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...