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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Do you call yourself a leader? Part II

In my last post, I wrote about my resistance to calling myself a leader and how I think I've figured out where that resistance comes from: 1) it feels like bragging, 2) I don't fit the mental image I hold of what a leader looks like (i.e., white male), and 3) I don't want the responsibility I associate with being a leader. So the next questions I'm asking myself are: Does it really matter if I claim the leader label? And if it does, how do I get past this resistance I feel? Some of the conversations I had with colleagues earlier this week are helping me see that yes, it does matter, and what's particularly interesting to me is that I think some of the reasons why it matters are actually going to help me get over the resistance.

For starters, a big reason I think it matters if I call myself a leader, and that also definitely makes it easier to do so, is that those first two sources of resistance are essentially founded on sexist and racist beliefs, and that's just bullshit (pardon my language). I mean, whether I want to call myself a leader or not, I am doing the work of leadership, and others see me doing that work. So if I shy away from fully owning that, I am just perpetuating the implicit bias that says girls (and particularly Asian girls) shouldn't "brag", or that says girls taking credit for their own good work is "bragging" in the first place. I do have to say, that voice inside telling me that it's presumptuous to call myself a leader is a really hard one to shake, and I know it will continue to be. But if most men don't seem to worry about this, why should I?

As for the belief that leaders are "supposed to be" white men, that's a lot easier to reject. Not only is that just objectively wrong, but if people like me, a Japanese-American woman, don't step up and call ourselves leaders, how will we ever really get rid of that bias? The more I've thought this, the more I feel like I practically have a social obligation to get over myself and claim my leader identity.

The third source of my resistance, that sense of obligation that I feel comes with the leader label, is also hard to shake off. But one of my colleagues at the Leadership Institute said something that really resonated with me. He talked about how he views his leadership as an honor and privilege that has been bestowed on him by colleagues and he thinks about being a leader for them. Others made similar comments, about focusing on the work, on serving others, and I really like that too. I think the more I can re-frame my mental beliefs about being a leader in terms of opportunity instead of obligation, the less resistance I feel. If I focus more on the fact that being a leader is an honor and allows me to serve others, instead of focusing on the expectations and responsibility, then it feels less like something scary and stressful, and more like something I can (and should) be proud to claim. I think this is also why the leader label matters - by not thinking of myself as a leader, I wonder what opportunities I may have missed out on. Are there times when I might have been able to do more, to offer more, if I had thought of myself as a leader, as someone who could and should do more?

I suspect these ideas will be rumbling around in my head for a while and are sure to come up on this blog again. As always, I'm curious if others have similar thoughts (or complete different thoughts!) so please feel free to share in the comments... 

1 comment:

  1. Jennifer - I couldn't agree with you (and your wise colleague) more. It is indeed an honor to serve in a leadership position. These are positions of great trust, and I think Tony Hsieh said it best: "...the best leaders are servant leaders - they serve those they lead.

    Thank you for your leadership!

    --james

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