Learning to value our "real" self and cultivate our strengths is easier said than done, especially in a world that constantly sends us messages that our natural self is inadequate. Yes, I know that marketers of hair products, clothing and diet programs are not thinking about their impact on leadership in the workplace, but that doesn't mean that their advertising haven't challenged the ways we value our personal traits, including those we bring into the workplace.
Peter Vaill, author of "Managing as a Performing Art," reminds us that "treating leadership as a list of functions or skills doesn't match up with real life." He writes: "In daily life no one experiences her job as a list of functions or competencies. Leadership is a matter of a whole person in a whole environment interacting in concrete ways with other whole persons."
If we buy into the notion that we are supposed to be like someone else, different from how we are, we are headed for trouble. We are not the same, nor should we be. Each of us has grown up with a distinct genetic inheritance, family patterns and school communities that have left indelible marks on us and within us.
We human beings can be so unfair in how we compare ourselves to others and so deceived by the negative stories that our minds spin out. Women leaders, like all women, are particularly vulnerable to ingesting the mainstream cultural messages suggesting we are "never good enough," "smart enough" or "attractive enough." Women in the workplace are challenged by tendencies to take things personally, to worry that others won't like us, and to believe that we should look and act differently from the way we are. We think we should have done something differently and fear that others won't like us. We tend to listen to our inner critic's arguments and then get confused as to what is fallacy and what merits concern.
In his book, "Seven Secrets of the Savvy School Leader," Robert Evans cautions against leaders "searching for the Answer, the Method, the Book, the Sermon -- the key that will enable them to inspire their people and transform their organizations." Evans suggests that "what really makes leaders 'savvy' is knowing what they have -- that is, knowing themselves." Successful leaders "know that the key is not to chase some ideal -- a composite list of virtues from the management book shelf -- but to be the very best of who they are."
Being the very best at who we are requires that we challenge ourselves to stay resilient. Resiliency requires resisting self-criticism and instead focusing on strengths. It gets strengthened when we accept the inevitable -- that we all make mistakes and that learning and skill building require falling down and picking ourselves back up. Resilient leadership incorporates reasonable standards for measuring progress, along with active acts of appreciation for making efforts to grow. Perhaps, most importantly, resilience and success flourishes when we recognize and value the assets we bring to a team -- our personal best gifts and talents.
For more on this topic see http://ResilientLeadership.org/blog