Most people start off the new year with the intention to create well-being, focus and happiness, having ended last year exhausted and needing a break. Our world is challenging like never before. And, this annual depletion dynamic is often cyclical, regardless of external circumstances.
Moving Off AutoPilot
Our BOLD research shows women leaders prioritize others’ needs over their own at least 70% of the time. This is largely because we generally manage our calendars, commitments and energy according to meeting others’ needs, first. Until we prioritize ourselves, we will never truly break the depletion cycle or create the well-being, focus and joy we desire.
To become sustainable, BOLD leaders, we must start prioritizing ourselves with managing our mindset. Many women intellectually know this (some even suggest this to others!) and yet, don’t practice it. Like the oxygen mask on the airplane, we must remember to put it on ourselves before assisting others. When we start first with ourselves, we create sustainable solutions. When we don’t, we wonder why energy and happiness are in short supply. Most leaders are flying unconsciously on autopilot, prioritizing others, wondering why they continue to land in destinations they don’t want.
To break this cycle and become a BOLD leader, we need to start consciously flying manually, which begins with this key question: What Do I Want? By asking this question, it does not mean we don’t consider others, it means we START with ourselves, first.
The key to practice flying manually is to ask What Do I Want? for every decision until it becomes a habit. Start with simple, daily questions such as, What Do I Want to eat, read, wear, watch? Eventually graduate to What Do I Want to accept, express, focus on, say no or agree to? It’s a never-ending practice that ultimately leads to being free, focused and BOLD.
When asked, What Do You Want? women leaders initially have one or more initial reactions:
- SURPRISE: What do I want? I don’t know – it never occurred to me to ask!
- GUILTY / SELFISH: How could I start with ME? Who does that? (Click here if you want to know how to drop guilt).
- FEAR: Is it ok NOT to want the bigger job? Who wouldn’t say yes? Afraid to ask because internal success factors don’t line up with external shoulds. (Click here if you want to stop should-ing on yourself).
- DOUBT: Working part-time would NEVER work. Prematurely writing the end of the story, why it’s impossible or too much to ask.
When we don’t start with ourselves, it’s like calling for takeout and telling the restaurant they can deliver whatever they want, versus ordering your favorite entree. They may say they don’t have it, and then you can renegotiate so you get something you want AND they have.
Making Space for the Wants
However, when we slow down and give ourselves permission to ask, women leaders know exactly what they desire. When we let go of shoulds, we make space for the wants. And when we admit them out loud, we often realize seemingly impossible requests are, in fact, quite doable.
A client recently came to me with a dilemma. She sits on two separate senior leadership teams (3 total including her own team) because her boss’ boss thought it was a good idea. It had become unworkable and unsustainable. I asked her what she wanted and she said she didn’t know. We outlined her 3 options: 1) change nothing 2) take the highly visible role at the top of the house, which she should take 3) focus on the seemingly lower ranking role with a team she had built. I asked her to breathe and ask her “whole self” (head, heart and guts) again and she immediately said: Option 3: My true joy comes from my team. She knew exactly what she wanted, and we focused the rest of our conversation on how to navigate the organizational politics to make it happen.
My son, a college freshman, has been wrestling with the question of continuing school in person, going remote, or taking a break. He took a hike (literally!) and came back exclaiming, I asked myself What-Do-I-Want? And got clear: I am choosing to return. The answer was within him the whole time and he needed to get quiet and listen to his inner voice (and we all know how this would have ended if I had told him what to do)!
When asking What Do I Want? I have heard answers ranging from one hour alone, rekindling a yoga practice, prioritizing lunch away from my desk, getting help schooling my kids to working part-time, renegotiating work commitments, selling my business, becoming a writer.
What all of these requests have in common is that they require us to identify our needs, step out of our comfort zones, use our voices, and make bold requests. We don’t want to do this because we don’t want to disappoint others, give up our Wonder Woman complex that we can do it all, say no, get uncomfortable or create disruption.
We need to determine if we are more committed to prioritizing ourselves or everyone else. Admitting what we want is the first step to getting it. When we prioritize ourselves, it creates a long-term sustainable solution that allows us to unlock our potential AND contribute to others. Stay tuned for the next two important questions to ask that define the New Way of Leadership BOLD leaders practice.
- How much am I prioritizing others’ needs today? What price am I paying by NOT prioritizing myself?
- What is one thing I want that would make a difference?
- With whom do I need to renegotiate to make this happen? What help do I need?
Please feel free to reach out to me and my team if you’d like to connect about how to apply these learnings, to help members on your team navigate these conversations, or to discuss the biggest current challenge you are facing today.
Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health.
Remember to find resources to inspire you here.
Yours in practice,