By Denise Wright
THERE was high agreement across speakers at the recent SIM Professional Development's 'Aspiring Women. Inspiring Leaders' conference (Nov 23-24), on the core challenges women leaders face today. In addition to the usual stressors that plague most adults - problems and worries related to relationships, health, family, career, and finances - women leaders experience some unique challenges based on overusing certain core strengths such as confidence and self-sufficiency.
The first common mistake women leaders make is to assume that they are always right. This not only hurts relationships, when we are triggered by perceived disagreement, our body moves into 'fight-response' mode, and physical stress is triggered.
We can insure against this by consciously seeking out diverse perspectives, curiously exploring upfront around an issue and also by staying mindful of the person or persons we find most challenging to accept and appreciate.
A second very common challenge women leaders face are the attitudes that 'only I can do this right' and 'I don't need help'. This leads to overwork, a reluctance to share, collaborate or delegate, and can lead to resentment and exhaustion in addition to physical stress.
I recently conducted a Life/Career Visioning workshop for women. Several of the vision boards created had 'sleep' in big letters or visuals of comfy beds on them. Women leaders are often sleep deprived which is a major cause for concern given recent research indicating the link between lack of sleep and premature death or illness.
Marcia Reynolds in her book Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction says: 'On the road of perfection, feeling happy and having fun are elusive concepts. You probably feel numb more than any specific emotion because this is how the mind copes with incessant stress.'
Repressing the expression of our emotions has a negative effect on our emotional and bodily functions so it is important that we tune in to how we are feeling regularly and question our negative thoughts and feelings before acting on them.
We need to let go of control. We need to trust and support others to take the lead at times, experiment and take risks, and we need to make it safe for others to fail and learn from their mistakes, just as we have learnt from our own.
So, the next time you start to raise your hand, perhaps you can pause. Perhaps you can question: does this piece of work I am saying 'yes' to align with my values, my vision for myself, to what gives me meaning, passion, and joy now?
This links to another popular trend among women leaders - that is believing 'I have to be great at everything I do' or 'I have to do great things'.
Laura Berman Fortgang asks in The Little Book of Meaning: 'If our goal was to feel bliss, reverence, or love versus to achieve this or that marker of worldly success . . . how would that feel? How would the journey change?'