A client and I were swapping Stuff That Would Never Happen To a Man stories.
I shared an experience from a few years ago where my boss’s boss and his counterpart were dictating to me what to write in a presentation. It was late. I was sitting between them. They literally talked over me, rapid-firing ideas, pausing periodically to say, “Read that back…”
I dutifully took notes, scrambling to synthesize and shape on the fly.
I was a Director at the time.
But I wasn’t there as a trusted advisor. I was there as an order-taker, which robbed me of my power and them of a more powerful presentation.
When I finished my lament, my client said, “Yeah that never would've happened to a guy. What’s interesting is that you let it happen.”
She was right.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t appropriate. They should have known better.
But I had an opportunity to lead. And I failed.
I could have said a number of things in that moment to change the dynamic. Perhaps the bigger lesson is how we got to the point where I was even viewed that way.
If you asked me at the time if I was a leader, I would have emphatically said, “Yes!” But my actions told a different story.
In that role, I had a ton of exposure to the leadership team. I “led” a weekly meeting where I had ample opportunity to contribute to the substance of the discussion...which I rarely took.
I didn’t set up 121 meetings to understand their priorities—or share mine with them. I avoided them because I felt intimidated.
I worked truly insane hours on stuff that was important to me but didn't help with their objectives, leaving me resentful and them unclear about my value-add.
I watched as they undercut and worked against one another rather than focusing on ways I could use my role to bring them together.
Then, I blamed them for seeing me as an order-taker rather than taking a hard look in the mirror to understand what I was doing that perpetuated that image. I hid behind the excuse of "this wouldn't happen if I were a man" rather than show up to the amazing opportunity I'd been given.
I had a seat at the table, but I didn’t lead.
When we don’t lead, we create a vacuum. What fills that vacuum is all sorts of crap we don’t want.
Leadership isn’t a box on an org chart. And it’s not just the big moments where you give the rousing speech or deliver a giant project. It’s every single decision you make. It’s how you show up everywhere all the time.
You’re leading in every single moment, whether you realize it or not.
When you truly lead, you don't hold back or play small, so people view you as you wish to be seen.
When you truly lead, there's no us versus them. You have an army of people that support you and vice versa. I hate when people say, "It's lonely at the top." If you're lonely, you're not leading.
When you truly lead, there's an ease. Sure, some decisions are hard, but there's no resistance between what you think and the actions you take. Authentic leadership brings peace because you're honoring your deepest values and principles.
When you truly lead, it doesn't matter what others do (or don't). You're operating at your absolute best regardless of the circumstances.
Yes, all sorts of nonsense happens to women. It's not about what happens to you but how you lead through it.
So, I ask you:
Do you consider yourself to be a leader?
Where do your actions not back that up?
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