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When I think of the words “leader” or “leadership”, part of me wants to roll my eyes at the fluffiness. The terms “manager” and “management” just sounds stronger, more determined and more focused.

When I think of a manager, I think of someone who calls people out on their bullshit. He or she is a numbers person. They get down to business, make the tough decisions, streamline processes, and increase profits. When I think of a leader, the first thing that comes to my mind is people. Leaders are people oriented, while managers are business oriented. A person in a position of leadership needs to excel at both.

But here’s what I think…

People are at the heart of everything we do. Brené Brown says humans are wired to connect with one another. They say the number one reason employees stay at their jobs is because of the friendships they make with coworkers.

The skills of a leader outshine the skills of a manager. Yet, leadership skills seem to be highly underrated.

Leadership is hard to define. And this is coming from someone who has been trained in leadership! There’s talk about “natural born leaders”, and while I think there’s some truth to the thought, I think you need to want to be a leader in order to lead.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart, and there is much, much more to it than what people understand on the surface. When I discuss leadership concepts with people, they agree and may even tell a story that justifies their understanding. But unless they practice what they preach, I have little respect for their opinion. There’s a big difference in thinking and doing, and it’s leaders that differentiate one from the other.

Braving the Wilderness – Part 5

Braving the Wilderness – Part 5

The key to joy is practicing gratitude.

When I read this statement, I sat in disbelief for about 5 seconds.  Then I immediately stood up, walked to my office, grabbed a Post-it and wrote down the word “gratitude.”  I propped it up like a teepee and set it on my night stand facing my bed, so that it is the first thing I see in the morning.

This morning I had been complaining to a co-worker that my boss implied that only lateral movement would be available to me.  I was so disheartened when my boss and I had that conversation.  I told him I was looking beyond just a manager position.  After all, that’s what I’m working for.  That’s why I attend leadership programs, why I read books, why I seek out learning opportunities.   After his implication, I immediately came to the conclusion that if I was going to see a C-level position, it would have to be with another employer.

Like, whoa.  Right?  I went from 0-60 in an instant.  Who’s to say that I’m even going to want a C-level position in the next few years?  Life changes!  I work for an amazing employer that values my opinion, includes me in the hard conversations, allows me to influence their leadership, and truly cares about my well-being as an employee and a person.  My employer is a diamond in the rough, and I should be grateful that they afford me the opportunities that they do!  But I was so focused on what they may not offer me, that I completely overlooked what they do offer me.

As I continued with my reading, Brown went on to say that we should stop looking for confirmation that we don’t belong or that we’re not good enough.

That is exactly what I was doing.  I was looking for confirmation that I don’t belong.  I’ve been having a hard time at work though.  I’m going through growing pains, and so is the company.  Instead of owning my pain, I was looking for an exit strategy.

It’s funny too, because at work, I am leading a movement to change our culture from being reactive to being proactive.  We’re trying to recognize and reward positive behavior in the effort to minimize disciplinary action.  Then here I am, automatically assuming the worse, seeking out the negative.  So tomorrow and days in the future, I will choose gratitude.  It will take self-discipline to recognize when I’m falling into the trap, but “the key to joy is practicing gratitude.”

Braving the Wilderness – Part 4

Braving the Wilderness – Part 4

Brown explains that we tend to put on an “armored front” for two reasons:

  1. We’re not comfortable with emotions and equate vulnerability with weakness
  2. Traumatic experiences taught us vulnerability is dangerous

These resonated with me.  As I’ve shared in previous posts, I have a fear of vulnerability, but I never really considered myself to have an “armored front.”  I always considered myself pretty open with people, except when I’m not…

Here are some examples:

Vulnerability in Dating:  I personally feel like I will come off as needy and desperate if I express interest in someone first.  Even if I do express interest, it’s so nonchalantly that it’s not taken seriously.  Then I will not continue to pursue it in the fear of coming off too strong.  What I realized is that my insecurities in dating do come from traumatic experiences.

The summer before my freshman year, my sister kissed a boy that I had been crushing on.  They both knew I had a crush, and he was a friend.  I felt betrayed by both.  I felt he had played me to get to her.  I remember what my sister said when I confronted her about it: “Don’t tell mom.”  And I didn’t, until years after the fact.  I was completely devastated, and I had to go through it alone.

This experience (and others) has shaped my view of how to initiate new relationships: It never works out when I like someone first.  If I express interest first, I still have weariness and disbelief that he can return that interest.  But when a guy expresses interest first, I feel like he is upfront with his intent.  It’s less intimidating to let my guard down, when he’s been vulnerable first.

Vulnerability in Expression:  I am terrified of sharing my creative work, especially my writing.  I would rather hunker down in my bunker than to receive criticism over something I believe or experienced. First step was putting it on the web.  I have yet to share the link with family and friends, aside from my one dedicated reader (Hi, Mom!).

I have not personally received criticism, so I don’t have first-hand traumatic experience.  But we see it play out all the time on the web.  I’m afraid that my opinion, my belief, will cost me my job, my friends, or even cause me to receive threats.  But I also know that without risk, there is no reward.  One day, I will have to muster up the courage to be vulnerable and share my work, but even the “one day” scares me.

These are just two examples, but in thinking it over, I’m not as open as I thought I was.

One day I was talking with some guy friends who were teasing me about being single.  I played along with it.  Then one said something that hit a nerve, and it was all I could do not to let the tears fall.

If I had said, “Guys, can we not talk about this?” when they started off, I could have avoided the whole issue.  But I didn’t realize how much it bothered me, until the one comment triggered hurt.  Playing along was a defense mechanism all along.  Because if I had to say, “Can we not talk about this?” they would know that it’s a sensitive subject.  I would have had to of been vulnerable in that moment, but that little bit of courage up front could have saved me from pain down the conversation.

My point with that story is that because I was willing to poke fun at myself, I misinterpreted playing along as letting my guard down and being open.  What I was really doing was trying to shield myself from them knowing how I actually feel about being single.

In analyzing my own behaviors, I realized that I wear armor more often than I originally thought.  A lot of self-reflection goes into braving the wilderness.  You have to be acutely aware of yourself in order to experience true belonging.

Braving the Wilderness – Part 3

Braving the Wilderness – Part 3

In all that I’ve been reading in Braving the Wilderness, I feel like there’s one thing that has been left out: empathy.  But I don’t think it is so much left out as it is actually implied.  And I really don’t think that people are as empathetic as they probably think they are.

Definition of empathy

1: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner;  also the capacity for this

Brown talks of her research and says we need to “show up for collective moments of joy and pain so we can actually bear witness to inextricable human connection.”

I was at my cousin’s wedding shower recently.  She was so touched by a certain gift that she was brought to tears.  I wanted to cry watching her cry.  In that moment, I could almost feel exactly what she was feeling.  We connected in that moment, and I felt for her.  And I wasn’t the only one.  Looking around the crowd, you could just tell that others connected with her in that moment too.

But we must understand our own feelings before we can understand the feelings of others, before we can empathize.  Brown says that “we must own our pain.”  Pain builds character.

Do you ever have those moments when you don’t want people to cheer you up, when you just want to be pissed off?  I would say that is good!  Feel that anger!  Feeling it is the only way you work through it.  Working through our emotions is how we understand our feelings.  But you know what it takes to own our pain?  Courage to be vulnerable.

When we empathize with one another in the collective moments, we connect as humans.  And that’s really what life is all about.

Braving the Wilderness – Part 2

Braving the Wilderness – Part 2

Rather than pitching wild and innovative new ideas that could potentially change everything, we’re staying quiet and small in our bunkers and loud in our echo chambers.

It is sad that our world has become so polarized that we can’t even openly express our thoughts without fear of criticism or repercussion.  People are so fixated on placing the blame on others that we don’t take the time to reflect on how we may contribute to the problem.

In one of my leadership trainings, I was taught that self-awareness is one of the most critical skills a leader can have.  And it is surprisingly a skill that a lot of people lack.  But shouldn’t we understand our own feelings before we judge others for theirs?  We cannot control what others feel as we cannot control what we feel.  So why are we so quick to blame others when they may feel differently than we do about something?

Perspective is a function of experience.

We all have different perspectives, because we all have different experiences.  And our level of self-awareness can influence our experience.  When we communicate our perspectives, we learn from one another giving us new perspectives.  This is how we evolve as people and a society.

Exiting our bunkers and echo chambers is scary.  We are opening ourselves up to the harsh reality of where we are as a society.  A society focused on blame fixing over truly understanding.  We have to be vulnerable by communicating our experiences, and that is braving the wilderness.