What the #%*$ is Authentic Leadership?

When I began my professional life, I set out with a clear purpose—to be a successful executive. In my 20s I finished my business communications degree, landed a corporate job and worked hard. I got promoted, broke six figures, and by age twenty-eight made vice president of a publicly-traded company. The next two decades were a blur of getting married, motherhood, becoming an entrepreneur, volunteer work, and taking leadership roles to mentor other independent business owners. My phone rang off the hook with the constant demands of my career, motherhood and life. I was proud of my success, but mind-numbingly deprived of rest, constantly multi-tasking, and stressed out about 95 percent of the time. I also believed I was doing what successful people did. It wasn’t until a call I received in my early 40s that I’d come to know I wasn’t leading my life at all, as much as being led by it. That call would challenge my beliefs to the core, and reshape my definition of leadership for years to come.

Redefining Success

I still remember when the phone rang and my doctor said the words that stopped my heart: You… have… cancer. It was Valentines Day. I remember thinking this might be the cruelest joke ever. I’m supposed to hear “you have flowers” today–not breast cancer! Terrible thoughts and fears flooded my mind. Oh dear God, what am I going to tell my kids? How can this be true? What does this mean? How could this have happened to me? Am I going to die?

Being a better leader is about being a better and better version of yourself, and it begins with an inner choice.

While answers came slowly on that dark journey, they did come, and what I learned was revelatory. Who knew that beyond all the external success that a core metric–how I was feeling inside my life–was being largely ignored? I felt overwhelmed and busy all the time, no matter how hard I worked on time management. I harbored resentment for other people in my life for the hectic pace I kept, wanting them to help resolve my exhaustion as I ran in circles to meet all of my responsibilities. I had created a life with little time for reflection or vision. How can you really lead in any area of your life from that place?

Turning Professional

By late 2013, I was declared cancer free, but along the treatment path of chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries, and, ultimately, a double mastectomy, I developed an insatiable curiosity about the human condition and how we shift from an amateur version of success to a pro approach–meaning an authentic, purpose-driven life abundant with financial reward and the ability to enjoy it. Study in advanced psychology and neurobiology brought me to radical levels of self-awareness. My thinking shifted. My beliefs and habits changed. I felt expanded. And I loved it. What I was experiencing inspired me into new work. How could I help other women (and men) turn pro? How can we all let go of limited thinking, self-defeating behaviors and self-destructive habits to create higher levels of success than ever before?

An Inside Job

What I came to know is that stepping more fully into leadership in your inner life is the key to the kingdom. When you are clear inside yourself about what success means to YOU (not how you were conditioned to define it), how you intend to consciously lead (is it really chronically jumping from one thing to the next with zero time for inspiration?), and how you will respond when challenged, you can lead from your best self–your Authentic Self.

How are you leading today? How do you choose to show up in the world? What do you want to create? What are you willing to do to make that happen?

The more awareness you bring to yourself in any situation, the more potential you have to improve the way you lead.

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