Great leadership starts with self leadership. It’s possible to become a leader long before you are ever leading others, you do that by bringing influential energy to others. The magical thing about leadership is that it isn’t about you becoming anything that you aren’t, it is about becoming everything that you are.
I can remember being in a particularly challenging relationship with a boss at work. For a long time I was passive in that relationship, being the victim of the dynamic. I’d complain to others about just how hard it was to work with that person. Then something shifted, and I realised that I had power in this relationship too, I had a role to play. I started with open body language, and by working hard to overcome existing biases of having worked with this person. I softened, I led the situation and things changed.
Soft leadership for the win
I saw a post somewhere recently about soft girl season; namely a time of year where womxn prioritise rest and gentleness over hardness and exhaustion. I love the idea, and it got me thinking about leadership, and how it changed in the pandemic.
A new kind of leadership was needed in the workplace to navigate fast and scary change, one that was softer, kinder and more empathetic. I saw it in my own role; suddenly the things that had made me quite different amongst my leadership peers, were then the skills that were the most needed. It was an extremely confirming moment for me, in that I truly felt how much the kind of leadership I brought was needed.
It is still needed. Not just from me, but from all of us. Yet still we aren’t sitting at enough leadership tables. At this time, womxn only occupy 24% at C-Suite level, just 4% are womxn of colour. We still aren’t being promoted or rewarded at the same level as our male counterparts. We struggle to self advocate, we take on additional work without reward and many of us are on the slippery slope to burnout.
The pandemic may have opened the door for a more authentic leadership presence to come running in, but my challenge to those of you reading this is to try to find the means to keep the door open and powerfully claim your seat at the leadership table.
What soft leadership does for humans
The majority of businesses, especially in tech, are looking to create something new. Each and every human is creative, but we often bury our creativity after some experience of having our creativity rejected; perhaps by a teacher or by other humans. Many of us arrive in the workplace already keeping ourselves small in some way, in order to fit in.
Imagine how different our experience might have been if we were met with a leader that unlocked that for us. A leader who believed in our ability to create, our ability to make smart decisions, and our ability to grow, perhaps more than we did.
Imagine if by having someone who believed in us so much, we felt safe enough to get to know who we really are, and activated our very best sense of self within the workplace.
What we get instead
My experience I am sure is like many, where I felt the opposite of that. I had leaders who were threatened by my ideas, I had leaders who would gaslight me if I raised anything, I had leaders who would manipulate my thinking to make me think I wasn’t ready for the promotion or growth I was seeking, I also had leaders that would shame me.
Shaming is the currency in our working world that we need to get rid of.
Whilst it might make us work harder, it doesn’t make us work smarter and we lose tiny pieces of ourselves each and every time it happens. Unfortunately, for those of us who naturally lead in a softer way, largely womxn, our roles simply got bigger in the pandemic. We found ourselves taking on extra responsibilities for no extra reward, and because we are horrible at having boundaries as a rule, it also meant that many of us experienced burnout.
When leadership is hard, it looks like:
- Giving too much, not having boundaries and working to burnout
- Passing stress onto others around you
- Wanting to step up in your career but feeling like you can’t
- Negative self talk and rampant imposter syndrome
- Being sick of being talked over and interrupted in meetings
Soft leadership, done well, involves boundaries and self advocating, it looks more like:
- Managing expectations, prioritising work and lovingly upholding boundaries
- Having a smart formula for dealing with stress when it comes
- Self advocacy and growth
- Self love and understanding your value
- Communicating authentically with influence and love
If I want to grow as a soft leader, where shall I begin…?
If you want to be that leader. for yourself first and then for others, I recommend you look across the following lenses:
Beliefs – Who you really are, what you believe and what you value. This is an essential part of us understanding and building confidence in ourselves.
Love – Our ability to love ourselves informs our ability to love others. When we love, we communicate better and build better relationships.
Ownership – Embracing autonomy over our life and work, having boundaries and planning and executing on our strategies. Learning the art of firm but fair.
Operating system – The foundation that supports us, our rhythm, our structure, our boundaries. Making sure that it works, and constantly reviewing it.
Manifestation – Our focus on what we want in future, and that we start the incremental steps in order to get there.
The good news is that I am building a course to take you on this journey. A journey that will see you Bloom, and ideally, one that will inspire you to share it with others. Join the waitlist for the first cohort here: https://maven.com/ruth-penfold-brown/bloomaccelerator.
Here’s to soft leadership becoming the new normal. Who is with me?