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Does your leadership style allow for different perspectives?

Ana Polanco

In the last week, I received the most amazing gifts from other women – witnessing each of them change perspective in an instant and beginning to overcome their fears about change. These women are from all walks of life, ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s. When faced with the opportunity to change perspective, they all went for it, still afraid but trusting that change was necessary to feel a sense of fulfillment and personal satisfaction in their professional and personal lives.

The women I’m talking about are talented, articulate, go-getters at the top of their game who were stuck. We rarely hear from women or men about these vulnerable moments when you want to change but you feel afraid. And yet these challenges and the failures we experience are the ones that help us learn how to deal with the crisis and the "stuckness" in our own lives.

Recently at a conference, I divulged to an audience how I blew up an important relationship at a former place of work. In the midst of that blow up, out of sheer exhaustion, I took a chance, showed vulnerability and put my cards on the table. And it paid off.

By being vulnerable with a colleague I had long been fighting with, I changed my perspective and the trajectory for how I work with him. As a result, we were able to exceed the change I dreamed of working on together.  

This difficult experience has made me better able to build stronger relationships. I learned to deepen the connections with others to achieve purposeful outcomes in my social change work and to be open to all the possibilities available to me. Because of my ability to make those authentic connections, I feel greater energy, purpose and joy in every project I take on.

Sounds easy, right? As talented people of color sometimes our engagement plan is to defend our strategy at any cost. Even if it means destroying the relationship in front of us. Now I don’t think we set out to destroy the relationships we are in, but the slope between defending and destroying is very slippery.  As a Latina I bring a whole series of life experiences that influence how I think others might behave towards me. If those experience or pre-judgements are speaking loudly, they can make it difficult to get my point across and win the change I want.

So how do we begin to minimize this slippery slope and instead take a more expansive leadership stance that allows us to shift perspective? Here are a few ways you can get started:

Discover and Manage your Triggers. The Fight or Flight response controlled by the amygdala can be triggered in a matter of seconds, leaving us often regretting things we said or did to others out of fear. Becoming aware of your triggers can help you identify the source of your fears so that you can manage your emotions. Finding your triggers is only the first step. Triggers are often tied to long held beliefs systems or experiences that we have had in our own lives. We won’t conquer them in one sitting. Instead take a long term perspective to discover the root of your fears and learn to manage them. The more you practice managing your emotions, the more you will discover opportunities at every door. Learning to flex this self-management muscle is key to expanding your leadership stance.

Learn to talk to people, not at them. In many sectors we’re expected to contextualize, rationalize and explain our decisions. But every encounter with a co-worker doesn’t require this framing. In order to talk to people, we must try using empower questions to discover their purpose behind a strategy. It is from purpose that we can build authentic, lasting partnerships.

Empowering questions begin with What or How and give the responder the space to give you the underlying cause to their decisions or feelings about a strategy. Questions with a Yes or no answer prevent you from getting to know the person and what they value.      

Begin Eliminating lies and half-truths from daily chit chat. Many studies show that the average person lies every ten minutes in their engagement with others. When people hear this they panic and often think – That doesn’t apply to me. However, lying is a strong commonly used defense mechanism that we pick up as children when we are afraid of the response.

Telling white lies and half-truths prevents others from getting to know who we really are. When you are having a bad day, maybe it’s time to admit what kind of day you are really having.  The more precise we are with our language with others, the more likely we are to gain their understanding, build connections achieve transformative outcomes.

What kind of leader do you want to be? When people asked me what kind of leader I wanted to be in college, I always wanted to be a powerful leader. And yet over time this answer felt meaningless and awkward. What does it mean to be powerful? What kind of power are we talking about?

Nowadays I ask the question differently: How do I want others to see and receive me as a leader? While the questions are similar your responses to each of them might surprise you.  Once you have a clear idea of the answer, develop the skills necessary to become the leader you want others to see.

Your Turn: Find one way you can shift perspective this week and be more open to the unknown. Let us know how it turns out!

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