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.

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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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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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