5 Lessons For Fierce, Authentic Women Leaders

If you wanted to bring change to your life, what would you do to make it happen? Some pals and I were discussing this over dinner recently. While enjoying our Nepalese curry, one of my girlfriends made a comment that spurred me into action. “If you really want to make things happen,” she said, “you’ve got to get out of the house.” She was referring to career change–I’m building a side business–but her advice can inspire action for any woman leader in our web-focused world.

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For me, spending hours online feels like getting things done. And, yes, this can often be the case. After all, Facebook communities and online courses have been two of my most powerful tools for gathering resources related to my side hustle. But I lean toward introversion and can be fooled into believing the internet is all I need. After dinner that night, while browsing the web, my friend’s words blasted into my mind. So, I decided to change things up. “Here goes,” I thought. I took a breath and searched for ways to get out of the house.

Two weeks later I found myself at an event called #WomenLeadMSP. More than 70 women gathered at a Minneapolis co-working space called Impact Hub to talk about authenticity. To be exact, the meeting’s topic was fierce authenticity. Led by WomenLeadMSP and the Minneapolis Hub of Global Shapers, the goal was to celebrate women’s leadership while participants shared stories, experienced personal growth, and found community.

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This display was accompanied by blank sticky notes for attendees.

Their promo had had me at “emerging leaders,” and I was excited for this chance to experience “speakers and discussions on topics like making hard decisions and knowing your worth.” I’d driven across town on a Saturday morning, navigated the hip neighborhood, and located the historic building’s bright yellow door. I wandered through the room and claimed my spot at a table of strangers.

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The sign in the window by the entrance to Impact Hub MSP shows The Little Engine that Could.

Three hours later, I’d indeed internalized some valuable lessons. Thanks to the speakers, my table mates, and even the space itself, I learned some things that continue to shape my thinking. As a sassy woman yourself, you already know that authenticity doesn’t come easy. To achieve your goals of making change, you’re gonna need to break out all the fierceness you can muster. As you do, I hope these lessons can help you as much as they help me.

Five Lessons for Fierce, Authentic Women Leaders

Lesson 1: Stop Apologizing

All right, ladies, this is a tricky one. Particularly for mid-lifers like me who grew up in a society that often rewarded me for not standing out, apologizing for ourselves is longstanding practice. “Stop apologizing” was a direct message shared by one of our speakers. A biomaterials researcher who’s also a mom, this particular academic spent years worrying about her manner of speech. She considered it too casual, when compared to her fellow professors. Eventually she owned her accessible tone, realizing it was actually a strength that enhanced audience connection.

“Stop playing down your contributions,” she urged us all. She reminded us that showcasing our skill sets is crucial for growth. Habitual apologies can be a form of excuse for avoiding taking the risks that will bring new learning. I believe a first step is recognizing how often we apologize. If you need a refresher, check out Amy Schumer’s apology panel sketch, which skewers this phenomenon.

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A big shout-out goes to my tablemates, who were totally cool with me taking photos of our collective notebooks.

A friend of mine experienced a similar reminder firsthand, at a rock camp she attended for women. Every time an attendee said, “I’m sorry,” camp organizers gestured toward her and proclaimed, “You rock!” As you can imagine, this group of rockers learned fast how often they openly apologized for their words, their mistakes, and often–their very presence in the room. I, for one, am grateful for leaders like this who are helping us all change this habit. Enough!

Lesson 2: This Is An Adventure, So Enjoy It

As an artist, I tend to be influenced by my surroundings. I notice and respond to aesthetics, so I was immediately drawn to Impact Hub Minneapolis-St. Paul’s attractive space. A series of modern images adorn the interior brick wall, arranged in an artful way. At the front of the room hangs a map with the giant suggestion, “THIS IS AN ADVENTURE.” This reminder can be helpful to any of us, but I say women in particular need to hear it.

For me, this is an especially meaningful antidote to the perfectionism that can leave me stymied. Searching for an explanation just now, I discovered a mental health clinic in Nashville that summed it up just right. If anyone would know about 7 Lies Women Believe and the Limitations They Create, it’d be practitioners of recovery and mental wellness. Though I’m not a professional and have no association with this clinic, I do know what it feels like to get stuck in this “I must be perfect” mindset.  Allowing myself to live life as adventure, a curiosity to explore, helps me get unstuck from unrealistic expectations of faultlessness.

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Yep. Life’s better when I embrace this one.

Lesson 3: Niceness Only Gets You So Far

Periodically throughout the event, our Twitter feed was projected onto the wall via an LCD projector. (For you uninitiated out there, a hashtag is a short phrase people can use to organize conversation around a topic on social media.) Any comment written with the label “#WomenLeadMSP,” could be seen by others viewing that category. In this case, the organizers culled these responses and displayed them on a large screen for all to see.

I love that one of the participants had this to say: “Minnesota niceness . . . I can’t stand that.” What a fitting description of fierce authenticity! Residents of my adopted home state are known for being nice on the surface, but difficult to befriend for real. This article from the Star Tribune covers the dichotomy well. I’ve never been a fan of cocktail-level conversations, but at the same time it’s only been in recent years I’ve grown more comfortable owning my own strength. Rather than trying to maintain our nice veneers, I can only hope more women leaders come into their own.

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Here’s just one of the gutsy voices featured on the event’s Twitter feed.

Lesson 4: Surround Yourself with Models of What You Can Do

One reason getting out of the house is so important is that we need to break out from our heads, which can limit us in a hurry. You’ve probably heard the famous quote by American entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” We cannot underestimate the power of surrounding yourself with models of what’s possible.

At this meeting, I heard speeches from a founding principal of an elementary school, the policy director at the Women Organizing Women (WOW) Network, a women’s empowerment and LGBT advocate in Minnesota and India, and a consultant across multiple industries.

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I had to snap this shot of a recommendation on the fierce authenticity wall.

Lesson 5: Your Future Self Needs You

Man, we spend a lot of time rushing from place to place. Looking back now, I realize I spent the better part of my thirties feeling overwhelmed, hurriedly fixing every conceivable problem at work and at home. It took me months of sustained anxiety to finally slow myself down.

Now that I know how it feels to think straight for more than a hot minute, I’ve focused more on what’s coming next. They say living in the future isn’t healthy (and I tend to agree), but numbing every day doesn’t exactly set a person up for an intentional destiny. I have different goals now, and for the past year and a half I’ve devoted my free time to writing, making things, and learning entrepreneurial skills.

What about you? What can you do today that your future self will thank you for?

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When I saw this white board near a discussion table, I couldn’t help but preserve it in a selfie.

 

 

 

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21 thoughts on “5 Lessons For Fierce, Authentic Women Leaders

  1. I’ve never been my own boss nor do I have any particular plans in that direction, but I’d still like to do something that my future self would thank me for. I like that way of thinking about my present actions. It’s a good way to help me focus on what’s important. 🙂

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  2. I so need to hear this! Yes, truly the first thing is to get out of the house! I can get sucked into the internet for days on end and in the end I end up feeling isolated and down. Great info and advice!

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  3. Wow! Love this. Wonderful lessons here. “Stop apologizing” struck a chord with me. Living in the Twin Cities myself, I’m bummed that I didn’t know of this event. I do now, thank you! I’ll be connecting for any future ones.

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  4. Oh my goodness. I needed this today. I need it this coming week, too. I am saving it and sharing it and all the things. Thank you for sharing it with us. I don’t have the best words to comment, I suppose. I think I need to read it again. And again.

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  5. Dearest Suzi!

    I just LOVE your blogs!! I love what you are doing, saying, being. You are a model I want to have by my side 🙂

    You go, girl! Your present is helping your future every day and I am so proud of you!

    With love, Donna

    >

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  6. Futile I believe unless you really are sorry and say what you are sorry for and how you won’t do it again Not just a quick “sorry” Also that Minnesota nice has gone too far We are an group of people and everyone is not nice … Talk about putting people in a box. I find it harder to befriend people in mn than Arizona by a long shot My friend from New York says the same thing so I believe I have to work harder at it. Hospitality is losing its glitter but I believe we need to get it out and shine it up. I always think our world is overly civilized we need some outrageous courageous people to get the realness back. Your blog has lots of good ideas which makes for good discussions and cause for getting …. Out of the house! Marlene

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    1. Outrageous courageous people getting the realness back–I love that, Marlene! As always, you’re great for a genuine dialogue about life, and I’m glad you’ve been able to build such a thriving community of friends in AZ.

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing this. I loved the point about surrounding ourselves with people we want to model and I especially loved the idea of doing something today that our future selves will thank you us for. Awesome!

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