Grit? Resilience? Courage? Vulnerability? Emotional wellness? Call it whatever buzz word you want; you need them all right now.
Leaders are under enormous pressure today. Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, when companies are struggling to turn profits and even the slightest misstep can lead to layoffs and insolvency, leaders at every level are being asked to do more with less than ever before.
Women leaders especially are feeling the burden, juggling their responsibilities at work with the new demands of raising a family in the “new normal” post-COVID world. How do women have it all, do it all, and maintain it all as leaders, mothers, spouses, and siblings in these personally and professionally challenging times? We thrive at work and then our home falls apart. We focus on work and then home takes the hit.
If you had asked me that question 15 years ago, I would have said, “grin and bear it, but never let your cracks show;” today, my answer is more earnest: lean in, own your story, accept imperfection and discover resiliency through vulnerability.
What changed in between those years? Simply put, I had it all, then I didn’t, and I only started to thrive when I stopped trying to be perfect and started being me.
Not that long ago, I was living the American Dream, a loving husband, dual incomes, a beautiful home, two children, and a dog. My life was a postcard from a place that others would envy. A place of wealth and health and happiness and abundance. It was Christmas card photo every day, and everything seemed perfect—until one day it wasn’t.
First it was the economic and housing crash of 2008, followed shortly and in quick succession by layoffs, health scares, a failing marriage, and a depleted bank account. When the dust settled a few years later, I was suddenly a divorcée solely raising two kids in a home I could barely afford and no clue when the proverbial bleeding would stop.
What was I supposed to do? Quit? Give up? Tap out?
It was in those moments, when I was scared and tired and overwhelmed by it all, that I heard my dad’s voice, telling me what he always had when things got tough: “Honey, wipe the tears—it’s time to pull those boots straps up.” And that’s what I did, because that’s what my dad had prepared me to do my whole life.
I learned from my dad that when there’s a job to do and people are depending on you, no matter how tough things get, you need to find the grit and resilience to preserver. Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t improve your situation or make things easier or better; you either find a way through, or everything comes crashing down around you.
Failure wasn’t an option. My children were depending on me, and I wouldn’t let setbacks and circumstances risk their future—or mine.
Did I give up? Hell no.
Was I successful? Hell yes.
Was I the best version of myself? Not even close.
In the years following my divorce, I continued climbing the corporate ladder and juggled my new life. I felt I had no choice, and I was ready to prove to the world I could do this! No revenue target was too high, no assignment too big. I had my groove back—at least, that’s what it looked like from the outside looking in. Our family schedule was like a science project. I burned the parental candle at both ends. I worked hard to present an image of this new self as this successful and strong now single woman. Truthfully, I was still reeling from the fracture of my “perfect” life and struggling to keep it locked away inside.
What could have been, what should have been kept playing in my head.
Many people associate vulnerability with weakness. I certainly did, and I know I’m not the only one, especially not in corporate America. I was afraid to let my cracks show; afraid that if people knew my story, they wouldn’t respect me, include me or even hire me.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I realized that I didn’t stand to lose a thing as I started to own and share my story. Not only sharing it but OWNING it. I put my armor down before I fell over trying to hold it up. I found myself in deeper relationships and connected to people like I never had before. I told my kids my truth and allowed them to have their own. The shocker was it felt like we gained this kryptonite superpower as it provided us all strength and connection. Superman would even be envious.
With the help of supportive friends, family, professional coaches, mentors, and spiritual leaders, I began to navigate this very difficult (and unnatural) territory of opening myself up instead of shutting myself in. Making hard vulnerable decisions about myself, my children and my carreer.
Along the way, I learned very important lessons about myself—and some very valuable lessons about leadership that I incorporate daily into my coaching.
When the weight of the world is seemingly on your shoulders as a parent, spouse, and business leader, you must be able to feel, think, and act intentionally from a place of authenticity and vulnerability.
How else can you leverage the best parts of you (and improve the worst parts) if you don’t take full emotional inventory?
Leading from your source is all about taking ownership of who you are, really. How freeing it was to be me; how freeing it would be to be you.
Trust the journey. Show your whole self.
Learn what vulnerability really means (and doesn’t mean) and why it is so powerful when used appropriately.
This is how I help people become better leaders: by learning to connect with people who aren’t like you, who don’t think like you, and who—like you—aren’t perfect, but are getting better every day and doing their best. Sure, there were those who didn’t get my story. Sometimes I felt left out, judged or alone. Maybe that was just my own stuff.
It wasn’t perfect. And that is perfectly ok.
When people look to leaders, they are attracted to strength and authenticity, but not the superficial kind; they want self-aware leaders who know that their actions and results define them, not their stories or what they went through to get where they are. Vulnerable leaders take accountability and people see and connect to that. It makes the leader human as we ALL have a story.
That’s why I’ve dedicated my profession to helping other leaders develop the courage, grit, resilience, and vulnerability to be balanced, whole, and effective in all walks of life. This is my purpose.
Why did I tell you all this?
Because leaders need to stop trying to be perfect and start owning their story. I learned what that means in practice, and I can share what I learned in corporate America to support others in their path to becoming self-aware, high-impact, and highly attuned leaders. These leaders build stronger teams with more connection and trust.
If you’d like to learn how to start owning your story to own your outcomes, reach out to me to discuss. Kris@Questage.com