerging with a much more broad approach to leadership, that is resilient, integrated, dynamic, authentic — and produces meaningful results.
In the process, these bold leaders are discovering one key truth: Leadership is mostly about being you. And who are you? Well, that is an ongoing question that is best answered through radical self-inquiry.
The unfolding opportunity
Many courageous leaders have already embraced this new approach to leadership. They are living the inquiry, allowing their careers to serve as a platform for the continuous unfolding of developing a new model for leadership — their own. They feel called to lead from a place of authenticity, not to redefine traditional models of leadership. Yet, that is what they are doing just the same.
Women leaders in particular share that they have few role models and mentors who they’d hope to emulate, so they turn instead turn to their peers. Support from other women is key because in women-only groups there is a shared sense of the old model being largely irrelevant as a path forward for them: each woman is trying to figure out what works uniquely for herself. Differences are not ascribed to gender.
When you are being you, being seen and heard happen naturally — because, how you can you be seen and heard if you are hiding? And paradoxically, they also become less important. When you are being you, you can lead from a place of service. Where you don’t need to ask “what am I supposed to do now?” or “what will they think?” but rather, “how can I serve my mission, my vision, my values, my company?”
You are the only person who can give yourself permission to be you. To lead the way you know works best. But this does not have to be a lonely endeavor. In fact, we believe that when charting your path, having the correct support is critical to empower you. Connecting with a group of your peers, working with a coach, engaging in a practice of radical self-inquiry — these are all things that can provide support and drive to stay true to your path.
What are you capable of when you are charting your own path? Let’s find out.
This post was co-authored by Miriam Meima. We are the coaches facilitating Reboot’s upcoming Women Startup Leaders’ Circle, and this article was originally posted on Reboot’s Medium blog on Nov. 3, 2016.