Act Like You Belong Here

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The Sentence that Change Everything

March 2016.

Our company had gone through a merger three months prior and almost everyone was realigned to a new leader.  I sat down with my now 3-month new VP at the Cleveland Marriott, I can remember this like it was yesterday. It was annual review time and we had just sat down to discuss my performance the prior year.

This had been another great year for me.  My 8th President’s Club in 13 years. Third in a row as a Regional Director.  I was expecting nothing but the very best reviews again. Then the unexpected happened.  She paused, looked me directly in the eye and said, “I think it is time you start acting like you belong here”.  Silence. I felt like time had stopped. A true out of body experience. My immediate reaction was shock, pissed, who is SHE? She doesn’t even know me? This isn’t fair. Of course, I didn’t say any of this out loud. I felt defeated.

What She Said Next

After a minute of complete silence, which felt like an hour, she spoke again.  Laura, you are probably one of the most decorated leaders in this company, yet you seem so hesitant to speak up at meetings, share your ideas and provide your opinions.  When you do, you seem so nervous and often dismiss your thoughts. Why? You have so much to offer and I have learned so much from you. Why are you so hesitant? You are competent. Your opinions do matter. You are a great leader and you belong here.  It’s time you step up and act like it.

They would never really know what I was capable of…nor would I.

This moment forever changed the way I “show up”. It took time, and it is still a work in progress. But little did I know that her raw honesty would make such an impact on my life.  She was right. I was terrified to speak up. I was ok to just fly below the radar in fear of showing up like an idiot. I felt like an imposter who was getting lucky and coincidentally coming out ahead.  

Constantly racing forward, one step ahead of fully being exposed. I was successful, but at what cost? I was miserable constantly finding ways to prove myself so that I was “accepted” into the corporate “pack”. Although I had very close professional relationships with those I worked closely with, I never had the courage to really show up to my peers, VPs and C Suite leaders of the company. They would never really know what I was capable of…nor would I.

Seeing it in Others

As an Executive Director of Leadership Development now for a Fortune 500 company, I work with hundreds of leaders yearly, and maybe because of the impact this experience had on me, I see this driven, stifled individual often.  Individuals promoted into leadership roles, who feel “unqualified” and “not ready” because they don’t have the “in role” experience. Or those who hold back, afraid to really ‘show up’ because they don’t feel like what they have offer matters.  

What if it sounds dumb? What if people laugh? There are others who have a ton more experience than I do. I had to help change this. This will forever be my mission, my purpose in life. I will make a cognizant effort to never hold back again, and I will help others feel the magic of really ‘showing up’ and living the life they only dream of.  

How My Life Has Forever Been Changed

So how has this experience, this shift in mindset, changed how I show up? How I live my life? In short, my mantra now is: “when I’m 70 years old none of this shit will matter anyways”.  

I follow those breadcrumbs, and I embrace being uncomfortable. It sucks at times. REALLY sucks! But the magic is on the other side of fear. I don’t want to leave this earth wondering what I am capable of.

Since that March day, I have spoken on stage at several national meetings.  I purposefully let others feel my passion, see my goofiness and hear my opinions. I will be leaving corporate America after 25 years and starting my own Business Coaching and Leadership Training Business.

I married my best friend on New Year’s Day in front of friends and family.

Most importantly, I use the platform I have been given to encourage, to downright give permission to, individuals to GO BIG, make mistakes, share their feelings and trust that being YOU, truly authentic, is what cultivates success personally and professionally.

 I owe this to one leader who had the courage to speak the truth despite how I would react. Thank you!

* Exercise- Leadership Lifeline *

Objective- Track your experiences.  Transferable skills.

Outcome- Reflection:  You ARE competent.  You have had a ton of experience over your lifetime to lean on, to trust and to leverage.  Just because you haven’t had the title, or been formally “trained”, doesn’t mean you don’t have the experience and transferable skills to transition confidently, and execute or lead with confidence.  You were not “hatched” yesterday.

Directions:

1) Think back to the very first time you  had to step up and take charge. A time when you were responsible for someone. When was that? What was the experience? (Chart that on a timeline noting the experience and year).

2) Now, keep charting those experiences throughout your life. Personal, professional, etc. Ups and Downs in life.

3) Now pick the Top 3 experiences that defined you as a leader. What were they?

4) Reflect on all of your experience. No title or training can provide this type experience. Lean on it and let that lifetime of rich experiences be the foundation of confidence and wisdom. You DO know what you’re doing. You are competent!! We often forget that we were not hatched yesterday and we bring forth so many valuable skills and experiences to our new roles.

By: Laura Leaton, Executive Director of Leadership Development for a Fortune 500 company, soon-to-be entrepreneur with Business Coaching and Leadership Training