As we are finding our ways through this pandemic—deciding when and how to allow clients back into exam rooms, when kids will be going back to school and what life will look like in 2021—we are also wondering what changes are permanent.
What in our lives won’t be going back to how it was, and how do we authentically lead through this uncertain time?
As veterinarians, veterinary nurses and members of the team, we are all leaders within our profession. We field questions from the public in line at the grocery store, on vacation and at soccer practice. This need to always be prepared to answer questions can be overwhelming—and now we are called on to lead during a pandemic.
We are leading our teams and families. Whether we have a job title that states we are a leader or not, each and every one of us has some power to have meaningful and positive influence at work and at home. We get to choose how we show up, what energy we bring to every interaction and conversation throughout the day, and whether we see the glass as half full or half empty.
The most common question I’ve been getting is, “How do I…?”; “How do I lead my team through a pandemic?” or “How do I show my staff that I care but not be a micromanager or cross that professional line?”
Those interactions got me thinking about authentic leadership, and asking, “What is authentic leadership?”
Throughout my career, I’ve had many positive interactions with mentors and some interactions where the experts suggested that I contort myself in ways that were both unnatural and unsustainable. And when I looked around, every woman who had successfully climbed the corporate ladder in this particular environment were nearly clones of each other. They all spoke in the same calm and measured way and had the same mannerisms, and it wasn’t authentic.
So, how do we up-level our game when it comes to leadership and, at the same time, stay true to who we are and connected with ourselves, our families, and the world around us to continue to be our unique and awesome selves?
Melinda Gates1has been one of the most visible women on this topic of authentic leadership. She often shares how she was unhappy at work, trying to fit into a culture where she was the only woman. She shares her struggles along her journey to find her sea legs and understand that it was okay to speak up in meetings with diverse viewpoints. She shares how she learned that it was okay to align with her core values at work rather than bend to societal pressures or corporate expectations.
But how do we implement this in our own lives?
I’ll share a few ways that have worked for me and helped me to be more comfortable living my life rather than by someone else’s expectations for how I should look, speak and act in every situation.
1) Put a team around you who believes in you.
It’s said that the five people we spend the most time with are our greatest influences. When I stopped listening to the negative statements, the subliminal messages and uncertainty about accomplishing my dreams, it was easier and more joyful to accomplish lofty goals, live into my values and find my authentic voice. I accomplished this by surrounding myself with mentors, coaches, friends and colleagues who truly believed in me and encouraged me to keep moving forward even when times were hard.
Having the courage and the confidence to speak from your heart rather than your head carries your message further. This has been my personal experience. And when I look around at the leaders who are considered great orators and people who’ve accomplished amazing feats, it’s the one consistent trait that I’ve observed.
2) Know your values.
Knowing your core values can be incredibly helpful with making decisions in the moment and no longer agonizing over them. For example, some of my values are bold leadership and selfless service. When I’m in a meeting and I don’t hear a critical point discussed or the board room conversation is in exact opposition to what our stated goals are, I speak up. Rather than agonizing over how I’ll be viewed or if I’ll be heard or respected, I do the hard and uncomfortable task of speaking up for myself and others to impact the situation positively.
When I feel uncertain about what I should do in a situation, I ask, “Is this action aligned with my values?” I immediately feel more calm, centered and confident in my decisions.
3) Know your Boundaries.
Boundaries are another critical piece of this puzzle. Knowing in advance what you will and won’t be swayed on and where you can compromise is incredibly empowering. Brenè Brown shares that, when she feels resentful, it’s oftentimes because she didn’t maintain a boundary in her own life. So rather than feel resentful, angry or hurt, if instead, we communicate boundaries clearly and kindly and are consistent with maintaining our boundaries, we might just find our sea legs too. While this can be uncomfortable in the moment, it can be empowering and build confidence to lead authentically.
4) Set an intention in advance.
Take time each morning or the night before, just five or ten minutes, to think through each appointment, each phone call or activity on your calendar, and ask yourself, “How do I want to show up in this situation?”, “How do I want to feel?” and “How do I want to interact with my clients and team today?”
Inevitably, something unscheduled crops up that is not a true emergency, but it’s urgent—at least to someone it is—and it may or may not need to be addressed in that moment. Take time to think through what is needing your attention right now and what can wait. Then ask, “Can we schedule time in 20 minutes, one hour or tomorrow to discuss this so I can give you my full attention?”
5) Figure out who you are and who you want to become.
I recognize that is a huge and lofty statement, and I promise it’s not a flippant one. Visualize who your best and highest self is and who you want to become. How would your best and highest self effortlessly navigate that difficult conversation or situation? Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths then visualize the best possible outcome. Visualize multiple positive outcomes and how your best self would navigate each situation. How would you joyously interact with each person in the room? How do you want each person to feel? How do you want to feel? If you get tripped up, how would you navigate the situation?
This takes practice, and it’s not just some new-age woo in the world; it’s science2. And if it works for the highest performing individuals in the world, including Olympians and Muhammad Ali3, I think I’ll make it part of my daily habits while on my quest to become the best version of myself.
To me, authentic leadership starts with figuring out who we are by first identifying our boundaries and values. Once we have our inner compass set to guide us along our unique path on this journey we call life, then it doesn’t matter how rough the seas are or how hard it is to see the path, we can trust that we are making the right decisions and effectively leading through these uncertain times. +
Forbes, M. (2019, May 14). Melinda Gates’ Quest To Find Her Voice And Battle Power Inequities At Work And At Home. Retrieved July 15, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/moiraforbes/2019/05/14/melinda-gates-quest-to-find-her-voice-and-battle-power-inequities-at-work-and-at-home/
LeVan, A. (2009, December 03). Seeing Is Believing: The Power of Visualization. Retrieved July 15, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/flourish/200912/seeing-is-believing-the-power-visualization
Ambrose. (2016, August 04). The Secret Exercise That Made Muhammad Ali “The Greatest”. Retrieved July 15, 2020, from https://www.ambrosewb.com/the-secret-exercise-that-made-muhammad-ali-the-greatest/