How does #MeToo end?

I was out of the country and taking a digital break when the rise of the #MeToo movement made headlines in late 2017. Since then, the momentum around exposing stories of sexual violence, harassment, and assault feels like it is picking up steam, at least in some circles.

Countless numbers of friends, family members, and colleagues have offered their gut-wrenching experiences of sexual trauma. It cannot be said enough that telling one’s story is brave. And we feel like we must share our stories in order to tackle a problem that often feels so embedded in our culture that it’s difficult to even name at times. What are the boundaries between what’s appropriate and what’s not? Who gets to decide that? And when lines are crossed, what are the consequences?

In most situations, there are none. Yesterday, I became engrossed in ESPN’s Outside the Lines reporting on Michigan State University, the most-recent ground zero case of what institutional protectionism of the patriarchy looks like. It’s vile. It’s disgusting. And this is merely one needle in the haystack of schools, workplaces, and systems allowing perpetrators of sexual violence to remain unpunished.

I relayed to Aaron yesterday how I find it difficult to put into words what it feels like to be victimized. And it happens with such frequency that I often forget about those moments as soon as they happen.

Our experiences are not monolithic, even though those in power would like to treat them that way (if they choose to acknowledge and validate them at all). It’s so easy and comfortable for others to justify the actions of perpetrators as “misunderstandings” or distortions of reality. How does someone grow up and adopt this mindset?¬† Who taught them to distrust the word of a woman who speaks her truth?

Oh, right. Everything around us. From pop culture to religious texts to history, we’ve been left to wither on the social vine as hysterics, power-grabbers, and muted voices (and woe if you identify as a woman of color as the double whammy of racial and gender identity make it even easier to negate your life experiences).

And let’s not pretend, progressives, that we’ve got this figured out and it’s a problem on “the right.” IT IS A PROBLEM FOR EVERYONE. We’ve got to put in the work to bring solutions to the table. Shining a light on individual and collective experiences is how we start. Because if we don’t acknowledge and lift up these stories, then the oppressors win. We must create platforms and spaces for voices, especially those from marginalized and underrepresented groups, to be front and center in the discussion of how sexual violence remains a pervasive tool to maintain power.

Woman holding a megaphone with #MeToo coming out the end

Then, the conversation shifts to: what now? How do we re-imaging a society that values women and the minds and bodies that they inhabit? How can we shift the dominant narrative that takes men at their word while casting shame on women on who speak out? It’s frighteningly easy for people to turn on women and castigate them as liars and sluts; it’s part of our social conditioning to inherently believe those in power, and when that looks like a bunch of white dudes, well, we can’t expect better outcomes for anyone who doesn’t fall into that mold.

I know that I need to continue to hold people accountable when lines are crossed, when discomfort arises, when either myself or others around me feel threatened. Eradicating our culture of sexual violence and degradation requires all of us to play a part. For some, it starts with self-reflection:¬†How do I reinforce stereotypes and gender hierarchy? How do I dis-empower¬†women and those who identify as female with my words and actions?¬†Do I qualify the actions of my female co-workers and staff? Have I stopped when a woman has said “no”?¬†¬†Remember: everything that feeds back into the narrative — that woman are objects, are less-than — keeps the narrative intact.

Here are some of my suggestions and thoughts on what I/you/we can do to shift our culture so #MeToo doesn’t have to be the tagline for women everywhere:

  • Don’t assume that you can touch me or hug me. I do like to hug, but that’s an action that I want to have equal power in choosing when and with whom it happens.
  • Don’t tell me that any article of clothing I may choose to wear “looks good on my body.” I am more than a body.
  • Don’t make assumptions about what I might like, eat, drive, do because I’m a woman. Re-train your brain to be open and un-assuming.
  • Find opportunities to step back and be quiet. In meetings. In social settings. Your presence has great power. Be aware of the influence you have.
  • Listen to the stories women tell. Don’t immediately slip into “I need to fix this” mode. Listen wholly, without judgment. Ask clarifying, open-ended questions.
  • Read more works by female authors and journalists. Watch movies and television programs written by/produced/directed by women. Listen to women-led podcasts. Seek out female musical artists and producers.
  • Support female athletes: attend events. Learn their names. Celebrate their achievements as individuals and on teams.
  • End passive-aggressive suggestions in meetings, such as “Katie, you have such good handwriting. Can you take notes?” If needed, practice improving your own handwriting.
  • Nominate and support female leaders in elections, board rooms, and organizations.
  • Hold men accountable for their actions. Don’t be silent, whether in a locker room or in the office.
  • Don’t be scared of feminism or identify as a feminist. Understand what it means and what it doesn’t.
  • Woman are not breakable. Don’t treat us like that. Challenge policies and laws rooted in those same false “protectionism” values. Those policies and laws are about controlling women, plain and simple.
  • Eliminate harmful words from vocabularies: bitch, slut, whore. Other labels used to castigate women.
  • Be transparent about your workplace earnings. If inequities exist (and they likely do), take action to address them and/or to pressure those at the decision-making table.
  • Seek to understand, first and foremost. We’ll never know what it is like to walk in the shoes of others. But, if we move through this world with hearts of compassion and empathy, we can be allies for those wronged.

I know there are countless more suggestions to share, and I invite any and all to do just that. I don’t have all of the answers or solutions.¬† All I have is the determination and anger to be a part of finding tangible actions that can take place¬†each and everyday so that the number of #MeToo stories whittle down to zero. Obviously, it’s not going to happen overnight. The time required for change to take place is on our collective shoulders, and, to be real, even more so on the shoulders of men.

Let’s imagine a world where the 12-year-old girl doesn’t get prodded in the breasts by her male classmates.

Let’s imagine a world where the 16-year-old doesn’t have to stand, frozen, at the sink while her assistant manager runs his fingers up her thigh as she tries to wash the dishes.

Let’s imagine a world where the 18-year-old doesn’t have to struggle against the weight of a youth pastor, pinning her down because he only “wants to feel her warmth.”

Let’s imagine a world where the 22-year-old first-year teacher is told by her assistant principal that when her 21-year-old student suggested that she give him oral sex in front of the class, it was a miscommunication.

Let’s imagine a world where the 29-year-old nonprofit professional doesn’t make $5,000 less than her counterpart for no apparent reason.

Let’s imagine a world where when a woman shares an idea, it remains her idea and doesn’t become co-opted by men in power.

Let’s imagine a world where women’s access to healthcare is unobstructed.

Let’s imagine a world where institutions refuse to protect predators for the sake of remaining competitive in the pursuit of funds from top donors.

Let’s imagine a world where those identify as female can walk down a street without a cat call, a comment, a stare.

Let’s imagine a world where the people drafting policy reflect their communities and constituents.

What will you do today to make our world more just and equitable? What will you do to support #MeToo and center the movement around women of color and working women?

More resources:

  1. “The #MeToo movement is not a witch hunt and it’s definitely not over.”
  2. The #MeToo movement looks different for women of color. Here are 10 stories.”
  3. When Black Women’s Stories Of Sexual Abuse Are Excluded From The National Narrative
  4. Women of color in low-wage jobs are being overlooked in the #MeToo moment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning how to become spontaneous

Sometimes, I feel like a robot.

Bender

My story is a lot like yours, only more interesting ‚Äėcause it involves robots.”– Bender,¬†Fuurama

Hardwired to plan and to adhere to that plan no matter what.

Even when Aaron and I embark on a day/night of fun, we likely have already thought about what we’re going to do days in advance. Sometimes weeks. Needless to say, spontaneity is not part of either of our DNAs.

Note: I’m not a scientist, and I acknowledge that I don’t think spontaneous¬†behavior is actually part of our DNA.¬†

How do you train yourself to allow events to unfold the day of? That sounds terrifying! What? I have to leave my calendar open to possibilities?

But, here’s where those with the “Judging” preference on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) learn how to game the system.

That’s right: when it comes to dealing with the outside world, Aaron and I both have strong preferences for a structured and decided lifestyle (aka “Judging”). Do you think this has something to do with our desire for control?

It is important not to conflate the “Judging” preferences of the MBTI test with the act of “judgement.” It’s not about people; we’re talking process here and how we want to shape our lives.

Here’s a sample of statements that a person with a “Judging” preference connects with:

  • I like to have things decided.
  • I appear to be task oriented.
  • I like to make lists of things to do. (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • I like to get my work done before playing.
  • I plan work to avoid rushing just before a deadline.
  • Sometimes I focus so much on the goal that I miss new information.

If you’ve read other posts in my blog, or just know me, you’re likely saying: “Yep, that’s Katie.” I do enjoy a good rushing around before a deadline every now and again to make me feel young. Ultimately, if I can knock things out weeks in advance, I’m as happy as a clam.

‚ÄúSo, like, clenched up tight, full of grit, and if you get pried open you‚Äôll die?‚ÄĚ — Tina Fay as Andrea of¬†The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

As two solutions-oriented, goal-setting people, Aaron and I drew on the inspiration of others and created a BOO:

BOWL

OF

OPTIONS

Consider it a baby-step in our path to freeing ourselves from the confines of our decision-oriented default modes. The BOO contains scraps of paper with places, activities, and ideas to break us from routines and challenge us to explore our city, state, and selves.

Last Saturday, we took BOO for its first spin, and out came a place: the Atomic Fern in downtown Durham (a social club, aka bar with games). Alright, we were going to go. But what would we do beforehand?

Fortunately, we didn’t have to put ourselves in the position to plan that either. My friend Molly bravely took the stage with other amazing women for:

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That’s right: the incredibly amazing Molly took the stage to perform comedy for the first time. And, she killed it.

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Molly may move quickly, but the blur is all on me. And the lighting. It has to be the lighting.

Her invitation broadened the possibilities for our night of spontaneity. We knew we would go to the Pinhook. We knew that we would visit the Atomic Fern. But in what order? And would there be other stops? ENDLESS OPTIONS!

At one point before we headed downtown, Aaron started to inquire about where we would eat. I shut it down (nicely, of course). “Let’s see where the night takes us!” (Hopefully not to a place where we wake up among plastic pink flamingos. That never seems to be a good sign if movies/TV are telling the truth).

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Photo evidence above: here we are, at The Atomic Fern, playing the addictive “I Spy” rip-off game “Spot It.” WE DID IT!

It was one of the most fun evenings we’ve ever had together. What’s the lesson learned? Spontaneity rules.

Now, when can we schedule our next date to be spontaneous? We’re booked next weekend…and the following…maybe mid-March?

#justkidding

#sortof

How to help? Stop the advice and create space

In the last week, I’ve had two interactions where — with all of my being — I wanted to be able to help but felt hampered by not having a clear action to take. One situation centered around my mother experiencing a deeply personal loss of a friend, and the other involved one of my close friends who had a fairly tumultuous 2017.

As both leaders and people who generally care about others, our first reaction in these situations is often to offer advice, provide comforting words, or relate a personal experience. But, this desire to fix or help may only benefit our own selfish desire and not the other person.

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Oh, you want to get healthy? Here is a gym you can join! (But seriously, if you live in the Triangle, you should join the 360 Approach family).

What can we do instead? Create a nonjudgmental space for sharing, reflection, and even silence. For me, this is hard. And uncomfortable! Sitting in silence with another person is not how I would describe a good time. I start to fidget; my brain begins racing; sweat beads at my wrists and temples.

Why does this happen? Our culture doesn’t embrace silence as a value. In fact, we want the opposite of stillness: movement! sounds! notifications! Fill the void with chatter, innovation, progress.

These actions can make us¬†feel like we’re moving forward. In reality, these actions can limit our ability to fully connect with our own emotions and with the emotions of others. While we can now check off a box, the jumble left behind inside of us remains just that: jumbled. This mess often finds its way out of us through less desirable means: anger or sadness; overindulgence; self-harm; fighting with others; sickness.

Let’s make a pledge together in 2018 to try and create spaces for others when they need it. We’ll keep our mouths closed and our advice to ourselves. We will be present, and we will listen. Actively listen. We can ask open-ended questions that give the person we love more opportunities to unearth what they want (and likely need) to say as they process. We need to grow more comfortable with silence and with allowing things to be left unsaid.

During the conversation with my mom, I fought myself to not interject with some trite commentary on grief and loss, on friendship. I wanted to so badly, but I could also hear in my mom’s voice that she needed to just¬†talk. For many of those that we love, they often carry the burden of being the sounding board for their family members and friends. When faced with their own hardships, they don’t necessarily have anyone offering their ears and time.

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A #throwback photo: sometimes creating space involves booze.

After reading this post, what resonates with you? Has someone created space for you recently? How did that make you feel?

Applying a ‘beginner’s mind’ to leadership

Do you consider yourself a goal-setter? Do you derive pleasure from crossing off items from your to-do list?

Gray brick wall with black painted soccer goal with "gol" written above

No matter the language, goals matter

Have you ever put an activity on your to-do list that you already did but wanted to release those oh-so-coveted endorphins as you drew a line through it?

Yeah, me too.

Here’s the good news for any of you who identify (even at times) as a Type-A person: we can still be mindful leaders. But, it’s not something that we can knock out of the park in one swing. It’s a process — at times, a painful one. It requires us to challenge our modus operandi and the behaviors deeply ingrained in our brains.

Fortunately, leaders like Robyn Ferhman are here to help. I had the opportunity to attend Robyn’s workshop last Saturday at Carolina Yoga Company entitled: “Attention to Intention: A Mindful Start to 2018.” You can see what was covered in this two-hour block of wonder and exploration here. Needless to say, I wasn’t ready to leave when time was up.

One of the key learnings that I took away from the workshop involved the concept of “beginner’s mind,” which is one of the core attitudes that make up a mindfulness practice. It is exactly like it sounds: approaching situations as if it were your first time ever experiencing it.

Imagine: how routine is brushing your teeth? How many of us spend that time up in our heads, running through memories or thinking about the events awaiting us tomorrow? What would happen if we approached brushing our teeth each morning and night like it was the first time? We would focus on making sure we addressed our gumlines; used circular motions to eliminate the plaque from those problem areas our dentist reminds us about every six months. How many fewer cavities would we have collectively? How much more in-tune would we feel with our bodies?

What does a “beginner’s mind” approach in leadership look like? Meetings are often a place where leaders are called upon to provide direction, make decisions, and build consensus. What if we approached the next meeting on our calendar as if it were our first ever meeting to run? What questions would we ask or anticipate others asking? How would we want to feel in the meeting? What baggage would we be able to leave outside of the door so we could fully participate, without judgment, in the space? How would a fresh perspective add value and contribute to your ideal workplace culture?

How about bringing a “beginner’s mind” to building relationships with others? Whether with our co-workers, fellow board members, or even our friends, we have a shared history, whether shallow or deep. This often results in us pre-judging outcomes or perhaps not investing our full attention into our time together. While our co-worker is sharing a new project idea, our mind drifts to: “How is this going to impact me and my time?”

A real hamster between two stuffed hampsters on a shelf

With a beginner’s mind, the impossible may appear a bit more real.

In my search for ways to incorporate a “beginner’s mind” into life, I stumbled upon this post from Amira Posner, a Mind-Body Fertility practitioner at Healing Infertility, featuring a well-known eating meditation credited to Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Take a raisin and put it in your hand. Pretend you have dropped off from another planet, and you have never seen a raisin. With an inquisitive, open, non-judgmental perspective, examine the raisin. Explore it. Smell it, feel it, taste it. Engage your senses, in the moment, in a non-judgmental way. With all your attention, be one with the raisin.

Note: if you’re not a fan of raisins (or happen to be participating in a Whole 30 program), another food item can be easily substituted.

Upon first reading, it can sound and feel a bit silly. But, I would pose the question: hasn’t the way we’ve been operating — passively, automatically, re-actively — silly? We have kept ourselves from being fully present and engaged in our world; a world in which we only have so much time to be present.

How could a “beginner’s mind” alter your relationships with other people, with your career, and with yourself?

How I will re-think shopping this year

Do you have the Amazon app on your phone?

How often have you opened the app while waiting in line/hanging out with friends/out at an event/sitting on the toilet and ordered something?

These questions are asked without judgment as — confession time —¬†I have been/am a habitual, knee-jerk reaction shopper became it is so convenient.

Oh, we’re out of cat food?

Click.

Gosh, I really want to read that book I just heard about on NPR.

Click.

Even better: options like Subscribe & Save take the effort of remembering to purchase a new bottle of shampoo or more coconut oil every other month!

My friend Cassie shared on Facebook¬†Ann Patchett’s¬†New York Times¬†opinion piece “My Year of No Shopping“, and I read it with eyes wide open. I used to be a serial shopper. Hello, I was raised in the 90s! The mall was¬†the place to see and be seen. At least, in my case, the only things I was looking for were the latest Babysitter’s Club paperbacks at Waldenbooks, a sassy shirt from the Rave, CDs from Sam Goody’s, and giggle-inducing adult toys at Spencer’s Gifts (those lava lamps were like a Siren’s Song).

Shopping — even just window — was a coveted weekend activity during my formative teenage years. So, it seems reasonable that I would continue such habits into adulthood. While I can attest to shedding much of my previous shopping identity (or even the desire to wander through the mall for hours….where malls still exist), online shopping quietly took the throne as the activity that doesn’t quite¬†feel like shopping but absolutely is:

Image of woman sitting behind computer with text: "Why yes, I will spend $50 more to get free shipping to avoid paying $3 for shipping"

How quickly those seemingly one-off purchases add up! Not only financially but they take up physical space; they add weight to our consumer-driven lives. They may shape our identity, or our perception of reality. They project values and priorities. Do they project the values and priorities we¬†want to reflect? That’s up to you.

After reading Ann’s narrative on her year of not shopping (inspired by her friend Elissa’s commitment to negate purchasing clothes, shoes, jewelry, and purchases), I took a little self-inventory on my own shopping predilections and where I could make change. One of my goals in 2018 is to save more money — and I realized that I spend money on things that I don’t really need anymore.

As Ann works on following her self-determined shopping rules and begins to run out of certain items, she writes that she makes “gleeful discoveries” of lip balms, lotions, soaps, and other tucked away products that have consumed space under the sink for years.

Y’all: I have four boxes of shampoo + conditioner in the bathroom closet now. How did that happen?

For me, shopping — the act of acquiring new items based on a sense of need or want — had become a non-mindful activity. Even at the grocery store, which is one of my favorite places to spend money, I move through each aisle with my list in my hand…but always with a swift justification ready in case I want to pick up a few additional items not written on the aforementioned list. (Oh, my favorite Kombucha is only $3.25, not $3.50 — I can totally put it in the cart now!)

I want to make it clear: there is zero judgment regarding feelings of joy connected to shopping. In fact, shouldn’t shopping be joyful in some ways? If we’re able to shop, that means we have economic resources to make choices. Many people in this world do not. What a privilege for me to wander around the Kroger, the Whole Foods — wherever — and have essentially limitless options.

This is what I want to work on moving forward this year:¬† I want to be mindful of the act of purchasing products. I want to think about the impact it has on my own budget; on my life with Aaron; on my ability to make other financial choices down the road. I want to be mindful about the impact my shopping choices have on my community; on the people who produced the product; on the people who will benefit from the purchase of this product. I want to think about the impact my purchases have on the environment; on labor; on the health and well-being of people that I may or may not know. I want to be present during the act of shopping — whether it is online, offline, local, or international. I want to shop less and give more. I want to find more opportunities to shop in places that bring positive change to the lives of others.

The one item — the onnnnnnnnnnnnnne item — that is going to be the hardest for me to let go of purchasing at whim:

Me reading a book on a train

No, not ridiculously large plastic waterbottles (but no, I won’t be buying those in 2018 or ever again). It’s¬†books. I love books. I love them so much. I like the way they feel, the way they make me feel. I like the way they draw me in, sometimes slowly, sometimes from the start. They rarely let me down; they comfort me when I’m sick or stuck on an airplane.

But, I have so many books. SO MANY BOOKS. And so many unread books.

This is it, my dear readers. If it’s on the Internet, it must be true right.

Sigh.

I will not purchase a book in 2018.

My intention for this year is to become more mindful throughout all aspects of my life. More to come on mindfulness in my next post after having the pleasure of attending a workshop this weekend with mindfulness/yoga/Type-A/leadership guru Robyn Fehrman.

Do you practice mindful shopping? After reading Ann Patchett’s piece, are you inspired to re-evaluate how you shop and what you buy? How can you free up space in your mind in 2018?

Shifting from “resolutions” to “feelings” for 2018

Four days into the new year: how are you holding up? How are you making progress to the goals and commitments you set for yourself as you seek to be healthier/happier/more sane in the days, weeks, and months ahead?

Perhaps you didn’t set a single resolution. In fact, you’re scoffing at this post:¬†oh, another piece on goal-setting in the new year. How cliche, Katie.

First: I kind-of like cliches, so there.

Second: Fine! Whether you are have established intentions for who you want to be and what you want to experience in this new year is moot. Because, I’m going to throw out a question that I bet you haven’t asked yourself yet:

How do you want to feel in 2018?

During an annual girls’ weekend last November, our friend Michelle posed this question to our group as we tromped through the woods in Uwharrie National Forest, our feet crunching the remnants of fall foliage into dust while the nearby shooting range provided a constant and eerie soundtrack.

How do you want to feel next year?

Michelle had been asked this question as part of a recent yoga teacher training and found it to be incredibly illuminating. Feelings don’t typically factor into goal-setting. Our resolutions are most commonly born from desired behavioral shifts (“I want to spend less money on Amazon” or “I want to spend more time with my friends”) and measurable accomplishments (“I want to lose X pounds” or “I want to work out X number of times each week”).¬† But, it’s not often that we associate particularly¬†feelings with these goals.

Sure, we can assume that we will likely experience greater happiness due to successful integration and completion of our resolutions. But, is happiness the only feeling we want in our lives? And, are our goals really means to an end goal called happiness? If so, we may need to re-evaluate how we craft our resolutions moving forward.

Post of Pushkin, the cat, showing the difference between New Year's Resolutions expectations and reality. The expectation is to workout, so Pushkin the cat is wearing a headband and has weights. The reality is Pushkin sleeping in a chair next to a remote control.

Oh cats. Always living the dream, right?

How do I want to¬†feel this year? Here’s what I offered to the group and now to you:

  • Challenged: As I outlined in a previous blog post, I felt like I hit a professional wall in terms of my ability to stretch and grow in 2017. Part of that was due to misalignment between what I was doing and what fulfilled me. Part of it was also due to a hunger to take on new responsibilities and tasks that were out of my comfort zone. Lo and behold, this is where I am now: a new job with a great deal of expectations for me and by me. I want to build up my resilience and grit again — and diving into the deep end as a full time development director will put me in the position to be challenged each and every day.
  • Free:¬†I’m not referring to the freedom encapsulated (whether real or symbolic) in the Bills of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. For me, I wanted to feel¬†free to dictate my schedule and calendar once again. By the end of last year, I was fried. I forgot what true relaxation meant (and I also continued to insist upon a life of productivity — look at all that I’m doing every moment! Never waste an opportunity to do something!). Bologna. With freedom comes choice on how to spend my time and remove the shackles of social pressures of what I¬†should spend my time doing.¬†No one should feel shame for taking time to read a book for pleasure. Could you be washing your kitchen floor? Learning a foreign language? Sending out one more work email? Of course. But, what will be lost, forever, if you make one of those other choices is your ability to feel¬†free and empowered to refill your cup in a way that satisfies you. We spend a lot of our time working to satisfy others. Feel the freedom to put your needs and care first when you can.

How do you want to feel in 2018? Acceptance? Joyful? Curious? If you’ve set resolutions, what feelings can you attribute to each of your goals?

Meme of T-rex with a claw under his chin. Text around T-Rex reads: "What if your new years resolution was to not follow your new years resolution?"

Meta.

Becoming an “unemotional” emotional leader

mochavodkavaliumlattePrior to leaving my last job, I had the opportunity to participate in an “Emerging Leaders” program as part of our national organization’s commitment to developing the next generation of conservation leaders. Pretty cool, right?

Similar to other leadership development programs, we were asked to take a self-assessment through the University of Washington’s Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking. From this assessment, each participant received a developmental readiness score based on their perceived willingness and ability to…? You guessed it — lead!

Willingness stems from the person’s actual motivation to develop (i.e. learning goal orientation, leadership self-confidence, internal motivation to learn, and motivation to lead) and the¬†ability to make a change in one’s leadership (which requires emotional regulation, taking different perspectives, metacognitive awareness, and self-concept clarity). A lot of terms and phrases to say:¬†what kind of leader am I right now and where can I improve to be ready to lead?

What did I glean about myself from this initial assessment back in September 2017? Here are some of the takeaways:

  • I’m very self-motivated (i.e. I believe that have the ability to effectively create complex plans, problem solve, understand & inspire others as well as accomplish the demands of a leadership role).
  • I have a strong sense of identity and knowledge about areas where I excel and areas where I need further development.
  • I like learning from challenges and see increases in workload as an opportunity to be more resilient (wait, what? Is this the most nonprofit skill ever?)
  • I’m much less confident in my beliefs that I have the ability to determine and use the means necessary to effectively lead others (i.e. knowing what resources and supports to employ, policies and procedures).
  • My internal drive to be a leader is more than 2x that of my external drive (i.e. extrinsic factors).
  • I DO NOT CONSTRAIN MY EMOTIONS WELL ESPECIALLY DURING DIFFICULT SITUATIONS.

Emotions from Inside Out movie

You better believe that when I turned to the emotional regulation section and saw my abysmal score, I immediately became defensive and hotheaded.

Oh, right, that should have been the moment when the lightbulb above my head turned on; alas, it did not quite yet.

I’m pretty confident that at this point in our large group, I questioned the validity of this section and threw out a query around gender dynamics at play in perceived leadership models. Not to say that my question wasn’t probing into a real implicit bias rooted in the data…but…I think I was letting my emotions run wild and dominate the discourse.

For those of you who know me well, you may be shocked that I was this unaware of my lack of emotional constraint. Personally, I thought that I had made great strides in tempering my emotions over the years, particularly my anger. But, I was not connecting the dots that emotional regulation is more than shifting moods and using a calmer tone during times of strife. Emotional regulation for a leader also demands that the leader be aware of how their emotions are impacting the room through verbal AND nonverbal cues.

If I’m upset, it is written all over my face; if I’m disappointed, you will feel the weight of that disappointed through my sigh. When I’m frustrated, the static in the room puts all of your arm hairs on notice. I’m a fiery mess of emotional distress when the ship gets rocked.

On the flip side, when things are rocking and rolling, feelings of excitement, energy, and happiness swallow the space. Woo!

Still, as someone who wants to be ready and able to lead, I can’t let any of my emotions — the good ones or the bad ones — take center stage. That is not fair to the people around me, and it holds me back from being able to be the leader that I want to be.

How does one improve their emotional regulation? I’m glad you asked. One of the suggestions from the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking is to take time to reflect on what emotions are being surfaced to understand how you feel. Perhaps keeping a journal where you can notice what feelings are arising and name the feeling. What led you to that experience? How are you thinking about it and expressing it?

At the suggestion of my friend Sandy (who also happens to be the incredible editor of the Philanthropy Journal), I purchased a year-long subscription to the meditation app¬†Calm. I had tried a couple of other meditation apps that were free but never fully invested my time into either.¬†Calm has been a game-changer. The combination of the narrator’s soothing voice, the well-paced meditations, and the multiple areas of focus have already had a positive impact on my ability to regulate my emotions (not to mention be more mindful overall). I’ve developed a stronger awareness of what triggers certain emotions; I can acknowledge those emotions and be aware of them without giving them the platform to take over.

As with anything, shifting my behavior remains a process, one that I’m certainly committed to as I can see the benefits of becoming more in tune with my emotions and how they play out in life and with others.

Are you a leader who struggles with emotional regulation? Do you tend to over-emote, like me? Or are you more of a constrainer, a person who tends to mask their inner feelings and outward displays of emotion during stressful situations? Or, are you the Goldilocks of emotional regulation and do it just right?