why people don't see you as a leader

Why People Don’t See You as a Leader

As an educator in teacher leadership positions for the past 6 years, I am pretty confident that the people around me don’t see me as a leader. Perhaps you’ve felt this way, too. You are probably right.

I’ve often thought to myself, I don’t look like a leader. I don’t command any kind of attention when I enter a room. I trip over my own words when I’m faced with uncertainty. I suffer from an extreme case of imposter syndrome. Even now, I just wait for someone to call me out as a fraud. That girl writes about leadership?

For a long time, I harbored a deep insecurity about how others around me perceived my supposed leadership. Was I an imposter? I became frantic, doubting I was enough for this thing called leadership. And for those around me, what did they see?

A Mentor’s Feedback

I turned to a trusted mentor, a colleague that had always defined and modeled leadership for me. I asked for her feedback. I wanted to know what she thought. Did I look like a leader when I facilitated that training? Did I sound like one when I gave suggestions to the teachers?

It turns out, I was asking the wrong questions. This mentor helped me realize the glaring error in my reasoning. She flipped my whole idea of leadership on its head.

“I’m really not sure about that,” she said easily. “I wasn’t watching you. I was watching the teachers.”

I looked at her, about to repeat my question. I wanted feedback on my leadership.

She continued, “The teachers were smiling. They were pushing each other to be better, celebrating each other’s victories. They had the space to grow.” She didn’t mention anything I did at all.

And then it was clear. She couldn’t answer my question because it was the wrong question. I cringed at my glaring mistake. I had leadership all wrong.

I used to reflect a lot about my impact as a leader, and I still do. But I no longer ask myself, What do they see when I walk into the room?

Instead, I ask, How did they feel after I walked out?

Great Leaders Create a Trusting Culture

My mentor’s message stuck with me. I shifted to a new mindset. I’m really not sure whether people see me as a leader, and it doesn’t matter. People don’t see leadership, they feel it. The true mark of leadership shines through when you stop looking at the leader.

Shortly after this talk with my mentor, I came across Simon Sinek’s TED talk, Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe. He talks about how leadership is not a set of instructions. You can’t tell people to be inspired, cooperate, or trust. They have to feel it. Sinek says that remarkable things happen when people “feel safe and feel like they belong.”

This is the very reason why leadership defies rank and title. The person who makes others feel the most safe and the most cared about creates the most change.

I thought about some mistakes I had made the previous year: giving advice when I should have been listening, forgetting the nuances of daily life as a classroom teacher, making assumptions. My first instinct was always to gloss over these mistakes, pretend they weren’t important.

Now, I allow my mistakes to be transparent. Yes, this could affect the way others see me. It’s even possible they look elsewhere for leadership. I’m okay with that, as long as they trust that they too can make mistakes. That they are on this same journey, too.

It’s no secret that leadership is about serving others. Yet, when we assess our leadership, we tend to look for what people think about us. It’ s not about us, and it never was.

Great Leadership Breaks Barriers

Five years ago, I visited Brazil for two weeks for an international teaching experience to raise global awareness in education. During my visit to my host teacher’s school, I felt a strong connection with the teachers who greeted us.

I remember walking into the staff lounge, greeted by baskets of pão de queijo and a group of warm, smiling teachers. The principal introduced me. In a soft voice she practically whispered, “Please welcome Ali, our American teacher who wants to learn about our wonderful school.” Then she gestured for everyone to gather close around the warm, cheesy bread.

One of the teachers spoke Portuguese only, and nodded and smiled as we conversed about the school. Halfway through the conversation, she pulled me close to her and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. She smiled warmly at me, and despite the language and cultural barrier, I felt like I belonged.

The soft-spoken principal did not say much more, and she stood back as we swapped stories full of similarities and differences. She created a feeling of trust and acceptance in her building that was so strong, I forgot how far I had traveled to get there. I realize now this is what my mentor was talking about.

leader

Whether you have an official title as a leader or not, chances are you have wondered how others see you. Do they see you as a leader? Perhaps you wonder if you are leadership material, if people are about to call your bluff, or if you have it in you for others to follow you. But it’s not about how people see you—it never has been.

If you want to know how your actions will change the way people see you, instead ask, “How will this change the people around me?”

Because people don’t see leadership. They feel differently because of it.

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In Leadership, Compassion Matters

 

I was three months pregnant with twins when I got a phone call at work saying I needed to come home; my mom was gravely ill. After I hung up with my dad, I tried calling my husband. The gym office was busy each time I tried. After several attempts, I gave up, closed the door to the small conference room, and with tears in my eyes told the secretary I needed to leave. I uttered the words that my father said, “your mom is very sick, and she’s asking for you. I think you need to come now.”

I left that day and didn’t return for two weeks, after my mother’s funeral.

Normally the hour and a half drive is simple and quick. That day, my racing thoughts tortured me for the entire drive. Shelly, the secretary, was able to get in touch with my husband, so he wasn’t too far behind me. His school’s response was the same as mine: “Go, now.”

Each of our respective schools offered so much love and support during our time of need. My coworkers and teammates picked up my work load, sent flowers and cards, and many made the drive to attend the funeral. One friend even reached out to my obstetrician’s office to let them know of my situation, wondering if this stress would affect the twins.

Looking back, it was the compassion and kindness of my coworkers that kept me going after losing my mom.

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I have been extremely fortunate; I have worked in organizations that value kindness and compassion in the work place. However, for many, that is not the case.

The symptoms are everywhere. Work place memes on social media often depict sad employees not wanting to go back to work. “TGIF” is something many can identify with and heard frequently in the work place. Many people dread going to work and look forward to their time outside of work. A recent Gallop poll showed less than 30% of people are engaged in their work. They feel devalued, not listened to and disrespected. How can we change this reality for so many?

Instead of creating a dog-eat-dog environment, focus on compassion, not pressure, to motivate and inspire colleagues. Hidden leaders will be more compelled to step forward in an environment that values building trusting relationships rather than the cut-throat atmosphere that is evident in many workplaces.

A compassionate environment helps create a positive work culture, improves working relationships and reduces stress. A compassionate workplace is a win-win for everyone.

Here are some simple tips to begin creating a compassionate work culture to inspire your hidden leaders.

Make Deposits

Begin making deposits into people’s emotional bank account, a metaphor coin by Stephen Covey. You can make deposits through kindness, courtesy, being honest and keeping promises. Doing this allows you to build trusting, long-lasting relationships with colleagues.

5-minute favors

Start small. According to business professor Adam Grant, the most successful ‘givers’ don’t try to be Gandhi or Mother Teresa. Creating a compassionate workplace can begin with making it a goal to smile and say good morning to every co-worker every day.

Be Kind To Yourself

Sometimes our biggest enemy is ourselves. Negative self-talk can derail our best effort to maintain kindness and compassion. The more self-compassion we have, the more we can give to others. We must also make deposits into our own emotional bank account to be able to make deposits into other’s accounts. Make time for yourself to do the things that inspire and nurture both body and mind.

Assume the best in people

It can be tempting to see negative first. Dwelling in bitterness and negativity seems to be easier than giving someone the benefit of the doubt. However, most people really do have good intentions. People often live up to your expectations. By focusing on the good intentions of others, you are creating a positive and compassionate frame of mind.

Be Reflective

Make compassionate decisions whenever possible. Before acting ask yourself some reflective questions, What is our motivation? Are there any harmful implications from this decision? How would I feel if I was on the receiving end of this decision?

Compassion is contagious. If we begin with these simple steps, creating a compassionate workplace will begin to take on a life of its own. Creating environments where people feel inspired, cared for and celebrated allow for hidden leaders to emerge and be agents of change.

Don’t wait for an illness or tragedy to bring compassion into the work place. The start of the year can be filled with uncertainty and stress. This is a time when colleagues need kindness and compassion the most. As we wrap up this first week of school, reflect on how you can fold compassion into your everyday routine. Compassion and kindness need purposeful, daily practice to become deeply rooted and valued if we want to truly inspire and cultivate leadership.

Lisa

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new teacher

A Letter to the New Teacher: You Are a Leader (Yes, you)

Dear New Teacher,

It’s August. I’ve been thinking a lot about you.

I know you are anxiously waiting for the very first day that will commence your career in education. You are likely wondering if you are ready enough to greet the children who will soon spill through the doorway. You are not sure if your plan book is full enough, your classroom organized enough, your heart brave enough.

I want you to know that it doesn’t matter if you have one day of experience or 15 years, you will never feel completely ready to lead the young faces in front of you. I understand that the thought of being a leader while still trying to figure out how to group the desks in your new classroom may seem distant and irrelevant.

But we need you, new teacher. And whether you know it or not, you will be leading and inspiring somebody from the minute that first bell rings. Emerging leadership starts on day one.

An important thing about leadership is that it begins and ends with optimism. It must always begin with the strong belief that you can do something worth doing, and then the optimism and hope to try again when the first thing failed.

There will be failure, and joy, and a feeling like you are in way, way too far over your head. You will fall deeply, madly in love with teaching, and the next day you might want to crawl under your covers and not go back. This is the way it goes with anything that is worth doing. The key is being self-aware of that joy and disappointment, and recognizing when you need to reach out for help. This doesn’t show weakness–it shows you are human.

All teachers have bad days. What will set you apart as an emerging leader is what you do with those bad days. Will you let the obstacles define you as an educator, or will you reflect and move steadily forward? Remember, the children (and adults) around you learn immensely from how you respond to setbacks.

Don’t be afraid to eat lunch by yourself. If you feel a ripple of negativity around you, I urge you to take a step back and stand on your own two feet. There is nothing wrong with making a different choice, even if it isolates you for the moment.

Choose kindness every single time.

Collect data. You will encounter endless amounts of data, so make sure you make space for the data that will make a difference. Pay attention to your students’ struggles, motivations, interests, and what makes them laugh. Take notes and lean in to hear more. This data will tell you far more than any test score, and it will be the bridge to deep, meaningful relationships with each and every one of your students. Because teaching, like leadership, is all about relationships. You can’t move kids, adults, anyone–unless you engage their heart.

Be vulnerable. There is nothing wrong with a little bit of struggle. I can tell you this –you will inspire more people by being imperfect than you ever will having all of the answers.

Continue to acknowledge-openly and regularly- that you have so much to learn. Say you don’t know. There may be educators in your building who are relearning how to do this. Be a model for what it looks like to embrace imperfection.

Continually ask yourself, “Why am I here?” Hold on tight to your why.

There will come a day (sooner than you think) when you will want to share your beliefs to move and inspire others. So hold on to your struggles, your celebrations, your imperfections. Leaders rely on stories, and your story starts right now.

Before you take on your very first day, please let me tell you this:

You are a leader. Yes, you.

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adversity

6 WAYS TO OVERCOME ADVERSITY

You didn’t get the promotion you wanted. You don’t see eye-to-eye with your boss. You feel unqualified in your current position.

At some point in your career, you’ve encountered adversity. I know I have.

What do you do when you find yourself in these situations? What steps do you take to overcome adversity?

A few years ago I was asking myself those questions. I had hit a pothole in my career. Well, maybe more like a sinkhole.

I received some feedback that left me hurt, disappointed and afraid. After the initial shock had worn off, I became angry; I wanted to quit, to give up. Then I started questioning myself; maybe I wasn’t cut out for this job. I was stuck in that sinkhole and could not see a way out.

The capacity to overcome adversity is a defining quality in a leader. Adverse experiences can become defining moments in our careers. They are the moments that you find out what you are truly made of. These are opportunities that allow you to discover your hidden leader. It’s what we do with these experiences that define us.

It wasn’t the negative feedback that changed me; it was how I responded that allowed me to grow as a leader.

What I did in the weeks following, challenged me to become a better person as well as uncover my hidden leader. These are the six things that I learned from facing adversity and eventually helped me to climb out of the sinkhole. 

Explore your feelings

When difficult things happen to us, it’s okay to explore those painful feelings for a bit. Sit in that sinkhole for a little while but don’t set up camp there. You must start your journey moving forward, it might be messy, and hard, but it’s necessary.

During my experience, my anger turned to uncertainty and left me feeling vulnerable. I took this time to examine myself, the situation and re-evaluated my core beliefs. From there I was able to establish a plan to move forward.

Learn from it

Psychiatrist Vikto Frankl’s spent years in Nazi death camps. He argues that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it and move forward.

How can we learn while enduring pain?

First, learn to look at challenges as valuable teaching opportunities. The pain is temporary, but the learning will last. Spend time in self-reflection, ask yourself, “How did this happen?” “What could I do differently?” “Where do I want to be in 5 years?”

Then share your learning with others. Commit to making the most of this learning opportunity for yourself and others.

Writing this blog post is one way I can help others learn from my experience. We owe it to one another to share our new understandings based on our own unique experiences.

Create a vision

For some of us, the new year starts in January, for others, it’s September when school begins. Whatever the time of year, determine a crystal clear vision of what you want to achieve in life. To set goals for yourself, you must have an understanding of what you want to accomplish. Write it down and look at it every day. Align your day-to-day actions to your vision. Set manageable goals for yourself to create winning moments. Don’t let the past be an anchor, but a platform that propels you toward the future.

I asked, “Where do I want to be in 5 years and how can I get there?” I started writing down my thoughts, and those thoughts turned into goals, which lead to action. Start writing every day, write down your goals and how you can achieve them.

Make friends-not enemies

Disappointment, fear, and anger can turn to bitterness. Bitterness can cause you to project negative feelings toward others. Don’t let disappointments stop you from trusting others and acting professionally to accomplish a goal. Choose to trust people and assume they have the best intentions until they show otherwise. You must be able to build relationships with people for them to learn from you and gain from your experience.

It would have been easy to marinate in anger. Anger can be comforting, especially if we get others to join us. But I had already written down my vision, created an action plan and decided where I wanted to be in five years. I realized anger was not going to get me there.

Take responsibility

Lou Holtz once said, “The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it.”   The best leaders take responsibility for their actions, regardless of the situations that created them. Recognize that you played a part in the situation. Don’t make excuses, or blame others. Take ownership and move forward. By taking responsibility, you are in control of your future. You determine your next steps.

Had I earned some of that negative feedback? Absolutely. I examined the feedback, tried it on for a while and took responsibility for it, and then I put it away. I didn’t want to be that person, the one who wore that feedback everywhere, that blamed the people that were giving the feedback. Accept it, learn from it and move forward.

See the positive

Ask yourself, “Are there any silver linings in this situation?” Constantly look for the positives, adversity strengthens character, builds resolve and endurance. The one thing you have control of is your response to adversity. Your attitude will be contagious, adopt a positive one.

Digging myself out of the sinkhole made me a stronger, more compassionate and courageous leader. I uncovered strengths I didn’t know I had. I established a career plan instead of aimlessly moving along without direction. I reached outside of my comfort zone and made new, long lasting relationships. Facing adversity can have a positive outcome.

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Life can and will knock you down every once in a while. Even push you into a sinkhole. Leaders climb out of the sinkhole as soon as possible, emerging as stronger, more compassionate leaders ready to serve others.

What do you do when you find yourself in these situations? What steps do you take to overcome adversity?

Lisa

 

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Leadership

Lead with Fireworks

I’ll never forget watching my daughter experience fireworks for the first time. She stared up in awe, jumped up and down, clapped and shrieked as blue and red circles bloomed above the trees in our neighborhood.

“Blue, red, yellow!” she screamed joyfully. When the silence took over and only smoke lingered in the black sky, she was smiling quietly. A spark of wondrous excitement remained in her eyes.

My son, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with the light display. He covered his ears, closed his eyes, and asked to go inside. For him, fireworks are nothing more than a disruption. They are loud and usually occur well past his bedtime.

These opposing reactions made me think about leadership, coaching, and inspiring others…shouldn’t it feel a little more like that? Shouldn’t leadership feel incredibly joyful and just a little disruptive?

If you are a hidden leader, you likely feel compelled to share an innovative solution, take a next big step, or simply announce to others a joyful ambition that might, possibly, move your team forward. However, many of us don’t want to disrupt. We worry about how others will receive our contribution.

This is a problem. Leadership consultants Matt Kincaid and Doug Crandall address this issue of silence by explaining who does get heard. “Those who talk well, early, a lot, and loudly earn high status.” This is less of a strategy of how to be heard, and more of a warning of who is not being heard. I wondered,

What ideas remain in the dark because we are afraid to share them?

It’s time start lighting up the sky. Disruption causes us to change ourselves—in both small and dramatic ways. In Adam Grant’s TED talk about nonconformists, he explores the success behind original thinkers. They don’t just generate ideas, they speak up and talk about them. They stand out from others because they take action on changes that are disruptive—and may not even work. They champion these ideas anyway.

Disruptive ideas, like fireworks, are chaotic. They make our current understanding of the world slightly hazy. I’m proposing that we embrace disruption anyway and let it radiate through those around us. Big, passionate, booming ideas—why do we silence them in our own heads?

Leaders must be joyful without restriction. There must be a strong certainty that their ideas are important, even if they meet resistance. Even if people cover up their ears. Even if the idea may not work.

Go ahead and start shaking up the quiet sky—if you don’t, somebody else will.

Think of one thing you want to change that is within reach. (Or maybe not so in reach.) What small (or medium, or big) ideas remain hypothetical within your own internal thoughts?

Speak them so they light up the horizon in all of their vibrant colors.

Don’t worry for a second how much sound you make.

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