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Leaders Don’t Hide Who They Are

In the immortal words of Popeye, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.”

So what am I? What is any leader? Who gets to define us?

The attempts begin in early adolescence. There’s this nagging need to define one’s self and to be something distinct but not different. Different is bad and, in those pre-teen years, there’s a fine line between being unique and being an outcast. It’s a struggle to work on defining yourself without first being defined by others.

But when does it end? When are we fully defined? And when are we satisfied with the definition?

Some leaders appear to be self-assured and completely confident in themselves. As an executive coach, I am often reminded that even the most “together” people experience occasional self-doubt. No one is immune to those angsty moments that feel like being thrust right back into middle school.

The ones who spend less time in those moments and experience them less frequently seem to be the ones who accept who they are, faults and all. It’s the cover up and concealment that cause the fear of exposure and an uncomfortable vulnerability.

So that begs the question: what does it actually mean to accept yourself? I can’t answer that for anyone else. But I can answer for me. To connect with myself, I have to know and accept myself and all the parts of me I’d rather deny.

I might be able to do this privately… But I probably wouldn’t. Forcing myself to go public, putting it all out there, means I get to manage the message, neutralize the secret shame and define the person who is the sum total of these parts. Better me than anyone else (because, trust me, I’ve given that power away far too many times).

So, right here, right now, 10 things I’d rather hide but am laying out for all the world to see… I yam what I yam, and that includes:

  • I am blind in my left eye. It’s a lazy eye that couldn’t be corrected despite early childhood surgeries and wearing the dreaded eye patch under my cat-eye, bottle-bottom glasses. So, yes, my eyes are crossed. It’s not just a bad camera angle.
  • I am missing the pinky finger on my right hand. You’ve noticed it in my videos or wondered when our handshake didn’t feel quite right. I lost it at age three when I stumbled and fell into an old-fashioned stationery bicycle my mother was riding. I nearly lost all the fingers on that hand, and I have some nasty scars and numbness on my palm.
  • I have outrageously unmanageable curly hair that is too thin in front and too thick in back. It has betrayed me every day of my life and is now waging an all-out assault by turning gray. I have no idea what it means to “have a good hair day.”
  • I inherited inoperable and behemoth bunions on both sides of both feet. Apparently, there’s some rule of fashion that says you can’t have comfort and style together (especially if your shoe size includes a “W”). For people like me who spend most of their days standing, there’s a profound sense of loss in never wearing designer shoes a la SJP.
  • Sometimes, I’m fat. It was true in my young adulthood (thanks to a bona fide medical condition, it you must know). And it’s true now following a severe leg injury, 6 months in a wheelchair, and a minor disability that was unavoidable when a portion of my calf had to be removed. I suppose I could make healthier food choices… But, I don’t.
  • I’ve been abused. I got in and out of that marriage quickly, but I carry the physical and emotional scars with me. I made extremely poor choices during that phase of my life, and there are serious consequences that follow me still.
  • I have made mistakes as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a Christian, an employer, a sister, and as a friend. I have many regrets. Reflecting now, it’s interesting to note how many of my mistakes stemmed from a lack of self, of trying to be something I’m not and/or making an effort to figure out who I am.
  • I was adopted by my father and never knew my bio-dad or half-siblings. I carry a sense of abandonment that isn’t rational and a sense of not quite being whole.
  • I’m not particularly patient, giving or tolerant. I have high expectations of myself and others, and I sometimes push too hard. I hurt people without meaning to, usually because I am trying to help them (hey, at least it’s not deliberate or malicious… not that the distinction matters when you’re feeling the pain).
  • I don’t know how to quit. I don’t understand the whole work/life balance thing. I don’t sleep enough, and I never truly relax. My intensity is exhausting to me and intimidating or irritating to others. I have a sense of urgency that I can’t shed.

How does facing my faults help me in leadership? The more I am aware and accepting of who I am, the more I have to offer others. I can offer the wisdom that comes from acknowledged and examined experiences. I can be trusted (first, by my own self) because I am not struggling to mask a secret or dodge a reality. I can make determinations that come from a core that is solid and not inconstant because it is grounded in who I truly am. I can empathize with others and share their feelings because I am not consumed by own. I can be more open and less defensive. I can just be me, and that’s the first thing a leader has to be.

Here’s my invitation to you. Shed your secrets and shame by sharing them. Disempower whatever holds you back by putting it out there so you no longer have to carry it. Stop trying to lead from a place where you don’t feel completely authentic.

I yam what I yam. Those 10 things are and always will be part and parcel of who I yam. But they don’t define me because I have chosen to define myself in other ways. From now on, I’m authoring my own story, and I hereby relegate those 10 things to footnote status.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThis blog post is part of the CONNECT! Community’s October focus on connecting with yourself. As a leader, you will be able to CONNECT2Lead authentically and effectively when you are true to yourself. Subscribe to our weekly CONNECT2Lead Newsletter for special offers, content, and blog. To God be the glory!