Leaders want to feel good about the way they lead, the impact they have and how they live their lives. Is that true for you? I think it is for most leaders. Yet, I suspect you often feel out of sorts, or out of character. Surprisingly, you are not the only one feeling that way.
Many women leaders find that as they advance in their careers they feel less and less comfortable in their skin. What’s more, they think they are the only one feeling this way. It seems to them that everyone else has it together, can handle the stress and deals with challenges better than they can. So they try to be a different version of themselves to make it work. In my work with women leaders, I’ve found we spend more of our time feeling out of character than true to ourselves.
Are you feeling out of character? Women in leadership find they feel incongruent and unaligned with the type of person they are and what they are expected to do in leadership. They know there are certain “ways” a leader should act. They are aware that a leader is required to take on specific roles and tasks. Somehow though, it doesn’t feel right, and this leaves them feeling inauthentic and even fake.
If you are like many women in this place, feeling incongruent, you try to find your way. You take training. You work on your skills to become a better leader. Yet, something is still off, and perhaps you can’t put your finger on it.
So what gives? Here’s the challenge: Society, history and the work world has trained women to lead in a certain way that is male influenced and quite frankly outdated, even for men! It doesn’t feel good for women, and it doesn’t work for women leaders. They are left floundering and wondering: Do I have what it takes to lead?
However, it isn’t only about your experience, training or skills. It’s about your character. Who are you being when you “step into” your leadership role? We often think it’s a different person than in the rest of our life. But’s it’s not. Leadership is the essence of who you are. It’s you.
Learn to lead with your character strengths A leader’s character is why you like some leaders and not others. Even if a leader makes the same decisions or takes the same series of actions as another leader, you would admire one perhaps more than the other. You love them or hate them (and all points in between) not because of WHAT they do, but because of the WAY they do it. It is their character.
Working on your character answers the questions, Who am I? and Who am I becoming? It is a personal development journey. Which, goes back to why you don’t “step into “leadership” when you show up at work each day. Instead, you lead...period. The best leaders, lead authentically and not by putting on a persona, act, or trying to do what is right or expected of them.
To feel better about yourself, the way you lead and how you influence others, you must focus on developing your character. Your character is the particular combination of qualities you have that makes you distinct or different from others.
Discover your character strengths and how to develop them Perhaps you are now wondering what are the character traits you that you should develop? It depends. It goes back to the questions who are you and who do you want to become? Every one of us is different, unique and special. No two people are the same, nor should we strive to be in leadership. Each of us brings a set of skills and strengths to our role. That’s the beauty of it. Therefore, you must choose which character traits you want to work on.
One of the most reliable sources to identify the character traits you want to develop is the VIA signatures strengths assessment. I urge you to complete this assessment so you can identify your unique combination of 24 character traits. By determining which traits that you are stronger in you’ll find what VIA calls your signature strengths. Then, rather than working on your weaknesses, VIA encourages us to use our signature strengths more often. They even teach you how to do it!
What it looks like to develop your character strengths Let me give you an example of how to strengthen your character. One of my character strengths is gratitude. Gratitude, according to VIA is being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen and taking time to express thanks. To strengthen using my character it’s more than just thanking people more often. To improve my character trait of gratitude, and to grow my team, I would work on noticing an area that they used their strength or an area they are working on and identify it. For example, I might say: Thank you for being curious (another VIA signature strength) when we hit that block in the conversation. It really helped us to get unstuck and find an innovative way to deal with that challenge.
Of the 24 character traits identified in the VIA assessment, we have them all, just in varying degrees. It’s when we focus on our top 3 that we become more in alignment with who we are and who we are becoming. From that place, when we lead, we feel more comfortable in our skin. It’s because we are in character, not out of character.
Next steps: Take some time to understand what character is and why it matters so much. You can learn more by watching The Science of Character. This is an 8-minute documentary that explores the neuroscience and social science that proves that we can shape who we are, and who we want to be in the world.
Then, identify your signature character strengths by taking the VIA Signature strengths assessment.
Finally, create a plan for developing your signature character strengths. You start this plan by asking yourself these two questions:
a. Who am I and who am I becoming?
b. How can I be a better version of myself?
It is time to start a dialogue about developing women leaders with strong character.
To engage in on online dialogue about character, join me for the Cultivating Your Character event, Sept 24 - 28th. This is a free online forum as part of the 2018 Character Day events. Discover why we need to focus on character development in leadership and why this discussion is particularly critical for women leaders. Participate in a conversation between women leaders, for women leaders, to uncover how to cultivate your character traits so that you can lead with your strength of character.
To find out more about Character Day click here
To watch The Science of Character click here
To discover your VIA Signature Strengths, click here
To take part in Cultivating Your Character event, click here