Ginny Wilson-Peters' Blog
The comment stung.
“I found her to be self-promoting.”
Last fall, I presented at a women’s conference. My session topic was a favorite of mine: vision, encouraging women to create their own futures. Shortly after the conference I received the written evaluations from participants, and there it was. That comment. Ouch! It was like a dagger in the heart.
The comment brought me back to the work I’d done years ago with my own personal coach around the topic of being selfish and what that meant for me. Like many people I was raised to not talk about my accomplishments. And if I did, it wasn’t uncommon to hear my mom say, “Don’t break your hand patting yourself on your back Ginny.” And so I learned at a young age that it wasn’t okay to embrace my own successes.
During the women’s conference session, I did embrace my successes. I shared my own story of creating a 5-, 10- and 15-year vision and how that helped me to do the work I do today. I shared stories of women who participated in our Women in Leadership groups and the visions they created and accomplished.
Is it self-promoting to talk with others about our passions, to connect about how we’re working to make a difference? Is it selfish for us to focus on the reason that we’re on this planet?
As the sting of that “self-promoting” comment wore off, it made me think about my word for 2013.
As many of you know, I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions because they don’t often lead to sustainable change. Instead, I pick a word for the year and make that my focus. I invite you to do the same by commenting your word for 2013 below. If you tell me your word, I promise to touch base with you throughout the year to see how it’s going.
I’m cheating a bit this year because I have two words: Purposeful Living.
My focus for 2013 is to continue living in accordance with my own purpose and to become even more diligent in helping others to live according to their purpose. It really does create a ripple effect. Think about the impact that you have not just on your co-workers, but also on your family when you are able to spend your day doing work that makes you feel alive. One of my recent MBA students said it well with these words in her final reflective paper: “Leadership can be defined in many different ways. Ultimately, I want to lead people, not with my title, but through my actions. I can’t do this unless I have a purpose and a vision. I wouldn’t start a road trip without a destination in mind, so why would I lead without a purpose.”
Success to me is helping others move closer to living in accordance with their life’s purpose. My own life purpose is to nurture and inspire others to reach for the stars. When I hear success stories from the men and women I am blessed to work with – whether those success stories are big or small – it reminds me that I’m doing the work I was put on this planet to do.
And I’m OK with promoting that.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go out and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Harold Whiteman
“A ship in the harbor is safe…but that’s not what ships are for.“ William Shedd
The above quote has been a favorite of mine since I was a little girl. And this quote came back to me over and over as I wrote the following essay for the Athena Awards about empowering women.
Nurturing and inspiring a woman leader is about helping her find her own language, and gaining the courage to express her unique voice. A woman leads best when she truly knows who she is and understands how she operates in this world. While the languages and lessons are different for each woman, four common experiences emerge when it comes to empowering leadership.
The first is a woman discovering her purpose and leadership vision.
Teri, a recent student in an MBA class I teach, wrote about the challenges of reflection in her first paper. “I am becoming concerned that I may not be in the right position for my long-term happiness. I need to get a grip on who I am, where I want to go, and what I want to do/be when I get there.” One week later, she wrote about the power of gaining clarity on her purpose and vision. “My husband has known about my desire to own and run my own horse barn since the day we met. We are constantly looking for the right piece of land on which to build my stables. We have not found it yet, but at least now we finally are on the hunt. Even though I know I will be with Company X for the next three years, I am already planning my next steps.”
The next weekend of class Teri came and told me that they had just found 50 acres perfect for her horse business — and it was just two miles away from where they live. After discovering her purpose and allowing herself to dream, Teri is now on her way to making her personal vision a reality. I just received an email today saying “we didn’t end up buying the 50 acres we checked out. We ended up buying a 40 about 8 miles away, but it’s just gorgeous and is the spitting image of my dream place. It’s truly amazing. “
The second experience is a woman learning and embracing the differences in masculine and feminine styles of leadership. Each person has a unique blend. Finding the authentic style that works, while honoring her true feminine spirit, can be challenging for a woman. In the opening chapter of one of my favorite leadership books for women, Dancing on the Glass Ceiling, the authors share the story of a round peg trying to force her way through to the “other” side of leadership in her company — through a square hole. The round peg suffered because of it. The story goes on to say that only when the round peg is on the “other” side does she truly realize what was lost during her journey.
“Instead of recognizing our strengths, we have obsessed over our weaknesses. Instead of daring to stand out, we have ‘shaved off’ little pieces of ourselves so we could fit into the square hole — the accepted, masculine-driven pattern of business,” authors Nancy Fredericks and Candy Deemer write.
The third experience is a woman articulating her personal brand. This involves understanding her personality type and embracing her strengths, independent of her job, her company or any other life status. Two weeks ago, I sat with a woman and watched the “branding” light bulb turn on. “So, it isn’t about changing my style to become the person they (her male colleagues) want?” she said. “It is about me understanding my brand and how I add value to the business.”
The fourth experience is a woman connecting with other women leaders. For example, my own story of leaving my job as president of Midland Press to launch Integrity Integrated often serves as a motivation for others. A woman who comes to understand herself is prepared to become a great leader, and many times encourages other women to do the same. Sharing our stories is vitally important.
I identified my life’s purpose fifteen years ago. When clarity arrived, it resonated to the depths of my soul. My purpose is to nurture and inspire others to reach for the stars. Learning from my own experiences along the way I gathered insight into my own personal power. I also determined my leadership vision: To be an internationally respected teacher and coach whose work inspires others to discover new possibilities in their lives.
To develop more women leaders, we must encourage all women on this path of discovering their authentic leader within. I consider it an honor to help guide women on the journey.
“It’s not about the direction you take. It’s about the direction you give.” Mr Holland’s Opus
I felt better the moment I began sharing with Greg, my husband. “ Honey,” I said, “I have been consumed the past few weeks with a desire to win this upcoming leadership award.” There—it was out and I could finally discuss it with him and begin to move forward. I knew I’d been operating from a place of anger and frustration for a period of time and that wasn’t how I wanted to be.
As I said, I had been consumed with a desire to win a coveted leadership award, and I found myself thinking about it throughout the day and especially at night before I went to sleep. I knew it wasn’t healthy, and I knew it was all about my ego attachment to winning an award. One of my teachers used to talk about the “Small ego” and the “healthy ego”. The small ego is the place where we attach our worth to other people’s opinion of us. The healthy ego is where we operate from our purpose, our mission in life. My desire to win the award was definitely coming from the small ego place.
Shortly after my talk with Greg I talked through my feelings with a group of close girlfriends. Thanks to my “Z” sisters, my movement out of the small ego and back toward the healthy ego continued. Throughout the ensuing week, I found myself interacting with person after person, and group after group from a more purposeful place. And the week culminated with a powerful experience on Friday.
Friday morning I met with a group that I’d met with several times prior. I thought I had the session planned out until I got in the shower that morning. I’ve learned to trust my intuitive insights, especially ones that come in the early mornings at shower time. As I thought about the group, I clearly heard a message to do the passion exercise with them. “Really,” I thought, “I’m pretty sure they’re going to resist that one.”
But, as I said, I’ve learned to trust my intuition. So, as I met with the group, I explained the exercise. In a nutshell, I asked each member of the group of eight to take 15 minutes and write an impromptu speech about a passion of theirs. Once done, they would each stand and give their speeches to the entire group.
“What if you don’t have any passions?” said one of the participants. I responded by gently telling her that I’d never met anyone that wasn’t passionate about something—their kids, a sport, or something. She continued to put up some resistance for a period of time, and I continued to gently ask her to give it her best shot. Within about five minutes, I saw her beginning to write some notes.
After about fifteen minutes, I invited each member of the group to share their speech with the group, and I was BLOWN away. The first person to volunteer was the woman who initially said she didn’t have a passion. She talked for almost five minutes about her passion around preventing teenage pregnancy. She talked candidly about how her own experience as a teen mom had impacted her life and how important it was to her to share her experience with others. A few of us were in tears before she was even done.
Another person talked about his dream to participate in one of the Honor Flights to Washington DC to accompany our veterans in viewing the World War II memorial there. Another person talked about her desire to be a role model for her children and how that also manifested with her role as a supervisor. Story after story that was shared was heartfelt and moving.
In hearing those stories, and experiencing the growth from that session, I knew that my purpose in life has nothing to do with winning awards, but really is about finding ways to nurture and inspire others to reach for the stars. To the authors of the passion stories, I say a big thank you. And a big “thank you” to so many people that have also changed my life in so many positive ways.
Oh, and I didn’t win the coveted leadership award.
“Of all the lives he changed, the one that changed the most was his own.” Mr Holland’s Opus.
It finally hit me when I received the call from my insurance company last Friday afternoon. It hadn’t been twenty-four hours since I’d been involved in a car accident where I has hit broadside on my passenger side. “We’re going to go ahead and total your car,” the agent said.
And that is when a rush of emotion came over me. My two-year old Nissan Altima had sustained so much structural damage that it was totaled—and I walked away physically unharmed. And so did the other driver involved.
I would be kidding myself if I said that the magnitude of the situation has fully settled in—it hasn’t. Am I happy to be alive? “Heck yes!” But has the full depth of that gratitude sunk in, not quite yet.
As I sat in the car afterwards, waiting for all the necessary details to be taken care of, I remembered the words of Native Americans that my teacher often shares with me. “Today is a good day to die.” And in the crazy silence after the crash I remember thinking something like: “Have I left anything in my life undone?” And the answer for me in that moment was “no”.
Fundamental to my passion for leadership development is my desire for people to live their lives with purpose and joy. In his interviews of people approaching death, Richard Leider says that people are generally not afraid of dying, but of having lived an unlived life. The questions they ask themselves are:
- Did I give and receive love?
- Did I leave the planet a little better?
- Did I become all that I could be?
How would you answer those questions today?
Are you giving and receiving love?
Are you doing things to leave the planet a little better?
Are you becoming all that you can be?
“Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.” Randy Pausch
Had life gone according to “my plan” I would be in South Africa right now, co-hosting a group of women on a learning journey. But life didn’t follow my plan. After months of planning, we decided to cancel in January due to low enrollment.
I will admit that I had a pity party for awhile. I felt disappointed, angry, judgmental. Sometime in early March I decided to practice what I teach. I have a strong passion for inviting people out of their comfort zones, and into spaces where they can truly learn more about their leadership skills. I began reflecting on what kinds of learning experiences are most important to me—and what other international opportunities are available for me. I noticed my mindset shifting from one of scarcity to abundance. And the excitement began to build within me.
I began thinking about opportunities to reformat the South Africa trip—and others trips. I want the trips to be more affordable to people of all ages. And I began to get really excited about leading a group of Millenials on a learning trip to some foreign country.
Just two days after the shift in my clarity I was driving from Cedar Rapids to the Quad Cities. My intuition suggested I stop in Iowa City and visit with some folks from the University of Iowa Business School. As an adjunct instructor for the U of Iowa Evening MBA program, I wanted to touch base with people I don’t often see.
During the conversation, the director of the Evening MBA program walked by the office and stopped and said, “Hey Ginny, great timing. We were just talking this morning that it’s time to begin planning our next international trip for the students in January 2010 and we don’t have a course identified yet. Would you be interested in possibly doing an international Leadership course?”
I almost jumped out of my chair. Sign me up!
Okay, there are still many things that need to happen in order to make this a reality, but that doesn’t matter to me right now. In the two weeks since that initial conversation, I’ve had two other unforeseen conversations with people about international possibilities.
And so I renew my commitment to myself to look for the positive—to see the world through the lens of abundant opportunities, as opposed to believing that what I want is scarce and I have to grab it and hold it tight.
“If you hold on to the handle, she said, it’s easier to maintain the illusion of control. But it’s more fun if you just let the wind carry you.” (www.storypeople.com)
“It that REALLY possible?” Two different coaching sessions led to two very similar conversations. In the course of discussing a job change I replied this back to a client, “So, what I’m hearing is that you want to be in a job where you feel energized and the work truly feeds your soul.” The reply was a hesitant question, “Yes, but is that really possible?”
The second client is in the process of taking on a new leadership role in the organization. “For the first time in years, I am truly excited about the work I’m doing. I found myself wondering if it is really possible to love the work we’re doing AND get paid for it.”
Two people with the same question: “Is it really possible to find work that allows us to use feel energized while using our strengths?” My answer is an absolute YES, it is not only possible to be doing work that feeds our hearts and souls, but it’s what life is about.
My heart aches when I hear people talk about staying in jobs that are not fulfilling. Some might say that the tough economy makes for a difficult time to truly work in your passion. I say the opposite. Why not take these times to truly get clarity about what is important for you? What do you look forward to doing every day? Do you tap into your strengths every day at work?
Research by the Gallop Institute and Marcus Buckingham says that 51% of people say that they feel an emotional high at work “about once a week.” The key is identifying your strengths and putting them to work every day. Here are the four indicators that you’re working in the arena of your strengths:
When you do it, you feel effective.
Before you do it, you look forward to it.
While you do it, you feel inquisitive and focused.
After you’ve done it, you feel fulfilled authentic.
(The above is from “Go Put Your Strengths to Work” by Marcus Buckingham. For more about the strengths work, go to http://www.strengthsfinder.com )