Role models can be anyone…and that includes you. If you think of people you admire in life and whose journey and experience you feel you can learn from, the chances are they all have some key traits in common. Understanding the behaviours and outlooks that make impressive people who change the world for the better is the first step to embodying them yourself. So, how can you embrace your own self-leadership?
LISTEN TO YOURSELF….
Role models have strong communication skills, and at the core of those is the art of listening. How someone listens to you impacts how seen and heard you feel — and the same is true of your relationship with your own inner world. Dismissing your thoughts, emotions or needs can be an adaptive strategy from childhood, or as a result of strong negative experiences. Psychologist Snehal Kumar, who specialises in burnout recovery and diversity-related stress, also notes that you might also not listen to yourself because you’re afraid of what you’ll hear, whether disappointment, hurt or anger — but learning to accept your own power begins with acknowledging yourself and accepting that whatever you feel is okay.
Create a daily space to listen to yourself with a friendly ear, asking yourself what you’re really feeling and what really matters to you, without judgement. By doing this, you strengthen the connection with yourself, allowing you to trust yourself and your intuition more and ultimately make decisions that align with the life you want to live.
BREW YOUR OWN CONFIDENCE…
Confidence is the magic ingredient — it invites us to perform with certainty and acts as an engine to our most ambitious dreams. ’We treat confidence as a nice-to-have rather than a must-have,’ says diversity activist Brittany Packnett. ‘But without confidence, we get stuck.’ So, what do we do if we lack this inner gunpowder? For role models it starts with self-awareness, gaining experience and knowledge and, importantly, courage – which is not the absence of fear, as Franklin D. Roosevelt observed, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear. The key is ultimately trusting that you are capable, competent and always able to do more than you think.
Inspiring confidence in yourself requires that you do three things, says Packnett — give yourself permission to turn up confident in your skill, no matter who doubts you; create a supportive community around you; and have curiosity in your own potential. Nurture a supportive network of people, seek out opportunities to learn and live in expectation of surprising yourself. All you need is the audacity to try — and the knowledge you’ll be okay whatever happens.
STRETCH YOUR COMFORT ZONE…
Achieving more than you thought you could is naturally inspiring, and most role models tell a tale of pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone to do great things. The comfort zone is defined by author, Judith Bardwick, as ‘a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance’. In other words, always doing what you know you can do — but the key word is limited. Role models push the boundaries in the ways they think, their expectations for themselves or society and their ability to impact situations positively, often in the face of doubt from others — and in the process come to see themselves in new and exciting ways.
If you want to grow, you need to get uncomfortable. Challenge yourself to do something that you aren’t sure you’ll succeed at — if it seems daring, you’re in the ballpark — while also acknowledging that not everything you take a chance on will pan out. However, the great thing about comfort zones is their ability to expand – in moving beyond your comfort zone you’ll incorporate new skills that will in time become a new comfort zone.
GIVE YOURSELF CREDIT…
So often, we can take our successes — from a promotion to a project well delivered — for granted, whizzing on to the next thing in the slip steam of business life. But taking time to celebrate your wins and acknowledge progress is important, as both a motivation but also as moment of reflection, helping you review the past and plan for where you want to go. Successful people know it’s important to be proud and visible around their achievements —something that many women in particular often struggle with, fighting a feeling that being outwardly proud of themselves and their abilities is to be arrogant or self-aggrandising.
Finding things to celebrate encourages our brains to find further things to celebrate so congratulating yourself — for both small victories and big successes — is both a recognition and an investment in yourself. Giving yourself credit, crucially, also includes flagging up your successes to stakeholders and collaborators to increase your visibility, from managers to investors, whether that’s through highlighting projects to profiling achievements or challenges in LinkedIn posts or industry publications.
REFRAME THE BIAS…
The ongoing work of everywoman, and annual events like International Women’s Day, throws a spotlight on the call for a gender-equal, inclusive world. But bias can also refer to the negative voice within yourself. Research shows human beings are hardwired to a negative outlook and negativity bias, where we register negative stimuli more readily and dwell on these events. It’s the little voice that says, ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I messed up and that’s awful’. The first part to reframing negativity bias is to be kind to our own inner critic. In her TEDx talk ‘The Art of Being your Own Best Friend’ psychotherapist Carissa Karner notes, ‘Befriending yourself, personally and professionally, is the most important thing you can do for mental wellness. The critical parts of you aren’t your enemy, they’re aspects of you that have created strategies for your safety and survival.’
To create a bias in your favour you must accept all the parts of you – even those you don’t like, notes Larner. Forgiving yourself and being compassionate as you learn will also allow your fear of criticism to lessen. As Larner notes, ‘Something profound will happen – the protective parts will realise they don’t have to work so hard and calm down.’
LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE…
A role model looks for the points of growth and potential in themselves and in any situation that arises. This doesn’t mean being ‘unrealistically positive’, however successful people know that reality is often a product of our perceptions and biases. No matter how difficult a circumstance, a positive outlook will give you a more productive, proactive perspective on it. Positivity’s bedfellow, ‘gratitude’ also helps role models to ‘stay in the sunshine’; neuroscientific research shows that it boosts feel-good chemicals such as dopamine in our neural circuits, increasing our resilience. Checking in with yourself for five minutes a day to list and be grateful for the good things in your life and in yourself, personal or professional, will reap dividends in your wellbeing.
Look for opportunity in situations, no matter how negative they might seem. Are there learnings you can take forward? Has a situation illuminated a gap in your knowledge to fill? Have you met a challenge that has revealed your own resilience? Challenge yourself to find one genuinely positive thing about every situation and even person that you meet and to practice daily gratitude and you’ll find that purposeful, positive energy flows more easily through all that you do.