Earlier this week, on the long journey from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires, one of the flight attendants was reading a book by Anne Wilson Schaef, Meditations for women who do too much. She told me that she was having a lot of fun with it, and I was intrigued by the title, so I accepted when she offered to let me borrow it for part of the flight.
The book is organized as a series of quotations, one for each day of the year. The themes center around a variety of issues in women’s lives, followed by the author’s thoughts on the matter at hand. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, or merely my perspective, but several of the pages I perused happened to relate to aspects of my writing and coaching. For example, two of the entries were about the concept of women leading themselves, and learning to lead from the inside out.
The first such passage was on the subject of “confusion”, and the short quote from Dame Edith Evans was: “I seem to have an awful lot of people inside me.”
What Dame Evans means, I think, is that we all have a multitude of voices, from a wide range of people we have heard over the course of a lifetime, voices that tell us how we should act in various contexts, how we should define success, what we should care about and strive for, or what we should pay attention to.
We carry these voices inside us wherever we go, and they can often contradict each other. One of the results of allowing ourselves to be influenced by the many voices is the confusion the author writes about. And, another by-product of listening to them is that we risk losing touch with our own voice, our sense of who we are, and our grounding in what we believe.
The author goes on to say that the outside voices often undermine our self-confidence by telling us that we are inadequate in some area, not accomplishing enough at work, not a good enough boss, a good parent, etc.
As Schaef writes: “Growing up and claiming our own lives, is partially a process of listening to our own voices and distinguishing them from the crowd inside us…”
For the leaders I work with, one of my basic tenets is quite similar. We should focus on finding our authentic and natural voice, and on having the confidence to express our true nature through our own words and stories.
Managing one’s image: Another page from this book that caught my attention was a quote from Shakti Gawain on impression management: “We will discover the nature of our particular genius when we stop trying to conform to our own or to other people’s models, learn to be ourselves, and allow our natural channel to open.”
To me, the point of this quotation is similar to the one above. To a significant extent, we model our behavior on others, try to conform to our acquired images and models of how we should be at work (or elsewhere), and how we should play the role of manager or leader.
Instead, we should seek to stay in touch with ourselves and to express our true essence. Throughout our lives, we should reflect iteratively on where we find meaning, what truly matters to us, what we would like to stand for, and how we can live a life where we communicate these things to others—in our own voice and with our own personal style. That is simply what effective leaders—and all influential people—do.