Do you ever end your day or your week feeling completely sapped of energy? Do you look around try to figure out where all that energy went? I know I do. Some days I feel like someone snuck into my office when I wasn’t looking and took it.
These days there are even more reasons to be tired; balancing home schooling with working from home, pretending your dining room table is an office, attending meetings on the small screen..they all drain us.
There’s one drain on our energy that is completely within our own control. It’s the energy that spend ignoring our authenticity to whatever image that we carry around about what a woman leader “should” be doing.
We all have these images in our minds and we all try to some extent to emulate them. Not because we are phoney or trying to imitate someone else, but because we have seen women be successful behaving in certain ways, so we adopt their behaviour because we have evidence that it works.
Forcing ourselves to behave based on some ideal image of the successful female leader is like trying to jam your size 8 feet into a size 7 1/2 shoe. You can do it for a short while but over time you get blisters and your feet hurt. A lot.
The energy it takes to constantly adapt our behaviour to an image of how we “should” be as leaders is exhausting. This tiredness is our body telling us “hey, this doesn’t feel right! “ Often we don’t listen and we trudge on and on until we hit a wall.
I worked with a client who faced this challenge.
She was a senior leader of a large team. At our first meeting, she greeted me with a big smile and warm handshake, looked me right in the eye and said “I’ve been in this job a year. I love the work, I love my team, but I am exhausted. My work is stimulating, I feel like the workload is reasonable, I’m well compensated, yet I am starting to dread coming to work every day. I think there must be something wrong with me.”
Through our coaching conversations, she began to realize that what was sapping her energy was her belief that as a senior leader, she had to be someone that she wasn’t. She believed that she had to be the most positive person in the room, to never show any vulnerability. She believed that she had to be able to answer every question and make decisions quickly even if she didn’t have all the data.
She had tried to turn herself into her image of a successful leader. There was only one problem; she wasn’t that person.
Her natural tendencies were to be open about how she was feeling . She liked to be thoughtful and realistic about challenges. She preferred to consider her responses carefully and to make decisions only after having through through all of the consequences both long and short term.
The more that she forced herself to work against her nature, the more drained and exhausted she became. She began to second guess herself and her ability to lead with impact. Every time she battled her instinctive responses and had a conversation with herself about what she “should” do, she lost more of her energy. She was losing herself.
Gradually she began to explore ways to be more true to her self. She let her team know when she was having a tough day and shared some of the challenges that she was facing with her teenaged daughter. Bit by bit she began to let people see beyond her carefully constructed perfect image of herself. She let them know that there were parts of her life that were pretty messy. Just like the rest of us.
As her comfort level with vulnerability increased, she stretched further. She admitted when she met a problem that she didn’t know how to deal with and asked her team for their advice. She allowed herself enough time to make thoughtful decisions and discovered that she felt more confident presenting and defending them.
Over time, she regained her energy by not using it to fight with herself.
If you feel that you’re engaged in a similar fight with yourself, try to zero in on the situations that trigger you. Start by simply paying attention to what your body is telling you. It never lies or behaves unnaturally, even when you might be tempted to. Physical clues can help you figure out when you aren’t honouring your natural style.
- Do you notice that you have a physical reaction to certain situations? Signs like feeling flushed , having sweaty palms, feeling short of breath or a churning stomach are all indications that something isn’t quite right. Note what’s happening when you feel this way as the situation may be triggering an internal conflict for you.
- Try tracking how you feel after each encounter in your day. Do you feel energized after you speak to your team? Do you feel exhausted after a meeting with your boss? Are there certain topics that you avoid or feel dread talking about? Try tracking this for a few days and see what patterns develop.
By listening carefully to your internal accountability meter, you will quickly get a sense for when you aren’t being true to yourself. Pay close attention and use your body’s signals to pause and ask “What do I need to say or do to be true to myself?” Then listen to your answer.