Our guest today is Milisa Burns, a corporate coach whose workshop on how to Be an Agent of Social Change at Work taps not only into the zeitgeist but also into Plenty’s theme for this month: the future is female. Her article below, inspired by her workshops, offers guidance on how women can break through self-doubt and move into leadership roles that will make a difference.
Do you feel a yearning to do more to change your work culture for the better?
Maybe you also feel it’s really important to step into this contribution as a role model for future generations.
You may feel a sense of urgency and a pull toward your yearning, especially in the last few months! The energy of the Women’s Marches may have contributed to your courage here as well as the sense of urgency you feel.
At your best, you may feel you are capable of these much bigger things, and yet you get stuck in the “how” of it all. You feel resistance to the pull. You get stopped by the imposter syndrome – Who am I to step into this? Can I lead? Am I really a leader?
These are such common feelings and concerns and they are holding so many of us back from making the greater contribution that we sense is possible. It is time for you to break through your self-doubt and fears so you can contribute to your fullest. The world needs you to contribute in your unique way! There is much work to do!
This article focuses on one major step you can take to help you be true to that yearning that is pulling you forward. The intention is that, by making your connection to the pull stronger, you will overcome the resistance that has been holding you back and be able to contribute in a bigger way.
So, let’s dive in!
First, let’s debunk any narrow definitions of leadership that may be lingering – if you are going to be an agent of social change at work, you are going to be a leader, a pioneer, even. Leadership is not about going it alone, knowing all the answers and showing no vulnerability. That is an antiquated definition. Instead, try on this definition from Kevin Cashman in Leadership from the Inside Out: “Leadership is authentic self-expression that creates value”. (p.20)
Authenticity is about being real, genuine – it’s not about trying to be someone else, someone other than the amazing YOU that you are. Don’t you think that fits better? When I first read this definition I breathed a huge sigh of relief: I can be me and lead and offer value from that place. You can be YOU and lead and offer value from that place. You don’t have to have all the answers, you definitely don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to go it alone, and you can ask for help along the way. In fact, as this type of leader, you absolutely need other people to be with you, offering value through their authentic self-expression.
According to Cashman, leadership is not necessarily hierarchical. It can exist at all levels of organizations. Some leaders may express and create value through ideas, others through system, others through people, but the essence is the same. Cashman then says “Mastery of Leadership from the Inside Out” is not merely a function of achieving things. It is principally about achieving one thing – consciously making a difference from within.”
So, let’s look at how you can be an agent of social change, a leader, who consciously makes a difference from within.
Authenticity and Confidence
If you are not already convinced that being authentic is the best way for you to step into leadership, consider the wisdom in The Confidence Code by Katy Kay and Claire Shipman. After much exploration and research, the authors conclude that the key to confidence for women – the “Confidence Code “- is to:
- Think Less.
- Take Action.
- Be Authentic.
Kay and Shipman assert that authenticity may well be the lynchpin of the Code: when confidence comes from your core, you are most powerful.
So there is a strong argument to connect to your core, to be authentic and give value from that place. When you do that, you will be a leader and be more confident to boot.
Connecting to Authenticity Using Character Strengths
There are numerous ways that you can connect to your core, to your authenticity. One of my favourite ways to do so is to become aware of, and leverage, your strengths of character. Your top strengths of character constitute your identity.
Character Strengths are the positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave and are the keys to you being your best self. When applied effectively, they are beneficial both to you and society as a whole. They are different than your other strengths, such as your unique skills, talents, interests and resources, because character strengths reflect the “real” you — who you are at your core. (from Viacharacter.org)
There is a free survey you can take at Viacharacter.org (a non-profit organization) to discover your top strengths. Or if you prefer, have a look at this blog post 5 Simple Ways to Discover Your Strengths by Dr. Ryan Niemiec, an expert in character strengths.
So, having done the survey, used another way to discover your strengths, or connected with your authenticity in different way that works for you, you can then consider what intentional action you want to take at your workplace. Remember, to be a leader you must consciously make a difference from within – create value through your authentic self-expression, and in the process of being authentic you will be also connecting to a key source of your confidence. This is where you can return to sensing into that pull, that yearning you have been feeling. What is it saying to you? What do you desire to express, to create, to contribute? Let yourself live with these questions for some time if you need it….meditate on them, go for a run with them, have a bath and soak in them…you get the idea. Access your intuitive knowing as best you can. You don’t have to know “how” you will make everything happen. In the business of actualizing your potential as an agent of social change, you can’t know in advance how it will all work, because you are not in complete control of the process. Life will unfold, other people will get involved and help you if you let them. For now, just focus on getting some clarity on the answers to these questions. Then start to take action, one step at a time.
Examples of How This Process Might Work
Here’s an example of how this process might work. If gratitude is one of your character strengths that you resonate with deeply, begin to develop a practice of gratitude for yourself (see these posts for help on this) and then look to create a more grateful workplace. Begin to be a model of gratitude. Be the change. Make a point of thanking everyone who helps you or others. Do this verbally and in writing. Tell others what you are up to and inspired them to do the same. This is an incredibly powerful way to make change. Showing gratitude and appreciation is so fulfilling for the person offering the gratitude (YOU!) and also results in the receiver of the gratitude feeling seen. How powerful is it to feel seen? And how rare is that in a corporate or other institutional setting? Do you think that would be creating value? I think so!… I know so!
This is exactly what one of the attendees at the workshop has been up do for some months now and she inspired us all with her determination and progress with this project of hers.
Here’s another example, from Obama’s White House: How The Women On Obama’s Staff Made Sure Their Voices Were Heard. The women on Obama’s staff got together and “in meetings repeated each other’s ideas, crediting the women who came up with them, and forcing men to acknowledge that women had just as much to contribute”. Perhaps the women who initiated the “amplification strategy” described in the article had strengths of Social Intelligence or Teamwork or Creativity or Perseverance. What would it be like for you to institute an amplification strategy in your workplace? What strengths of character of yours could you galvanize in service of this? If you want further inspiration, read Jessica Bennett’s Feminist Fight Club which is quoted in the amplification article.
Managing Fear and Stepping In With a Courageous Willingness
At the beginning of this article, I referenced the pull you are feeling, this yearning to contribute. I also mentioned that there is this resistance you may feel as well – the fear, the self-doubt, the imposter syndrome. It can feel like an internal tug of war. This article is meant to help you connect more strongly to the pull, the yearning, by giving you permission to validate that yearning and go inside yourself first, in order to then take action which is aligned with who you are at your core, where that yearning is coming from. You are a pioneer in this. You won’t necessarily know what steps to take or where you are going with this yearning, this pull. And you don’t have to know to be able to step into leadership – the kind of leadership that is you offering value through your authentic self-expression.
The self-doubt, the fear will never go away completely. You have to live with it and learn to manage it. Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic has a powerful chapter on fear where she talks about putting fear in the back seat. Fear is allowed to come on the journey but must stay out of the driver’s seat, away from the break and gas pedals! The imposter syndrome – the “Who am I to…” questions may remain but deep down you know they are just distractions. Your yearning knows they are distractions. They need to be managed. Playing Big by Tara Mohr has an excellent chapter on the “Inner critic” which will likely help you. And coaches like me can help too, especially if you are running up against deeply held false beliefs that are holding you back. Common deeply held false beliefs include “I’m alone”, “I’m invisible” and “I’m not enough.” These false beliefs can be transformed; they do not have to keep holding you back.
Know that you are not alone in any of this. Women are being called to rise and rise we must, even when it is uncomfortable. It is time to give yourself permission to step forward in this way, imperfectly and with a courageous willingness. It is time to unleash your brilliance, your power, your voice, to contribute in way that will satisfy that yearning inside of you. No one else is going to give you permission to do this. It is up to you, as the pioneer that you are. Elect yourself to be a leader, an agent of social change. Then you will on the path to being the role model you desire to be for future generations.
The World Needs You!
Keep connected to the pull, to your authenticity, and take action from that place. You will gain the traction you need to win that internal tug of war. Don’t hesitate to ask for the help you need. The world needs you to step up into your unique way of leading, to be an agent of social change, at work and elsewhere!
Milisa Burns BA LLB ACPC ACC is a transformational leader, coach, facilitator, speaker and blogger dedicated to empowering professional women to create success for themselves, on their terms, through her Making Room For You programs. On the outside, her clients tend to be very “successful”, but inside they may initially be very stressed, full of questions, possibly bored and no longer fulfilled. They may feel a yearning, a strong pull toward something greater that they have not been able to Make Room For in their lives and work on their own. Working with Milisa, her clients are amazed at how quickly they create peace and contentment while achieving and contributing at even higher levels than they previously thought possible. www.milisaburns.com