What’s your definition of a leader? Do you consider yourself a leader?
In this blog, inviteCHANGE Team Member, Paige Christian, explores her relationship to leadership and how she chose to redefine what leadership means to her.
I have always been told that I am a leader. Typically, people would say this about me as a child because I refused to be a follower. I apply the sentiment "rules are more like recommendations or guidelines" and have always "colored outside the lines". People describe my essence as confident and gregarious, my strength according to the True Tilt Personality Profile is Connection, and my top strength according to the Clifton Strengthsfinder is Woo. I acknowledge that my existence as a white, cis-presenting woman allows me the courage to challenge the status quo and speak up when others aren't comfortable doing so.
These qualities have shown up in almost every personality test and assessment I have taken, and in many situations that I have been in. My family likes to joke that "people can't help but like me", which has always made me conscious of how I choose to influence others through my words and actions. Over time, I've used my gift for connection to influence those around me. Sometimes for good, sometimes not, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. It has taken a long time to realize that I am someone who can be the glue that holds people together, but I can also be the water that dissolves all the glue. I recognize that my personality, presence, and conversation skills can be influential to other people. It's something that I have observed in my life, and my guess is that I’m not alone. With that being said, it would only seem natural that I would gravitate to a leadership role wherever I worked, right?
I have never thought of myself as a traditional, power suit, corporate type of leader. However, it was clear to me that if I wanted to continue being the leader I thought I needed to be, I would have to adapt to a corporate leadership style. I spent the first 6 years of my professional career inside a corporation supporting some of the most important leaders inside the organization, taking leadership training courses, and implementing my own initiatives until I realized that the type of leader I was becoming made me feel unsatisfied. Not only was I unfulfilled with where I was headed and the work I was doing, but I began to realize the people I was trying to be like weren’t fulfilled either. Team members felt unsupported, the term “bad boss” was used often, the culture wasn’t aligned, so I had to pause and take a hard look at the road I was headed down. I began to slowly reject every aspect of what I deemed was leadership and chose to "never be like the leaders that came before me" because their leadership style didn't work for me or my peers.
Now that I knew I didn't want to be like the leaders around me ... then who was I? Who was I going to be? How could I take action on things that were important to me if I was following someone else's lead? It's frightening what that type of self-rejection does to someone's courage and authenticity, especially when they're told they're a natural leader all their lives. After some time, I discovered my love for being the support system behind the scenes. It made me happy to alleviate stress from another person’s life so they can love their life’s work. On the plus side, I could follow their lead and let them influence my decisions, instead of the other way around. I took this mindset and applied it to life, replacing my authentic leadership with an attitude of support. I learned to talk less, listen more, wait for requests before taking action, and I lost focus on my self-development. Then I hit a wall. Because I was rejecting my authentic leadership, I wasn’t using my ability to connect in the same way I was when I was allowing myself to be a leader. It's funny how we limit our beliefs so we can make the choice to stay placid and comfortable in our lives.
2020 was the year that the definition of "leader" began to change for me. I had spent 2019 and 2020 listening to the coaching messages of ICF Converge, immersed in the social conversations of inviteCHANGE's Be. Choose. Cause Conference, beginning coach training with inviteCHANGE, and learning that there are multiple definitions of the word leader. Janet M. Harvey's book Invite Change Lessons from 2020, The Year of No Return helped me understand that every single person - introvert, extrovert, professional coach, organizational leader, activist, community member - is a leader in their own, authentic way. Because I’d grown up with society telling me the definition of leadership, the skills required to be a leader, the positions you must reach to have a leadership title, it hadn’t occurred to me that everyone possesses the skills it takes to be a leader in their own way. We have the choice to be the leader we wish we had and define what that means for ourselves. It takes a lot of courage to claim the title of leader, and I truly believe doing so can reframe the way you see yourself in the world.
In 2021, I finally found myself in a position of authentic leadership. Not only was it the first time I got to bring leadership to my support role, but I also had the space to form my unique leadership presence as a decision-maker. Having a team of leaders who see me as whole, resourceful, capable, and creative grew my courage and allowed me to redefine my definition of a leader. It was and continues to be a struggle to define what leadership means to me now. To get my bearings, I tried to imitate what has worked for other people in my position and appropriate that into the style that works for my team. This gave me momentum to learn, but the problem with that style of learning and leading is that it wasn't my authentic self leading. Again, I was following someone else's lead.
One of the coach education programs I'm taking through inviteCHANGE focuses on merging the authentic self within each individual and the professional presence that the individual wants to bring. Effectively, creating synergy between the two to create your authentic leadership style. The programs at inviteCHANGE, alongside the events and social causes they value, have taught me that there is no blueprint for leadership. The definition of a leader is different for everyone, and every person is a natural leader in their own way. The definition of a "leader" I had in my head growing up has shattered into a million "aha" moments. I don't need to be a C-Suite executive to be a leader, I don't need to be CEO, director, manager, or any other title to be a leader. I simply need to exist authentically and with intention, that is enough.
Learning to understand how I want to show up authentically gave me the courage I needed to be a confident leader. I no longer reject my leadership capability or its imposed hierarchy, I don't find that definition tied to a skillset or paygrade. I see myself, my team, my family, my community, and the world at large through the lens of Generative Wholeness. We are all leaders. We all have influence over each other, and we must all have the courage to lead together in order to shape a world where people love their life's work.