We are thinking about success at work back to front and upside down
If you are hiding who you are, paddling like billy-o under the water, burning the midnight oil, wearing industrial strength armour, yet still feeling overwhelmed and juggling imposter syndrome - that's not success, that's being duped by the system. And it doesn't have to stay that way.
Being in touch with emotions and energy, quietness, gentleness, quirkiness and difference - these are often seen as weaknesses rather than assets in the workplace and those of us who naturally operate in this way can internalise the message early on in our working life that we need to change in order to be successful. We assimilate almost by cultural osmosis the simple choice, if we want to join in the career game and have any success, we need to change fundamentally who we are and how we work in this world. And I'm calling that out for the lie it is. What we need instead is to find ways to draw on our courage and develop leadership so that we become comfortable in our own skin, speak our truth, show up fully and imperfectly and get results without selling out.
Over a long career in education and leadership I've discovered some fundamental shifts we need to make in order to be rooted down enough to speak our truth and do the work we want to do in a way that feels less like hustle and more like integrity.
What we mean by 'strength' needs real clarity. Hardness is often confused these days in some organisations as strength. Hardness is not strength. Hardness is brittle, and under pressure it snaps. The word 'courage' has its roots in 'cor' or heart. And strength is finding and using our courage to live fully from the heart. To be vulnerable and to be imperfect.
What we mean by 'having presence' needs closer questioning. It's been confused for too long in too many workplaces with physical size, bluster and loudness. And there's the wholly wrong notion prevalent today that presence is something you either have or you don't. Presence is something all of us have when we are comfortable enough in our own skin to show up fully and when we get unstuck from overthinking and get deeper into connection with others.
'Gravitas' has been associated across society with a lower voice tone that seriously you need an Adam's Apple for. And however hard you work as a woman, you aren't going to get one. What we need to be courageously leaderful is to find a way to acknowledge and express our truth, firstly to our-self and then to others. When we do that we have gravitas in a way that works for us.
What we have been taught we need to be and do to access career success and leadership is simply a myth perpetuated over time. We see that lie as kinaesthetic, deeply feeling women, we know it isn't right or fair and yet we try and join in the game anyway with these rules that mean we can never win. And not only that we fight harder with each other. I've been there and done that, I get it.
There are moments in my professional career that I am immensely proud of. Times I've made a significant difference to a child, a family or the organisation I've worked for. And there are times too when I've not covered myself in glory, where I've got fixed on stuff and stuck on real or perceived injustice. I've competed with other women in a way that's more suited to The Hunger Games than the workplace. Being kind to myself I guess I did the best with what I knew and had available to me at the time.
Here's what I know now after a career of over twenty years and senior leadership roles across five organisations. We have been colluding with the myth. We stay silent as the emperor goes by. As people who want to help others, as deep feeling, intuitive and empathetic beings we pay the price for that collusion. Emotionally, physically and mentally. And that price is high - illness, burnout, chronic fatigue, imposter sydrome and depression. It's time to draw a line in the sand.
I'm done with playing that game. I'm discovering more and more that I'm at my healthiest and happiest when I am being wholly me. When I'm integrating more truthfully who I am in and outside of work. When I'm not comparing myself to others or operating from fight or flight mode. When I'm showing up fully and imperfectly with vulnerability and courage. When I'm being more courageously leaderful. And the learning is this - the more we do this the more impact our work has, the more influence we bring to the table, the less we feel frustrated and in isolation.
What happens for us when we re-define what strength, presence, and gravitas at work feel, sound and look like for us? What happens when we are so anchored in our truth and our purpose that we can show up fully as we are without wasting energy hiding? And what happens to the potential futures of those girls and young women following behind when we acknowledge our truth and our gifts. What is our legacy for them when we learn to be more courageously leaderful?
I'm Sarah Lea Bishop and I help women discover and connect fully with their courage and their inner leadership so they can enjoy successful careers without the overwhelm or the sell out.
My Courageously Leaderful Framework is a process of mentoring, consultancy, guiding and coaching to do the inner work that helps you get the results you want, have less days of feeling unheard and expand your influence to be a force for good. I help women get past their blocks, their triggers, their self imposed limits to have successful careers without selling out on their values or compromising their health.
My framework is a way to success based on the principle that to be effective and have the impact we want, we first need to know where we are, then where we want to get to, and finally how to do it. And I love guiding folk through this in a bespoke way for them. This process works. And it gives you freedom, options and a platform to rise up and do the work you want to do and live the life you want to live with courage, leadership and intention.
If that's something you are drawn to and you are curious about how I might be able to work with you get in touch and we'll connect.
You can also check out the juicy conversation I had with the fabulous Jen Pavich about life as a tick a bit differently and highly sensitive female leader, the importance of showing up fully and the challenges of leadership in a patriarchal society on her podcast The Unquiet Sisterhood here: