“Sarah, what’s it like to lead in a man’s world?”
Cut straight to me breaking into song, socks on, sliding down the hallway singing “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman. And yeah, that movie has nothing to do with women leading in a man’s world but, that song does. Just to prove a point, I pulled a few lyrics: But I won’t let them break me down to dust / I know that there’s a place for us / For we are glorious. GLORIOUS. We are glorious. Bold people not saying “sorry” for who we are. Yup. That about sums it up.
You know how some people have a thing that they do all the time, whether subconscious or fully aware? It could be correcting the grammar of another person while they are mid sentence, or using movie quotes or song quotes as their primary form of communication. Or even sneezing in a mouse-like fashion. You get the picture. Much like in The Greatest Showman, we all have a weird quirk – sometimes multiple. For a long time, my strange, recurring behavior was to constantly apologize for everything I did, good or bad. While that behavior stemmed from deeper issues, it had much to do with being self-conscious about almost everything – my appearance, the quality of my ideas, the value of my perspective, etc. And all of these insecurities boiled down to the one thing I lacked – BOLDNESS.
I’ve never shied away from speaking my mind, but the setting always influenced the level of boldness I exuded. In college, I never spoke up. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even know I was there. At home, it is difficult to keep my opinions to myself. Around friends, I am slightly more reserved, only because I don’t want them to run away in fear. Balancing boldness in the workplace is not just hard; it’s almost a gift, and it’s one that I haven’t mastered yet.
There are many things I could talk about when it comes to women leading in the workplace – allyship, stereotypes, discrimination, mentorship, working from home, overworking, sexual harassment, and the list goes on – some good, some bad. While these would all be worthy of a discussion (and we should be discussing them all), the topic that influences most of those others is being BOLD. As I alluded to above, I am in no way a master of this yet, but it is a skill that I think is extremely important and demands our attention.
You may be thinking, “I can lead just fine without being bold,” but I would challenge that sentiment. If you are in a position of influence, then your opinion and perspective is valuable and cannot go without being heard. You can’t sit around and wait on the top dog to call on you for your voice to be heard. In my career, there is too much at stake for me not to speak my mind when I feel passionate about the subject. And I would venture to say that the same is true for you, too.
So how do we learn to be bold?
Non-conformity. Confidence. Calling it out.
Each of us is uniquely made in God’s image with a very specific set of traits, talents, abilities, tendencies, and characteristics. We are formed to be one-of-a-kind. I think it is often our desire to be wanted, liked, and welcomed. And while none of those things are particularly awful, they should not be our first goal in the workplace. We are made to stand out. To be different. After assimilating into a new work environment, we begin to accept their behavioral culture as our own. It’s hard to avoid that, but it is necessary to keep the things that make us, us.
Remember when I said we all have weird quirks? Just like your abnormal behaviors are influenced by your particular way of thinking, your work environment should have that same experience and gift of knowing your unmatched perspective. It is not only something that should be expressed, but it is essential to moving the needle forward. Your thoughts are valuable, so don’t accept others as your own because you think that is what is desired. Everyone else might be involved in groupthink, but your voice needs to sound different. We are called to speak differently.
When I think of the word confidence, I often think first of my self-worth and perception of my image, but confidence goes much deeper than what you see when you look in the mirror. It’s about knowing your worth as an individual. And not because of your appearance, but because of the gifts you possess that are distinct to your DNA. I see confidence flourish the most in the workplace with people who know what their talents are. Individuals who are aware of their God-given gifts and abilities don’t shy away from expressing them because they know it’s an area where they excel. They were born to express themselves through words, songs, dance, numbers, analytics, mentorship, public speaking, team building, strategizing, etc. Once you discover your passion or things you are uniquely gifted at doing, it won’t be hard to be bold in that area of your life. You will naturally excel at it because it is what you were born to do. That doesn’t mean you can’t always improve and learn new ways to tailor and craft your skill. In fact, you should do that, and when allowed to demonstrate your talents, you will flourish.
Calling it out.
This is the one I struggle with the most. I either speak too loudly at the very wrong time, or I don’t speak at all because I’m scared that my opinion won’t be valued (clearly related to the first two topics we just focused on). Most often, I struggle to express my opinion in a way that is helpful, not hurtful. When I believe in something strongly, there is no stopping it from coming out. I hurl my words like daggers at a wall, not caring what they damage in their path, just hoping one of them sticks when they hit the wall. It’s a problem.
Finding the balance between being bold about what you believe and not hurting others in the process has everything to do with empathy, listening and personal relationships. Before we start throwing knives, we need to take a step back. Express our opinions by first stepping into the shoes of those around us, considering how they will accept our ideas and input. This doesn’t mean that you have to water down what you are passionate about, but there might be a different way to say the same thing without the same consequences. Similar to anticipating the reaction of others, it never hurts to hear where others are, and if there is a better time to express yourself – timing is everything.
And lastly, developing a personal relationship with the people at the table will go a long way when you speak, and it occasionally doesn’t come out exactly how you planned. Relationships help others to be more gracious and empathetic towards you while also allowing them to hear what you have to say.
There are many specific challenges with leading in a man’s world, but one small step we can take is practicing being bold and not being afraid of who we are. In the words of The Greatest Showman: I am brave, I am bruised / I am who I’m meant to be, this is me / Look out ’cause here I come.
Lynn Cowell’s book Make Your Move
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sarah Stoher believes imagination is a gift that should often be exercised as a reflection of the creativity in the designs of our Creator.