Last year at about this time I was having dinner with a few friends, with all the usual catch up chat about what we had been up to, the state of world affairs, life in general and our vision of the future. Nothing out of the ordinary, until I heard the sentence that silenced me:
“Oui, but Angie, you understand, not everyone can be Nelson Mandela,”
She said it with emphasis, and just the slightest hint of ‘get real’ as if it were a Universal Truth. We can discuss the reasons how this is exactly NOT a Universal Truth in another post (despite that fact that I am of course not Nelson Mandela – not last time I looked anyway). However, what occurred to me at the time was this, if we don’t challenge those throw away statements, we shut ourselves down, shrink up and crawl back into who we are expected to be. And this is what the majority of women have been doing throughout history.
Leadership can be a lonely, isolating place, particularly for women, and more particularly again, if you your tribe is not comprised of other leaders with unconventional, edgy, original, even controversial – blowing in the face of the prevailing winds – ideas. Which, let’s face it, is rarely the case.
In my work I hear this regularly from very powerful, brilliant, creative women,
‘I feel isolated’
‘I’m alone in this,’
‘I’m the only one who thinks this way,’
‘I can’t talk about this, it doesn’t fit with my image or a corporate persona/ no one will understand…I will look stupid.’
These words have been said or implied in other ways in practically every initial coaching conversation I’ve ever had with my clients
Every person with a new idea is a crank – until the new idea succeeds. (Mark Twain)
The sadly ironic thing about this is that there are hundreds, if not thousands of women leaders living with a sense of isolation and separateness that is as self-created (I believe I’m alone, and so I will create situations that confirm this) as it is woven into the very fabric of our world’s leadership paradigm. For every woman we see who braves the risks and speaks up, speaks out and leads regardless, there so many others who stay quiet and don’t dare.
This is tragic on so many levels. Not the least being that the world misses out on both your unique, individual, pearly greatness, as well as another golden opportunity for it to transform. And oh my does the world – and leadership – need transformation right now.
What makes us believe we are alone are several things:
- Deep, unconscious fear of being rejected by the ‘clan’ – hello lizard brain
- Paradoxically to the above, the persistent, undesirable and misleading myth of the self-made man which has us believing that making it on your own, and being self-reliant, is the epitome of accomplishment
- An equally pervasive global feminine unconscious informing us that speaking up and leading is deadly – hello witch hunts!
- Doubt about our capacity or being qualified enough to do the job (reinforced by statements like ‘Oh yes but you’renot thatextraordinary person)
Extraordinary individuals are simply ordinary individuals with a mission bigger than themselves. And while each of us can and does have an impact, and is responsible for that impact, rarely does a single individual make an exponential impact without the support of a dedicated community and/or a commitment that is bigger than they are.
As a species we are interdependent. That is, mutually dependent on one another, on collaboration, not only for our survival, but to thrive. Which means that we need an inspiring, supportive and challenging community – sense of connection and common purpose when the going gets tough – if we want to bring ambitious ideas to life.
All major world accomplishments have happened because of connection, collaboration and commitment to a common purpose. Helped along by dedication, drive and perseverance!
The question is, who are you hanging out with?
There’s a saying that we become like the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. To satisfy our deep human need for belonging – 80% of our neural networks are involved in social processing – what we achieve, how we think, how we act, and even how we perceive our capabilities is massively influenced by the expectations of those we surround ourselves with.
While that was a nifty survival technique thousands of years ago it can be a blessing or a curse when we entertain outrageous ideas of any change from a new hairstyle, to transforming the world economic model! A blessing, of course, when the people you surround yourself with most frequently also want to change the world!
Throughout history, high performing athletes, artists, pioneers, trailblazers in their fields have surrounded themselves with other high performing athletes, artists, pioneers to ignite inspiration and generate momentum. The Lunar Society, The Bloomsbury Group, The Algonquin Round Table, the Inklings, and even Burning Man today – the right tribe explores, encourages, motivates, stretches and challenges, when the inevitable doubt and struggle set in.
If you have more challenging, questioning, outrageous ideas or a commitment bigger than you rising like a roar (or even a whisper) from your soul, you are going to need a community of like-minded people to help you transform those ideas into reality. And remember holding high standards for a community ramps up everybody’s integrity, leadership and creativity.
I believe that we have a responsibility as women leaders to raise our voice and bring our transformative new ideas into the world.
Rather than letting yourself off the hook with ‘Well, I’m no Nelson Mandela,’ I to challenge rather you to ask why are not stepping into your own unique version of Nelson Mandela, RBG, Simone Veil, Gisèle Halimi or Gandhi (or – insert inspiring world leader )
And while you’re stepping into that person, imagine the buzz of being surrounded by extraordinary women who swear to reinvent possible – a group that will challenge you to become all you can be , and a leader who loves and believes in who you are becoming.
That’s what I wanted.
And that’s why this year I started Wild Spirit Leadership Club, a community of extraordinary women leaders which starts in October ! So I could be surrounded by courageous, inspiring trailblazers.
If you want to change the world and make an impact as deep as it is wide, get thee a high-aspiration community – or make it your priority to create your own.
And for the record, nice to meet you, you can call me Nelson 😉
P.S. The Wild Spirit Leadership Club starts on October 23rd. If you aren’t ready to commit yet for a whole 10 months, but you are passionate about wanting to transform Leadership – I am hosting an important conversation about this topic on Zoom on October 15th. Send me a message here to get the details.