As the oldest of three children, you would think I would be a natural leader. In fact, I am a natural boss. I am good at giving orders and then giving hell when orders aren’t followed. As the oldest, I learned that when my siblings did not do something they were told or when they did something they were not supposed to…the buck stopped with me. I had a natural aversion to punishment and reprimands so I learned very quickly that I had to be the boss of my siblings. Being a boss was easy, but I had to be made into a leader.
One day, while preparing to leave a friend of a friend’s house, my friend told her other friend “Get up, Yolanda is a follower. She won’t move until you do.” I knew my friend didn’t mean any harm, but OUCH. Was that really how I was perceived? In my mind, it just didn’t make sense to get up out of my comfortable position and stand awkwardly in the middle of the room for five minutes while they figured out their goodbye. Her words stung worse than shampoo in both eyes during a hot shower.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with following. The world needs people who are good at following directions and producing deliverables all the time. I just didn’t realize I was perceived as one. I was the co-captain of the track team in high school. In college, I walked across campus, to all my classes and to the canteen by myself. I didn’t need a crew, I was my crew! Two years into an almost 10-year career with Office Depot I was promoted to a department manager and I was barely 20 years old. How can this woman be perceived as a follower?
I only recently have actively taken steps to own wanting to be seen as a leader, but the shift has been years in the making. Becoming a leader was a slow process that I didn’t plan or see coming. It took time to feel the full weight of my friend’s words but it was a moment that always stood out to me. Once I realized that I was now “a leader,” I understood that that moment was a transition point in my life. I had to (and am having to) learn that being a good leader is more than a title and certainly more than being able to do things by myself. So, what were the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far while becoming a leader? I’m glad you asked!
I had to learn to lead by example.
My values are important. Family, working hard, transparency and honesty rank high for me. However, there is a difference between saying that I value these things and taking actions that show what I value without having to say them. When my actions align with my values in an authentic way, I am showing those around me what is important to me and the culture that I expect to surround me.
I had to learn to speak.
This one I still struggle with, especially when I feel the conversation may be contentious. I am a slow processor so I need time to thoroughly digest information before giving my full feedback. As an introvert, I can keep my thoughts and opinions to myself. However, I must speak up, ask questions, state my opinion and know when I am the decision maker. My voice is a crucial component in my leadership.
I had to learn to be my authentic self.
In my opinion, I could not be a leader until I accepted the fact that my leadership does not have to look like anyone else’s. Yes, there are many things I can learn from observing others and reading all the leadership books I have time for, but there is no better leadership trait than being yourself. This meant that I also had to understand myself well enough to push outside of my comfort zone when I need to and give myself as much grace as appropriate. My self-awareness has done wonders for becoming the type of leader that I am proud of.
Some people are born leaders; they have all the traits, all the skill and all the charisma from birth. However, I’ve learned that those of us who aren’t born with all the goods can still be made into a leader. I am not done being made, but I am quite proud of how far I have come!
Yolanda Jenkins is a wife, mother of 2, and an introverted leader. She can sometimes be found sharing the good, the bad and the ugly on IG @thislibralife.
Feature image photo credit: http://www.createherstock.com