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’.