I hope I'm not alone in saying this, but I've always wanted what I do to align with who I am. For my work to have purpose. For my priorities to matter. To be seen and heard for my natural creativity and talents. I was curious if anyone else shared these desires, so I sent a survey to my clients, social media followers and email friends about what they wanted to create in 2020. 37% said they wanted to enjoy clear priorities and better work-life balance. 34% of them told me they wanted a career that aligned with their talents. The remaining groups told me they wanted improved leadership skills, courage and confidence.
It seems we all desire one thing in common. Alignment.
I wish it was that easy. I had to learn many hard lessons that being "in line on paper" according to society's standards often meant I out was of line with myself. This made it hard for me to influence and lead others in an authentic way. I got caught up listening to what everyone else's definition of success was, so my work and life was not aligned to my core values, which impacted my confidence and kept me from making progress that felt purposeful.
In 2015, after living a life and career that looked good on paper, I was trying to figure out why I still felt bored and unfulfilled. I wanted better balance. I wanted to design a career that aligned with my authentic self. I was curious. Why is it that some smart leaders remain stuck, while those who may be “less qualified” (on paper) can advance with courage? How are some people so clear on their unique genius and know how to make a fulfilling career around it? What keeps creative leaders burned out in a career that is the wrong fit? How do some people align their purpose with their paycheck with such ease? I wrote down three questions
1. Who am I?
2. What am I believing? (Is it the truth?)
3. How am I acting on it?
Armed with these questions, I stayed curious. Could these questions create some habits that lead to a life where the work I do is aligned with my true self, doubt doesn’t hold me back, and I courageously act on it? Three words came to light: insight, mindset, and action. A couple of years later, I added a fourth word – boundaries. I started practicing these four habits of confident and creative leadership to see if they could help me, and others, to rise confidently toward showing up as their true selves and making meaningful contributions in work and life. After all, as a leader, I can only develop others to the level I’ve developed myself.
Four Habits, Four Questions
Insight. Who am I?
Psychologist Carl Jung says, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” So, could seeking to understand myself as a leader help me better connect with others? Plus, self-awareness serves as an ongoing filter for making decisions that align with our true self. Some insight building questions include: What are my core values? (Does my life and career align with them?) What are my strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities? What are my personality preferences? My unique calling?
“Who am I” isn't just an intellectual question. I learned recently in my coach training program from Martha Beck, that it was also a physiological question. Thinking with our bodies isn’t a popular topic in corporate America, but science says there is a second brain in our gut, and it has lots of information for us. I started to take notice, does the work that I do light up my true self? Does it give me energy and ease? Or is my work more aligned with my social self? Which means am I doing it solely because it gives me status or to please someone else? “Who am I” is just as much of it as an intellectual question as much as it is a physical question. How often do you check in to ask yourself if your work lights you up mentally and physically?
Mindset. What am I believing?
How often do you stop and ask yourself if your worry trains are fact or fiction? Do your stories hold you back? Your mindset determines how you think about and interpret situations, your emotional reactions, the decisions you make, and the actions you take. Your mindset influences the way you lead by activating confidence in your skills and abilities. We lead hearts and minds through a constantly evolving world - both your own and your team.
Cognitive behavioral therapy would tell us that every day our circumstances prompt all kinds of thoughts. Our thoughts generate our feelings (confidence vs doubt, inspired vs hesitant, etc.), and we tend to act (or not act) based on how we feel. Those actions lead to our results. We can fall into the trap of thinking, “I’ll be happy/successful when my circumstances change.” In reality, that leaves us in an endless cycle of striving for new circumstances. The only thing that drives lasting happiness is the choice to be content in all circumstances.
A good clue for me to check my thinking was when I felt doubt, worry, or like an impostor. I can ask, “Are my reasons for this feeling true?” I often ask my clients to “check their seat.” Are they sitting on a seat of evidence filled with reasons and stories of why they aren’t qualified? How expensive are those thoughts, what are they costing them in terms of money, time or energy? Or, are they supporting their seat with truth and evidence that supports their talents and contributions? How often do you “check your seat,” and question if your thoughts are fueling the results you want to achieve?
Action. What am I doing about it?
This is where I get stuck as a perfectionist. Having insight about yourself and managing your mindset is the starting point of a confident leader - but what separates the truly successful ones is their ability to take action. Just “knowing" isn’t enough - it just leads to overanalyzing. Action is the key difference between people who rise, evolve and lead with curiosity, creativity and confidence. It’s easy to just sit around and know. What takes courage is to act on it, to change our lifestyle, or to move in ways that others may not understand.
Sometimes, I would try and take too big of a leap, which would freak out my ego. Instead, we can outsmart our ego by taking our smallest, bravest next step. Instead of waiting for clarity, we make small commits in spite of ambiguity. While social media would have you believe that accomplishments are earned overnight, transformations and evolutions are accomplished by a series of small, brave steps. Richard Rohr says we have to “act our way into new ways of thinking.”
Boundaries. How am I honoring them?
These habits of rising confidently to our challenges is only as good as the boundaries we keep for ourselves. I frequently have to look at what I’m saying yes and no to and ask myself, “Do these look like the boundaries of someone who lives the life I want?” Habits sneak in over time and can keep us distracted. We are busy but not productive. The more I say no to things that aren’t in alignment with my values, goals and actions, the more energy I have to say yes to what’s right. Keeping a fact-based mindset gives me confidence to be honest with others about my yeses and noes. Unsurprisingly, my inner alignment tends to prompt my outer world line up with the right opportunities.
What About Others?
As a leader, I was frequently tempted to buy into flashy leadership strategies that promised they could change my team or persuade others to change their behavior. Unfortunately, I’ve never been successful in truly changing someone else. Have you? However, investing in and staying curious about my own self-development was always a priority. If I didn’t stay curious about myself, my mindset and my actions, how could I expect my team to do the same? How could I inspire others to make transformations if I was unwilling to continually transform my thinking, my awareness or my actions? With this framework, I invite you to consider that inner alignment could inspire outer alignment. Not from a place of pride, but from an approach of humble curiosity.
None of these habits make me perfect, because life is imperfect. I notice that I fail at them constantly (because I’m human). However, every day I will meet challenges, frustrations and disappointments. These habits remind me I can stay curious, fact-based, and rise to challenges more confidently.
If you’re willing to get curious about inspiring inner alignment from these four habits, they serve as the basic framework for my coaching programs. If you love free leadership tips like these to inspire more confidence and creativity, subscribe to my weekly (free) tips.