Sophie’s Story

Sophie’s Story

I grew up thinking that as long as I worked harder than everyone around me I would achieve. And this way of thinking worked well for me – for awhile. 

As a child I was somewhat of a ‘competitive perfectionist’. I worked hard in school, did a lot of extra curricular activities and achieved great results.  At university I worked harder than most, and ended up excelling in my degree and going on to do Honours and a PhD.  I worked in academia for awhile and then went in to the ‘real’ workforce. This was when, for the first time, I started to really second guess myself, and my worth. I also started questioning whether I really deserved to be where I was.

To anyone on the outside, I would have looked like I was hitting goals; forming great connections with workmates, meeting all deadlines, winning business and finding myself promoted quite quickly to a senior leadership role.  But on the inside, my confidence was diminishing.

After returning from maternity leave and trying to manage a senior role in a part-time capacity, things really started to unravel.  Looking back, I can see now that one of the key factors was that I had lost my sense of self. I felt a lot of pressure to be a particular ‘type’ of leader and had lost touch with the truth of who I was as a leader. Specifically, I felt a lot of pressure to be more extroverted and less caring than I really was.

I would often receive feedback that I needed to better promote myself. I was also told that I needed to toughen up and be ‘a little more ruthless’ in my approach. The resulting negative self-talk and waning confidence worsened when I spent time in the public sector.  Still, from the outside it looked as though I was doing really well.  I was promoted quickly and managed a number of large teams.  But in a department that was largely male, I think the female leaders felt even more pressure to take on a style that was often dissonant with their personal values. 

I spent a couple of years wearing ridiculously high shoes, very bright lipstick and putting on what felt like a mask every day.  I modelled myself on what I thought I needed to be and I felt like an imposter. 

I can now see that when you are not being true to yourself, it impacts negatively on every aspect on your life.  My sleeping was poor and I was probably drinking too much in order to ‘switch off’ enough to spend quality time with my very young children of an evening. 

Then, something shifted.

I was lucky enough to move to a new company where I met Cassie.  Cassie opened my eyes to what authentic leadership could be.  A truly passionate and caring leader, Cassie immediately made me feel valued and coached me to being to believe in myself.   Cassie was the female role model I had been needing for a long time and gave me the confidence to back myself. It really just takes one leader who really sees you for this shift to be possible.

While I cannot say that the negative self talk has completely gone away, the most important thing I have learned is that you need to be true to your own leadership style.  I know what my positive leadership attributes are and I work with them now, rather than dwelling on what I think I ‘should be’. 

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