Helena Clayton | Best Self? Or Full Self?
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Best Self? Or Full Self?

13 Mar 2016, Posted by Helena Clayton in Monthly Blog

When we lead, we often think that we have to show our best self to the world. That we need to present a bright and shiny version of ourselves in the belief that that’s what people want to see. We have a culture of perfectionism in organisations that leads us to hide away those things that we feel are inadequate. We fear being judged or rejected for who we (really) are.

We don’t reveal our full self. This week, I had the privilege to listen to four women talk about their experience of surviving rape and sexual violence. Four women who told their stories to a pin-drop-quiet audience. Four women spoke out as an act of healing and also of activism. Because they knew that sharing those stories made them stronger in the world and not weaker. They knew that sharing their stories inspired others to tell their own stories. And that the more these very difficult experiences were talked about the less power the stories had over their own lives and the more power these women would have in the world.

So what’s the link with leadership? Your story may not be one of sexual violence. I truly hope it isn’t. But it might be the case that you keep parts of yourself hidden, parts of yourself that you feel are wrong in some way.  Or you might hold a belief that you’re not good enough (or not ‘something ‘enough). Maybe you did something once that you feel shame about. Or feel you have aspects of your character that you feel people might reject if they saw. Or something in your past that you’ve never told anyone for fear of rejection. And that these get in the way of you being the leader you want to be.

These are very common issues. Do they resonate for you in any way?

But I have come to see how feelings of shame shrivel up and die when they’re brought into the light. How shame, embarrassment and the secrets that keep us small and separate cannot survive being talked about openly. Cannot survive acceptance and love. And that the more we can talk about these things – and have other people bear witness to them – the stronger we can stand in the world. And the stronger our leadership foundation.

So I’m wondering, as leaders, what it might be like if we were brave enough to share a little more of our stories? What good might come of us revealing a little more of ourselves to other people? Especially those things that feel impossible to talk about. What new possibilities might exist if we risked showing our vulnerabilities and hidden places? Like the four women I heard this week, might it be possible that it would be healing for us and inspirational for others?

I’d love to know what you think about this. What would help you bring your Full Self to work? And if you know anyone else who might be interested in that question, please do share this post with them.

The women I mentioned were speaking at Women of the World Festival http://wow.southbankcentre.co.uk/ an inspirational and hugely thought-provoking gathering of women (and men) committed to gender equality throughout the world. A date for your diary next year, maybe? …and you can read more posts this like by signing up to my blog…

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