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Duck leadingThis article is a tad self-indulgent. I’m letting myself get away with it. I have a feeling many women (ok, maybe men too) will relate.


Leadership is a word I’ve shied away from ever since I can remember. Even as far back as primary school, when asked to collaborate with fellow students on a project, I hated it. I intuitively knew that someone had to take charge in order to get the job done, and I was willing to have a go, but my personality was definitely not suited to asserting myself, so I would tend to withdraw, sit back and let things unfold however they would.


When I worked in the corporate world, I soon learned to connect expressing ideas for innovation or improved efficiency with pain and discomfort, and just stopped bothering. I would quietly brood and feel frustrated at what seemed to me to be an illogical way of operating unfold at the whim of egos and who had the most dominant personality. I saw my suggestions in meetings (when asked for them, by the way), ridiculed, and then implemented later by male managers. Don’t even get me started!


As recently as my coaching training, this pattern was still showing up. I got bogged down on technicalities, I was a “yeah but”, a mismatcher, a “what if”. I often felt I was the exception, I was different, and that I didn’t fit in. As I feared, every time we had to get into groups, my heart sank! It all worked out though, and was exactly what I needed to face this thing and tug away at some of the threads which were holding this limiting belief together. One group I was in, in a public speaking training which was particularly challenging, gave me a beautiful feeling of empathy and contribution with my group. At another time in the same training, I actually hid in the toilet!


So naturally, I have always preferred work where I was left to my own devices, allowed my own decisions and discretion, and mostly worked alone, where I had a clear idea of what was expected of me in my role, or where I was guaranteed control of the situation (by being the boss!) This, of course, was a dichotomous situation, very much at odds with my enjoyment of being around and interacting with people!


As a mother, and as I’ve moved through various marriages and intimate relationships over the years, the same patterns have appeared. I’ve had a vague awareness of it, and this awareness has come into focus as I’ve learned about the Drama Triangle, about self-esteem, and about the nature of abusive relationships. I’ve talked about and will talk about that topic more, separately, but the point I’ll make here is that if we are operating on the Victim Triangle, we are contributing, we are enabling, we are part of the problem, and acting out Drama scenarios. We don’t have to do that!


Something I’ve also observed is the phenomenon of learned helplessness, both in myself and others, which is very much related to what I’m talking about. I’ve noticed that as a single mother, I’ve been predominantly capable, able to make decisions and function, able to manage my household, parent my children and get things done. I can change a tyre, mow the lawn, fix a fuse, change a light bulb and install hardware in my own computer. When I’m in a relationship, though, something strange happens.  I seem to develop this weird tendency to relinquish control and lose confidence in my capabilities.


It’s not about the spiders. I can confidently relocate a huntsman quietly and safely without alarming my children, even in a moving vehicle, but if there’s a man about, well I’m very happy to let him deal with it. Same goes for dealing with car maintenance, minor household repairs and so on. Why not let your man deal with those things for you? They are generally quite happy to.  That stuff is ok.  I don't pretend to be scared of spiders, I just choose to let the bloke handle it.


So what the hell is going on? Why does a woman who owned her own restaurant, lived with a chef for two years, and cooked thousands of edible meals for her family, slowly start to feel incapable of frying an egg or choosing groceries? Toward the end of one marriage, I had even learned how to not be able to operate the buttons on any of the TV related remotes. Seriously. I’m still struggling with it years later.


And on a not unrelated topic, why do men often have no clue how to fill in forms, deal with government departments, banks and other bureaucracies, or manage a household budget? Why do I not even bother contacting my brothers about family social occasions, and automatically ring their wives instead, knowing I’ll get it sorted that way and not have to follow up umpteen times?  What is going on for them that encourages this helplessness?  (Big fat clue, we, women, are usually the cause).


Anyway, leadership. I tried being on a committee a couple of times, school and kids’ stuff. I hated it and bailed out quick smart. I just found it so frustrating. Why? Is it because I’m not a team player? Nope, watch me work on a restaurant floor, watch me cook dinner with my partner – we’re a dinner making machine together, (most of the time), or set up and pack up the car or a campsite. Is it that I’m some kind of control freak who wants it my way or not at all? I don’t think so; I reckon I’m pretty flexible, adaptable, easy going – where it’s not my show – which is why I tend to not try to make it my show, unless it actually is my show, if you see what I mean.  (And then there are the times when I let go of my own show...)

 

What I think it is, is lack of definition of roles wherever collaboration is required.  So maybe leadership is not a dirty word to me any more, but perhaps collaboration still is, lol.


A couple of weeks ago I began organizing a weekend event for women, and put together a group of speakers, made all the arrangements and so on, and have been thoroughly enjoying it. It wasn’t something I had planned to do; I thought it was a nice idea and someone pointed out to me that I was perfectly capable of doing it. So I did, and it actually didn’t come a surprise to me that I enjoyed it so much. It reminded me of what I’ve achieved in the past, of what I’m capable of. I’ve had two hospitality businesses, I’ve been the project manager for changing the purpose of a building from a bank to a restaurant, and all that that entailed, and just got on with it. It just didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t do it. I ran an AdWords campaign and sold over 2,500 copies of a book I wrote over a two year period, with information I obtained from a $25 book. I overcame a 20 second concentration span and figured out how to build my first website, using an online tutorial and a book.


Anyway, as I’ve been organising this women’s weekend, it got me thinking about how the running of my home is going at the moment. Here’s me, a capable, strong woman, who has run her own businesses, has had a corporate job with responsibility for the WorkCover claims of an entire health care network, has brought up and is still bringing up five fantastic children, managing to keep a roof over their heads, feed and clothe them, love them, and can say with pride and confidence that every one of them is bright, intelligent, funny, loving, and a decent human being. Here I am, capable of all these things, and I still have this ridiculous issue with leadership, and have noticed it creeping into how I run my home and family, more than once!    


I’m not blaming my partner, or any of my previous partners. That’s not what I teach, that’s not what I believe. It’s me, I’m responsible for my own experience, and I am, as stated, perfectly capable. Capable of making a meal plan for the week, capable of organizing and supervising the kids’ chores, capable of keeping up with mountains of paperwork, capable of keeping the whole thing running like clockwork.


So why does the helplessness creep in?


Or, as I point out to my coaching clients, yeah, it’s handy to have an inkling into why shit happens, but it’s a hell of a lot more useful to know what to do about it.


Asking why can often lead to excuses, blaming and justification. It’s the fault of society (hey, I am part of society), it’s the fault of my partners (hey, I chose my partners, and I choose how I communicate with my partner), it’s the fault of the government (well, actually a lot of things are, but again, I’m part of the society that lets them govern), and it’s the fault of the culture, which of course I help create by my complicity, apathy and participation.


So, my intention is to use this reminder of my capacity for leadership, to actively nourish an identity for myself which is one of being capable, of being able to take charge of things, of choosing not to step back, withdraw and hide any time I am questioned or doubted or undermined.


Now here’s the pointy bit, and it hurts, but there it is. I’ve noticed that any questioning, doubting or undermining of my authority, capability or worthiness of respect, has tended to come from those closest to me, and the reason for that, is they are the ones I spend the most time with, who have the most opportunity to absorb and reflect back to me the identity I project. Basically, there have been times where I’ve been handing around a silver platter of faults, deficiencies and inadequacies for my loved ones to select from and offer me, walking around with a “kick me” sign on my back, which I have put there myself, and inviting reinforcement of a whole lot of crap that just aint true. And at those times, when this is going on, whilst my family are always there when it counts - we have an amazing culture of loyalty in my family – I know I’m not giving them the love they deserve by playing this game, by allowing myself to fall into this trap.


I’ll let myself off the hook a bit. 2015 was a particularly shit year, as shit years go. My partner and I were subjected to a horrendous amount of stress in a variety of ways, and there was very little we could do about most of it. Prolonged stress = prolonged cortisol, and that’s not good for anybody; there was bound to be struggle for both of us, managing and keeping up. But we did.


Horrible circumstances aside, we need to remember who we really are, that we are worthy, that we are deserving, that we are capable, and we need to be brave enough to show the world just how capable we are, by hanging in there and getting on with it, whatever it is.


There is so much to be grateful for, and people like me, living in Australia, as much as I despise the government, well we are some of the most fortunate people in the world, and for most of us living here, even though we are not immune to great hardships and injustices, we have opportunities others dream of or can’t imagine. That being the case, how can we honestly take the attitude that our life is outside our control, that the world is out to get us, that things just are the way they are? Our reality is what we choose to make it, and that includes our emotions, our choices and the stories we tell ourselves about everything, including whether we are capable of leadership.


It could be argued that we all have an obligation towards some kind of leadership, whether in our own homes and families, in our businesses and careers, and in our community. We demonstrate leadership whenever we refuse to tolerate unhealthy cultural messages, whenever we initiate improvement and innovation, and in every choice we make about how we represent ourselves to those around us.

 

Leadership begins with setting the example.  We can be introverted or quiet, and still make choices which set a good example.  When we allow ourselves to feel helpless, we're making it all about us, and not fulfulling our potential for contribution.  Our relationships, our culture and our society are what we make them, starting with ourselves.

Comments   

#1 Lynne 2016-04-14 15:32
A very lengthy and intricate disection of character by the author and why leadership is important everytime and in all circumstances. Good!!

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