7 Lessons Successful Women in Leadership Have Learned

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A couple of weeks ago I had the honour of joining a brand-new association as a founding Board Member called Women in Fitness Association (WIFA). Thank you, Lindsey Rainwater, for your stroke of genius to create this!

I honestly lit up with excitement when I heard about this new organization. It just felt like perfect timing, both personally and for the fitness industry.

See, 10 years ago I was a completely different person and leader than I am now. I know we can all likely say that, but I’m dead serious. I hid it well, but I had some crazy internal turmoil churning through my mind and emotions most days and in most situations.

If you’re a woman who is or has transitioned through your late 20’s to mid 30’s you’re far more likely to get what I’m about to share.

You see, I grew up in a small Midwestern town, surrounding by great people, a loving family and raised with good wholesome values…. So, what’s the problem?

I was completely and totally trapped in the straitjacket of people pleasing, trophy chasing, passive acceptance of gender role stereotyping, pacifying uncomfortable conversations to live with rose colored goggles on, and avoiding confrontation like the plague.

Those of you reading this who know me now are quite possibly laughing at the thought of me that way. The craziest part of the story is that 10 years ago I was already in leadership roles and people were looking to me for the way forward. How I survived that era of my life, I have no idea! A good sense of humor I guess… :)

But man, the journey of coming out of my cocoon taught me some seriously valuable lessons that I had not read in a book or heard on a podcast. They came from a lot of massively scary self-reflection, self-awareness, and mindfully shifting my headspace.

These are my 7 Lessons of a Lady Learning to Lead:

 7. Say NO! – Topping the list of symptoms of the people-pleasing disease is most definitely saying yes to everything. This is the fastest path to burn out in life… Saying yes to everything means you are putting everything else before what is actually important to you. Which means you are basically living for other people by doing what they want and not what you want and need. As women, we often put other’s first because it’s in our DNA to do that, but we can so easily do it to a fault. Self-control is the only way out of this rabbit hole. Practice saying no. You will be a better leader for your people at work, a better wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend if you can be capable of saying no to things that take you further from and not closer to the things in your life that are most important to you. Love yourself enough to say no.

6. Stop saying SORRY! – This one really changed my game. I honestly was not aware of how often I would use the phrase ‘sorry’ when it was completely not needed. By saying sorry for no reason, I was undermining my own self-worth and value, and I was also projecting negativity onto the people I was communicating with. I would start emails with things like, ‘Sorry to bother you as I know you’re a busy person but…’ Or I would say, ‘sorry I’m running late’… Now instead, I just start my emails with a nice greeting and get on with my point. And if I’m running late I say ‘thank you for waiting for me.’ Reframing the word ‘sorry’ to a positive word or phrase, or avoiding it all together, made me instantly come across more confident, more positive and made me more attractive to communicate with. Let’s face it, strong leaders only apologize when there is actually something to apologize for.

5. Ask confidently – Asking for a raise? Asking for time off? Asking for help? Why are these things so bloody hard for women to do? Because we fear the rejection and we aren’t always self-confident enough to believe that we deserve them. We often negotiate what we will need to compromise in our head before we’ve even had the conversation. It’s a hideous place to be when you’re living with this. I found that this one is closely tied with the stop apologizing lesson. When I respected myself by editing out the word ‘sorry’ from my vocab, I grew more and more confident overtime, and with that self-confidence came guts and gumption to ask for what I want. But most importantly came self-belief. I believed I deserved whatever I was asking for and loved myself enough to know if it didn’t work out I could brush it off quickly and move on without dwelling. This one was truly freeing! And as a result, I noticed more respect and opportunities coming my way.

4. It’s ok to lead with love – As women we are often made to feel that our natural desire to nurture and love other people is a weakness in leadership roles. OMG that couldn’t be more wrong! And the sooner we embrace our ability to empathize with people and help them discover their potential through our genuine love for them, the sooner we will reap the benefits of our true super power. Love is the greatest force on earth and as women we are so so lucky to have so much love embedded in our DNA. Use it, don’t suppress it when you lead. You wouldn’t lead your children that way, would you? So why should it be any different with your teams? The best teams on the earth are families. Lead your work family like your real family and your people will love you for it.

3. Stop rescuing uncomfortable situations – BUT even though you lead with love, dear oh dear please don’t rescue everything and everyone… As women, we have big hearts and we instantly want to save others from experiencing anything hurtful or uncomfortable. We hate to see people in pain or upset. When we see it, we instantly want to go help and make it better. This can be a lovely quality in certain situations. Like when we need console a friend who has had a bad breakup, or when we need to hug our kid after a run in with a bully. But it’s not useful when we rescue situations that don’t need it just because we can’t stand to feel the discomfort ourselves. It’s our inability to allow discomfort that can disable someone else from learning and growing. When we can’t realize that our dislike of discomfort is actually becoming a selfish act rather than a helpful one. For example, as a leader sometimes you must have disciplinary or coaching conversations to correct poor choices and poor performance at work. To be ultimately effective in these situations, you can’t deliver the feedback to someone and then rescue them from it because it makes you feel uncomfortable to have hurt them. For them to learn and grow, you have to deliver the feedback and then shut up and allow it to sit with them even if it’s hard for them to hear and hard for you to deliver. The sooner you can recognize when you’re rescuing something or someone that would be better off if you didn’t, the better leader you will become.

2. ‘Imposter’ is a fairytale in your head – That word… imposter… it’s like an invisible dark cloud that hovers over our heads as we progress in our careers. It’s dark to us but invisible to everyone else. Some of us conquer this one faster than others, but I’m sure at some stage, as women we’ve all felt it. The truth is that being an imposter in a situation is simply a fictional story you play for yourself in your own head. It’s not actually true. Sure, you might not know everything about everything but who does? Stop trying to be perfect and instead just jump in and get dirty. Believe you have what it takes to be resourceful and find your way. The next time you feel like an imposter, close that little fairytale book in your head and open the door to the opportunity in front of you. It’s like a kid who sees a monster in the closet… it seems so real to the kid until his mom turns the lights on and the monster turns out to be a jacket. Stop giving the imposter fairytale power over you by continuing to read the book.

1. Do NOT put your personal progress in someone else’s hands – Waiting for other people to promote you? You’re waiting on a losing game. We perfect our skills, hone our crafts and master our occupations in hopes that the powers-that-be will recognize our worth and put us in the job we so badly want. We keep telling ourselves, if we just continue to prove ourselves it will pay off. Look, the reality is that it might pay off eventually, but the truth is you’ve completely lost your power of your own progress along the way, and you’re developing an unhealthy relationship with your work. This is the fast track to making your work your identity. Getting so wrapped up in working to prove yourself to others and believing that is the key to getting ahead will only result in frustration and resentment. Instead, take your power back. Opportunities you go for or create are your decisions, not anyone else’s. Sure, not all will work out, but if every boyfriend or girlfriend in your past worked out would that have been good thing? We all know the answer to that… Take back your power and walk your own path with your own two feet.

Thank you for reading and happy leading!