How Can I Lead Authentically?
There are all different kinds of leadership styles, but it’s hard to know what is authentic to you, or how much you should try to adapt to your environment. In this episode, host Muriel Wilkins speaks with a senior leader who is having trouble drawing a line between what is expected of her, and what feels true to her core.
MURIEL WILKINS: I’m Muriel Wilkins and this is Coaching Real Leaders — part of the HBR Presents network. I’m a longtime executive coach who works with highly successful leaders who’ve hit a bump in the road. My job is to help them get over that bump by clarifying their goals and figuring out a way to reach them so that hopefully they can lead with a little more ease. I typically work with clients over the course of several months, but on this show, we have a one-time coaching meeting focusing on a specific leadership challenge they’re facing. Today’s guest is someone we’ll call “Emily” to protect her confidentiality. Her career has followed a winding path. She’s worked as an engineer, a corporate lawyer, and then transitioned into tech. She’s focused on the marketing side and until a few months ago had been working at the C-suite level until her recent career move.
EMILY: I actually just transitioned into a new role for a very large company. So kind of moving away from the startup, scale up growth environment. I kind of felt like I needed to take a little bit of a break, although that is not exactly how things have worked out. So far, I’ve sort of stepped into a role where I was initially going to be an individual contributor, and I kind of felt like I’ve been managing for more than a decade and I kind of wanted to transition to something different. And then I just quickly stepped back into the management role again.
MURIEL WILKINS: With any big career transition, it can often be a very self-reflective time as you leave one role and start another, especially at a new company in a new place. It’s natural to want to reassess what really matters to you and what your goals are. That’s where Emily is today.
EMILY: I’m not sure if I’m in the right role and I’m not sure if being a manager is the right role for me. I kind of feel like it was a natural progression and I really find it fulfilling. But I think in some cases it also can be really exhausting. I would say that my natural instinct is to not be somebody who’s like a highly visible leader. I like to build relationships individually with people and with my teams and I think on the one hand, it’s kind of served me well because I’ve been able to kind of build trust and build relationships on an individual level with my direct reports. But I think that sometimes with the CEO or COO or other C levels that I’m working with, sometimes it can be more of a challenge because I feel like I should be more visible, I should be more out there and that’s just not my natural disposition.
MURIEL WILKINS: Emily is wondering not just if she’s suited for a role, but if she’s suited for leadership. She isn’t feeling like the models of high-level leadership she’s seen out there are authentic to her and wonders if as an introvert they ever will be. So let’s dive into the coaching session now as I ask her a bit more about how she’s experienced being a leader thus far.
EMILY: One of the challenges I’ve had in leadership roles has been the feeling that one, I’m not in the right place or I’m not where I’m meant to be. And I think that part of that is like the feeling of imposter syndrome and feeling that I’m not capable of doing the work, but the other is also sometimes feeling inauthentic and not really living my values or just even living according to my own disposition because I think I am just naturally more of an introvert. I’m not somebody who likes to be the center of attention. I’m not somebody who has this big personality and just sort of comes into a room and commands attention. That’s not natural to me. I’m very comfortable with presenting and getting buy in on my ideas and things like that, but I think I tend to gravitate towards wanting to build relationships really informally and on a one-to-one basis with people. And I think it kind of goes both ways or it has kind of cut both ways for me in the past where on the one hand, I think when I am able to cultivate those relationships and really build a natural relationship on a one-to-one basis, I get to know people individually. I get to know their strengths. I get to listen. I like to listen a lot more than talk and I’m somebody who tends to speak when I feel like I have something to say. I think people tend to see that. But on the other hand, when you are in sort of a highly visible C level type role, people expect you sometimes to be a very visible person. It is a visible role. And I think sometimes I just haven’t always felt very comfortable doing that. And I think also it’s been sometimes difficult for me to build relationships with the CEO or with other C levels too. I think sometimes it’s been more of a challenge I think working with my superior and with those sort of at the same level rather than with my direct reports as an introvert.
MURIEL WILKINS: That’s really helpful. Thank you. And as a fellow introvert, believe it or not, I can completely resonate with what you’re saying. If you were to sort of summarize the question that’s on your mind today, like why you’re here for coaching, what would that be for you?
EMILY: Oh, I think I have felt lately, I think a lot of people have been kind of rethinking where they are in their career and in their life. And just in light of the last year, year and a half, I think there are two things that sort of I’ve been grappling with, but one is dealing with imposter syndrome and also whether the profession that I’ve chosen is really the best kind of role for me or the best that aligns with my personality and my values.
MURIEL WILKINS: I would venture to say that those two questions are related around imposter syndrome and is the career path the right one for me in terms of from an authenticity standpoint. If you’re not feeling “comfortable” in the role in terms of feeling authentic in the role, then it will lead to feeling like an imposter. So if we were to disaggregate the two, I would suggest that we focus on this question around authenticity. And it’s really interesting because you first raised it as this question in the way that I just said it. You said, am I in the right role as a leader? Is it authentic to me? And then you follow it up with, how can I be in the role and feel authentic? And I think those are actually two different things. From your standpoint, what are the gaps between what you think is expected of you and what feels authentic to you?
EMILY: I think what is often expected is somebody who comes in with maybe more confidence, more of a presence, an ability to rally people behind you very quickly and get buy in, and I think be a little bit more outgoing in my demeanor. I’m somebody who I just recently started a new role and I spent a good deal of my initial few weeks just really listening and observing and reading and trying to understand the organization and the team and the cadence. I really didn’t feel like I had anything to say for several weeks, and in some cases I’m still kind of doing that. And I think that sometimes the expectation would be you’re in this leadership role, you should come in and make an impact quickly. I think that part of that is just because my personality is one where I don’t want to just start speaking and talking about things if I don’t really feel I have something meaningful to say. And I think that sometimes that can be perceived as a lack of leadership.
MURIEL WILKINS: And so have you in the past experienced that it was perceived as a lack of leadership? Like have you experienced that where folks sort of had those expectations and you didn’t rise up to them?
EMILY: I had a former boss who’s the CEO who once just said that he didn’t feel that I was really taking things forward quickly enough with the team. I think he just felt that I should be speaking more and having more of an executive presence, although I don’t know what that necessarily means per se, because my team, look, we had a plan, we had a strategy. We were executing on our strategy. We were meeting and exceeding our goals. So from a metrics perspective, we were where we needed to be. It was more, I think, from a personality perspective. I just wasn’t somebody who had sort of come in and just speak a lot at some of the board meetings and executive meetings. But if I were asked questions, I definitely was very prepared and had answers to things. It wasn’t like that was the issue. Some of it is a bit self-imposed. I think some of it is me feeling that imposter kind of being, like I am an imposter and not feeling like I’m in the right role. And so sometimes it makes me more reticent to dive in and to really assume more of a proactive like gregarious disposition where I’m like coming into meetings and kind of taking charge. I do feel like I am naturally a leader, I just don’t feel like I sort of fit the mold of what a typical leader might look like.
MURIEL WILKINS: And so is there a world where you can lead without fitting the mold of what a leader typically looks like?
EMILY: I’m not sure. I think the issue that I have maybe faced, some of it is like a bit gendered sometimes. And it might have been some of the teams that I’ve worked with where I’ve been the only woman on the team. I’ve been the only woman in the C-suite. In that sense, I think that that’s been one of the challenges. I’ve definitely found myself internalizing that and feeling small in certain situations. So I think that if the circumstances were different, then I probably… Part of it is like internal and part of it is probably external.
MURIEL WILKINS: I think you’re right. I mean, you’re not operating in a vacuum. And so I think there’s two questions or there’s two parts of it. As you said, there’s the internal and the external. The external is the environment that you’re in. And are you in an environment where what you bring to the table stylistically as well as substantially, substance wise, are valued? And then there’s on the internal, I think there’s a piece, and this is going to be a question I’m going to ask you right after I finish summarizing this, but there is a piece around like how much are you willing to stretch from what is your “natural style”?
EMILY: I feel like I am constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Just by virtue of taking leadership roles for me is pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, and I’ve been doing that for a while I guess. Maybe part of it, too, was like how much am I willing to continue spending time and energy in a profession that doesn’t always value me and where I feel like I’m internalizing and feeling like I’m out of place, maybe because of my gender, maybe because of my introversion. I’m not sure if it’s a combination of those things, but does it make sense to continue trying to kind of, you know, sometimes you just feel like Sisyphus every day. You’re pushing a boulder up the mountain. At what point do you say enough?
MURIEL WILKINS: Let’s take a pause here, because it’s important to pinpoint the key questions Emily is struggling with. One, is there a certain kind of leadership that does well, and does she fit into that? And two, is the onus on her to adapt to that leadership profile, and if so, at what cost? But I was curious whether these are questions that come up for her no matter where she is, or are they specific to the types of environment and companies she’s worked for to date? Let’s jump back in as I ask her just that.
EMILY: I think for me, I’ve always been somebody who’s tended to be very loyal to organizations and felt like maybe it’s not the company or the situation, maybe it’s me, and I need to learn from this experience, and this will push me beyond my comfort zone. And I think there is a lot of that, but I do think that there have been situations where I perhaps should have just moved on and just realized this is not the right environment for me. It’s not really making me feel, one, valued, or two, that maybe I’m bringing the best of myself out, where I’m able to flourish and really feel like I’m the best version of who I can be at work. That’s definitely an issue, is just maybe not drawing those boundaries sooner.
MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. So I love that you used that word, boundaries. So what do you mean by that? How do you know when you are in a place where you feel valued and you feel like you can put your best foot forward?
EMILY: I don’t know. I mean, it makes me wonder sometimes what’s normal. Does anybody feel fully valued? I don’t know. There’s always pros and cons to every environment. No situation is perfect. I think that for me, I guess where it starts to feel really uncomfortable is where I feel like the situation is not one that really aligns with my personal values and is making me feel bad about myself. Some of that is maybe stuff that I can work on, where I’m feeling badly because I’m not saying no, or I’m feeling badly because I’m not asserting myself enough, or speaking up and saying, this is what I need, or this isn’t okay. I can’t do this, or I don’t have enough resources, or I’m not willing to work 85 hours a week anymore. Things like that. And part of that’s just on me, and not really, and pushing back. And then becoming resentful and just letting it fester.
MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. So Emily, let me just say something about this. So you talked about boundaries and then about getting to a place where the environment or what you’re experiencing doesn’t feel aligned with your personal values. And everything that you mentioned around not saying no, or not saying, I need more resources, or I’m not going to stay late, while it may feel like it’s putting boundaries on everyone else, on the environment, in reality, when you’re doing those things, you’re actually putting a boundary on yourself, a boundary to stay aligned to your values. The minute you start focusing on, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, but the minute it becomes contingent and dependent on the external factors, you do lose your power in the situation because it’s then what are they doing to me? And this is not to suggest that other people don’t behave badly. They do. But since I’m working with you, my question is going to be, how do you walk into every situation feeling like you add value, feeling valuable, feeling like you belong, even if others don’t believe so? Because that’s the thing that won’t change.
EMILY: That really feels like it hits the nail on the head, is not internalizing some of the things that I have. I’ve internalized some things and not been able to kind of separate. I’m not able to see how others perceive my worth or value as different than how I perceive my worth and value. And I think that that’s where it just becomes really muzzled.
MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. I mean, you lose yourself, right? We all do it. I mean, we all do it. We do it with work. We do it with love relationships. You do it with your kids. You wake up one day and you’re like, oh, wait a minute, who am I?
MURIEL WILKINS: What’s great for you is you do have this internal sense of alarm that’s going off, that’s saying, hold up a minute. Somehow I’ve lost myself here. This is not aligned with who I am. And the question is, does the environment change to align to who you are or do you change to align to the environment? And what I hear you saying is you feel like, hey, I have spent so much energy trying to align to the environment, and it’s exhausting. Then it becomes blurred, like, okay, is what they think really what I think about myself? And is that my metric? And so I think a big part of this is understanding, well, what are my values? What do I bring to the table? And standing strongly and firmly in that. Then we can talk about the how, which the how is, when do I need to speak up? When do I need to make decisions quickly? When do I need to listen? Those are just the delivery of it all. So if we go back to this conversation around what are the boundaries that you feel you need to put on yourself that would make you know that you are operating in a way that is more aligned with your values, what would those types of boundaries be?
EMILY: I think one is I have a lot of experience, and coming into roles, I think there’s always a feeling that you sort of need to prove yourself. You need to hit the ground running and earn trust with others and show that you’re able to deliver and perform. But at a certain point, I think when I start to feel like, okay, I’ve been able to deliver, and I have been performing, and I’ve been working collaboratively and cross-functionally across teams and really trying to earn trust and be proactive, and despite all of that, if I’m still feeling like I’m not valued, then it’s time to leave or find something else. And I think maybe that’s one thing, is just the way that I, you know, the feedback that I might get from colleagues, if that’s not something where I feel like it’s objectively fair or reflective of my capabilities or my performance, and maybe it’s because of, you know, going back to I’m not this big personality, I’m somebody who’s a bit quieter at work, but I think it does take a lot of leadership, and leading my team and working cross-functionally to deliver results. If I feel like it’s just not the right organization, where I feel like I’m not being authentic or I’m not able to be authentic and be who I am and objectively perform, then it’s just not the right environment for me. So it’s just time to move on.
MURIEL WILKINS: Okay, so that’s a boundary that you’re putting on yourself. When you think about it that way because there is this, you know, I keep going back to this, you feeling like you’re not valued, and you know the litmus test, it’ll be the feedback. What will make you feel like you are valued? How would you recognize that?
EMILY: Yeah, I think when I feel like I can be myself, and when I feel like my contributions are recognized, and I feel like I can be myself and don’t have to fully try to be something that I’m not on the team that I’m working with, that’s one thing. And I think feedback is certainly another. I think for me, I like to work in environments where risk is rewarded and vulnerability is something that’s encouraged, and inclusion is something that’s encouraged and celebrated, and where different viewpoints and different types of personalities and perspectives matter. And when you’re sort of in a group or on a team where everybody has to kind of fit a certain mold, I think a lot of times it’s not even intentional, it’s just, it’s sort of like this is how things work, and you either are this or you aren’t this. And if you aren’t, then you’re excluded. I think I’ve been able to get to the point where I can recognize when I feel that way, where I’m just, I’m not fitting whatever mold is in this group. And so it’s not necessarily me. It’s just, it’s the environment. And I think traditionally, I just internalized it and said, there’s something wrong with me. Why am I not able to be my best self here? So I think that’s something that I have been able to recognize over the last few years, especially.
MURIEL WILKINS: Right. And what we talked about is making sure that even when you are in an environment where you feel like you don’t belong, or you’re getting signals that you don’t fit the mold, so it’s not even you feel that you don’t belong, that you’re just getting signals that you’re sort of an anomaly, an outlier in that environment or that culture, that you still believe, you still believe, that you’re valuable, that it has no impact on your own self-worth as a person. Because if you do start internalizing it, I’m using your words in terms of internalizing it that way, no matter which environment you go to, you’re going to carry that with you.
EMILY: Yeah. I think that’s also, that’s kind of the crux of the issue, too, is getting there. I think that for many years, or probably most of my life, I’ve used external metrics as validation. And that’s gotten me far in terms of objective accomplishments, like school and work. But I think fundamentally the issue is more, how do I accept myself despite anything external? And I think that by not being able to do that, it’s inhibited me from really reaching my potential professionally.
MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. I mean, that’s huge, Emily. I guess I would ask, in all the experiences that you’ve had that have felt challenging to you, where you felt like you were an outlier, were you being yourself?
EMILY: I think that I was, but I think that in some cases I probably could have still moved forward in those roles if I didn’t pay attention as much to those external things. But I think that the external metrics and the way that you feel on a day-to-day basis with your colleagues and your coworkers, that does matter. I think it’s important. You want to feel like you’re included and you’re valued for who you are, despite being different from everybody else around you.
MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. I mean, look, there’s a thin line between what people actually think about you and the story you make up about what people think about you.
MURIEL WILKINS: So I just want to make sure you know the difference. So I’m not saying ignore feedback, ignore the fact that you might walk into room and nobody looks like you and everybody acts a certain way and it’s very different and they leave you out, but I want you to see it as fact, if that’s what’s actually happening.
MURIEL WILKINS: And then if it is, then the question becomes exactly the question you pose. It’s how much tolerance you have. Is this worth it to me? And only you can answer that, because that goes back to the impact that you want to have. We’ll get there around purpose and meaning and all that. It’s only worth it to you if there’s a meaning or purpose behind it, right? You’re not going to do it just for the sport of it. I mean, you could, but I’d be curious why you would, right? So there’s a thin line between what people think about you and the narrative you tell yourself and internalize about what people think about you, and I’d be curious to know, as a result of what you believe people have thought about you, or you’re asserting people have thought about you, or how they feel about you, what have you told yourself about your distinct approach to leading and managing?
EMILY: Well, I think that I’ve been able to lead and manage in a way that’s been authentic to me, and I think overall that I have been able to do that. I don’t think that I would be able to show up for work and get out of bed in the morning if I didn’t feel like I could at least be the leader that I felt like I should be to my team. And that’s one thing that I am really proud of. For me, it’s just really important to create environments for my team, even if the organization doesn’t necessarily foster some of those values of empathy and belonging and inclusion and vulnerability and risk-taking, things like that, I think, are really important.
MURIEL WILKINS: What’s interesting to me, Emily, is you walked in with the question of, “Am I in the right role as a leader? Is that type of role authentic to me?” And then you talked about, “How can I be in a role and feel authentic?” And you define that as being able to operate in a way that is aligned with your values. We then see two variables that lead to you being able to operate in a way that is aligned with your values. One is in the boundaries that you create that help you stay aligned to those values. Okay? So it’s no different than if I say, “Hey, one of my values is being healthy,” right? Trying to optimize my health. So a boundary that I will create is I won’t eat sweets during the week. So that’s a boundary that I create for myself. I don’t create the boundary on other people. I don’t create the boundary by saying, “Hey, everybody else in the world, don’t give me sweets.” Okay? So that’s what I mean by a boundary on yourself. But then the second aspect that you brought up is environment, and are you putting yourself in an environment that reflects and that is additive, both in terms of what you add to it and what it adds back to you, the values that you’re trying to live up to. Using that metaphor about being healthy, it’s the same for me, right? I can say, “Hey, my value is to be healthy,” but if where I’m sitting for lunch every day is the corner fast-food place, I mean, yeah. I could still try to do it, but it’ll be way more challenging and it’s going to be hard for me to create that type of energy. Right? And so my question is, to what extent have you been able to seek out environments, cultures, where those very things that you just listed, which I daresay are your values, are exhibited and held up as important from a cultural standpoint?
EMILY: I think that I have sought up those environments. I think working in tech, it can be challenging no matter where you go, and to be honest, sometimes I feel as though one of the reasons I stay in the profession and I seek leadership roles that are visible is to be that person who’s the woman at the table, because I have two daughters and I want them to know that they can do what they want. And maybe that sounds silly, to think that I’m pursuing a profession that maybe doesn’t feel like it’s maybe the most authentic or the best for me, but it’s to show that it’s possible. But sometimes I just wonder, is this worth it? At what cost to me and my health or my feelings of being who I should be or who I want to be? So I think that I have sought out rules, but I haven’t always had the best luck in finding the right rules.
MURIEL WILKINS: This is an important point that I’m getting here with Emily, because as much as we’re trying to figure out what is authentic or inauthentic for her, we also want to be able to differentiate between a role and an environment. It’s very easy to confuse the two, but it’s a good framework for her to think about as she continues to decide the right path for herself. Let’s get back into the conversation and the actions she can take.
EMILY: I think that maybe because of the environments, I conflate the two sometimes, because I think about, “Well, I can’t really be myself or feel like an authentic leader in this role because it’s me, and because I’m introverted and I’m quieter.” I think of it as those are the issues, but maybe it’s just that it doesn’t fit well within the organization, and the organization doesn’t embrace those.
MURIEL WILKINS: I mean, look, exactly. So look, I think that you need to think about it, not as, “Can I succeed in this environment in spite of being an introvert?” and shift that to, “What type of environment can I be in where I can succeed because I’m an introvert?” There’s a difference between the two. One is much more, “How do I survive in this?” which means that the environment isn’t as aligned with what you feel you bring to the table stylistically. And the other, it doesn’t mean that the culture is exactly like you, it just maybe is one that values diversity of style and diversity of thought and diversity of approach more broadly. Okay? I’m not suggesting that would be easy to find, but I do think what you said around conflating the role and the environment, you don’t want to do. You want to disaggregate the two. It’d be different if you were telling me, “Hey, I am horrible as a marketer.” Right? “I’m horrible at managing my team.” Then I’d be like, “Yeah, are you in the right role?” “I’m actually horrible as a leader.” I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, or I haven’t heard you give any evidence of that. It’s more, are you able to lead to your full potential in that particular culture? And then I also think this part around is it worth it to you, it’s interesting, because when we first started talking, you were like, “Where am I going to be 20 years from now?” And what’s worth it? I don’t know. I don’t know about you, but what something is worth to you today, was it the same worth to you 20 years ago?
EMILY: Definitely not.
MURIEL WILKINS: Right? Exactly. So I’m all for long-range planning, but at the same time, I would venture to say, think about it in terms of bring a bit more presence to it.
EMILY: I think maybe one of the challenges or the questions that I have now is working so hard, and where does it take me? If it doesn’t feel like it’s serving me now, is it? And it seems like it’s more not because it’s not something that I’m interested or passionate about or want to do. It’s more finding the right environment to thrive better in.
MURIEL WILKINS: And so how is it serving you? What is the meaning in your work right now?
EMILY: Well, I think in my current role, I don’t feel like I’m able to really reach my potential and do some of the things that I’ve been able to do in prior roles. And I don’t want to stay for four years or longer with an organization that just doesn’t align with the things that I want.
MURIEL WILKINS: So I should have asked this a long time ago in our conversation, and I didn’t, but Emily, to what extent do you believe you’re a leader?
EMILY: I feel like I am a leader, but I think I definitely have doubts about my ability to be a leader. On the day-to-day, when I’m working with my team, I feel good and I feel like I’m a leader, and I feel like I’ve been able to really achieve great results with my team. I’ve had some feedback from managers just saying, essentially, that you should be more visible and more present and things that I just don’t feel like I am. It’s just like I’m not this big personality.
MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. But does that mean that you’re not a leader?
EMILY: I don’t think it does, but it definitely makes me question it.
MURIEL WILKINS: It tends to be that there are certain behaviors that the world tends to appoint as quote unquote, good leadership behaviors. But at the end of the day, it’s how you carry out whatever that leadership agenda is. And is it done in a way where you can drive things forward as well as ensure followership, the people side of it? And so whether you are something or not versus whether you feel you are that or not are two different things. And I have a sense that you’re feeling about it, again, what we talked about before, the narrative that you give to what the reality is might be getting in your way a little bit. So I don’t know, like if you were to just claim that you are a leader regardless of how you feel about it, what difference would that make for you?
EMILY: I think it would change the dynamic quite a bit if I focused on objectively, I am a leader. I’ve been able to build really high performing and engaged teams and I’ve done it despite not maybe fitting that typical mold of what typically is ascribed to leadership, leadership attributes. So I think that if I look at just think about like the reviews that I have or the performance of our team, I think it says quite a lot, but yeah, I think that I have tended to just kind of focused on the story what I tell myself or internalize, have allowed myself to internalize sometimes.
MURIEL WILKINS: And I don’t know if that’s serving you.
EMILY: No, I don’t think it is.
MURIEL WILKINS: Right. So step one is owning who you are and the role that you’re in. And unless you can do that, nobody else will. That’s for sure. Right?
MURIEL WILKINS: So I think the practice for you, and you can practice this all the time, is really asking yourself like what is actually happening and then what is the feeling I’m having about what is happening? And let me deal with what’s actually happening because that’s the reality of it. The reality of it for you is you are leading. It might not look like everybody else, but you are leading. So step number one is owning your part just in a different way than you have in the past. And then step number two is now let me check the environment. And you’re putting a boundary, which I think you made very clear, a boundary around, I want to operate in an environment that is more closely aligned with what is important to me and how I want to live my life and the person I want to be, which is I’m just going to name some of the things that you said, empathetic, vulnerable, inclusive. I mean, I’m sure there’s much more. And if this environment has shown evidence that it’s not aligned with that, then you have a choice to make. And the choice is, do I stick around because I want to influence the environment in that direction or do I move on, but with a very, very clear antenna so that I can try to identify cultures that do do that.
EMILY: Yeah, that definitely makes sense.
MURIEL WILKINS: So what’s the question that’s coming up for you? I’m feeling like there’s either a but or a question.
EMILY: I guess when I think about the culture and environment of the organization, I think that’s where I go back to like is this industry one where that’s possible? And I know it, like it must be, it’s difficult because there’s just not a whole lot of representation I think in some of the, you know, and especially in kind of leadership roles, I think, but there are companies where it is possible. I think it’s just sometimes difficult to find. So I think that’s one of the reasons why I felt like maybe it’s just not even the right industry or profession for me. And maybe it makes sense to find something else because it is exhausting kind of like looking.
MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. Perhaps. I can’t sit here and I would be like doing so much wrong by sitting here and saying, yeah, it’s not possible. Right? You only need one company. It’s kind of like finding a partner, right? Like you only need to find one, but it’s hard. Yeah, it is hard because you’re a bit trying to find a unicorn or what feels like a unicorn. And hopefully that won’t be the case in the future. It won’t be unicorns. Maybe it’ll be more the norm, but for now you’re finding it hard. So you, again, that’s a decision you have to make. Do I want to keep looking for something that’s unique in this industry or do I want to switch industry where that type of culture might be more plausible, right? And this comes back to what do you want, right? What’s the purpose you have? And so let’s talk a little bit about that because what gives anything meaning is the purpose behind it. Even the most menial tasks, what gives it meaning is the purpose behind it. If I’m sitting, I hate like sitting down to do bills. But if I just think about it as, oh my God, I’m just doing bills. And again, I’m saying the same thing I told you not to do, I tell myself a story about writing out bills and like how boring it is and oh my God and all the mail and all this. But if I understand the purpose behind me doing bills, which is to support, to create an environment where me and my family can live and or even as basic as not getting bad credit score, right? Then it brings meaning behind the action. Okay. So whether you stay in the tech industry or move to a different industry or stay in your current role for now or leave, there’s no good or bad. The question is, do you understand the purpose and meaning behind your decision?
EMILY: Yeah, I think for me, I mean, one of the reasons why I’ve really liked being in leadership roles and leading teams is just being able to rally people behind a common goal and to create a sense of environment where people feel like they can be their best selves and do the best work of their careers. Like that’s always been my goal as a leader. And if I’m able to do that and bring the best out of people on my team and bring out their best skills and how help them grow, then that’s really satisfying as a leader. But I think what gets me out of bed in the morning is one being able to learn and grow myself because I like to sort of approach every day as something new, it’s an opportunity to grow myself and that’s something that’s really important to me, but also to be able to help nurture others and to kind of bring the best out of the teams that I work with. So that doesn’t necessarily have to be in one industry or another. I think that’s just like who I am as a person. And that could happen in probably different industries, in different environment.
MURIEL WILKINS: Emily started our coaching session questioning whether she can be a leader in spite of who she is. And I love she concluded our discussion by affirming that she can be a leader because of who she is. This is the key turning point for one to realize that truly leading with authenticity lies in your ability for your career to become an expression of yourself. It’s a space where you can provide value in a way that is aligned with who you are. This goes beyond understanding your why, that north star that so many talk about. It’s actually about understanding who you are so that no matter what role and environment you’re in, you stay true to that. That is at the core of being, living and leading authentically. That’s it for this episode of Coaching Real Leaders. Next time…
KRISH: I self-sabotage a lot because I kind of overthink, maybe I’m not good at this. Maybe I need to wait it out a little bit more, or maybe I should, you know, there’s a lot of things I always debate in my head. And I think I self-sabotage my own chances sometimes.
MURIEL WILKINS: Thanks to my producer, Mary Dooe, music composer, Brian Campbell, and the entire team at HBR. Much gratitude to the leaders who join me in these coaching conversations and to you, our listeners, who share in their journeys. If you are dealing with a leadership challenge, I’d love to hear from you and possibly have you on the show. Apply at coachingrealleaders.com. And you can find me on LinkedIn, on Twitter at Muriel M Wilkins or on Instagram at Coach Muriel Wilkins. If you love the show and learn from it, pay it forward. Share it with your friends, subscribe, leave a review. From HBR Presents, this is Muriel Wilkins.