The Inspiration Lab’s July theme is Leadership. I chose this theme because I want to see more of our members (and women in general) leading in public and in private, from the big stages to small groups. I want to see more women run for office and win. I want to see more women turning their side hustles into businesses that create jobs and economic opportunities for other women.
My own experiences with leadership – from my businesses to work on nonprofit boards to involvement with church – have shown me there are a few ingredients to leading well:
The leader is willing to make sacrifices for her cause and for her followers.
The leader takes initiative and keeps things on track.
The leader is emotionally mature.
I see sacrifice as the first requirement because it is the most necessary. Sometimes I get frustrated with all this “boss babe” talk, as if leadership is about being a “babe” or throwing your weight around as a boss. The truth is that leadership is costly, especially to the leader. Out in the world, the day-to-day reality of being a boss is less like a hashtag-filled post on Instagram and more like working on the plumbing when there’s a leak. This is when I’m paying myself last (like in the early days of the business when cash flow was unpredictable) so my team is always cared for, staying late and coming in early, and taking on additional work so others can go on vacation or be home with a sick family member. I am far from perfect, and have as much to learn this month as anyone, but to lead well is to love well.
The next key attribute of a leader is taking initiative. From the outside looking in, this is the most obvious quality of a leader versus someone who follows. It is so easy to take the path of least resistance, but leaders don’t think that way; they love challenges. I think a large part of professional success is taking initiative. I recommend signing up for courses to take you to the next level or taking on extra responsibility when others are shrinking back. Taking initiative can be as simple as planning a date night with your spouse or a girls’ night out for a friend who could use time for connecting. Taking initiative could also mean launching a women’s ministry at your church or a starting a supper club. If you want to start leading, start by taking the initiative in the small stuff; this will translate into bigger opportunities.
A final note on initiative: People who are always taking initiative (at work, at home, with friendships, with self-care) create something very special and very powerful — MOMENTUM. Once you have the momentum gained from being proactive and enterprising, it makes it easier to keep things moving forward.
Finally, leaders who get results over a sustained period of time are emotionally mature and healthy. These folks have a level of confidence that frees them up to engage with others in a generous way. They deal with conflict well, and you won’t find them gossiping about other people. They don’t have time for that because they are busy with #2 — taking initiative. More often than not, emotionally mature people respond to stress with healthy coping mechanisms. I’m not saying they are perfect; in fact they are very aware of their imperfections, but they have just learned to own them and learn from them. They take full responsibility for their actions; you won’t see them blame others. Blaming is almost always a sign of immaturity.
If those who are healthy and mature make a mistake, they’ll likely do something like this:
Acknowledge the mistake.
Apologize for the mistake.
Activate a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again and/or take action to make it right.
An emotionally unhealthy person will do the following:
Ignore the mistake or create an excuse.
Blame others or circumstances instead of apologizing.
Have the same thing happen over and over because they never put a plan in place or took action.
Emotionally unhealthy leaders are a challenge to be around because they have trouble regulating their emotions. They can go from charming to manipulative to explosive, all within the same day. They aren’t able to keep things in perspective and often can create significant toxicity within teams due to their own insecurities. There are seasons when we have all been emotionally unhealthy, but a leader must take their emotional health as seriously as they take their physical, mental, and spiritual health. If you are the leader and you resonate with this issue, take steps today to get better emotionally regulated. This could mean hiring a therapist, talking to your OB/GYN (if you are a woman and suspect hormones are at play), getting physically active, meeting with a mentor, or asking for help from someone you admire.
All three aspects of leadership I have identified are areas where every person can grow, including me. There are times when I’ve excelled in certain areas and not others. Here are some questions for you to determine whether or not you are currently a leader:
Are there easy ways, today, to show your team at work how much you care by making a sacrifice (or two) for them?
Where in your personal or professional life can you take initiative today? Planning a girls’ night out? Starting the email chain for the company retreat everyone has been discussing? Texting a babysitter so you can plan a date night? Signing up for that class you’ve been meaning to check out?
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being your life is in shambles and you are barely holding it together, and 10 being you are living your very best life, how emotionally stable and connected do you feel right now? What support do you have in place for the times when your life is at a 3 or lower? What decompression and coping plans do you have for these times? Is there work you need to do with a therapist due to past trauma, loss, or childhood lies that keep creeping in? Does your marriage need support from a counselor or faith leader, and if so, why not take action now? What are healthy ways you can cope with stress?
Leadership is an ongoing process. Growth is the name of the game. As you lead in all the different facets of your life, my hope is you embrace the challenge of having and caring for your followers. Use these questions to trigger action today. The world needs you and your experiences and your voice. We can’t wait to be encouraged by you, see the plans that you make, and be led by you.
Lead well and love well!
P.S. If you don't have time to cobble together your own leadership curriculum, check out The Inspiration Lab™ membership and our unique programs for working women who want to grow. We've got resources, courses, and community made just for you!