I have a client who is a graduate of a prestigious business school. After her education, she went into consulting for a few years. The prestigious MBA and a couple of global postings resulted in her getting an irresistible offer in finance. She enjoyed the work and personally was in a relationship that was headed to the altar. Somewhere after being passed on for a role and the weakening and ultimate demise of her relationship, she said: "the spark" in her had "died" out.
She had the enthusiasm of a newly minted MBA, the world was hers and she felt like she was going to conquer it. She had an early sense of purpose in her career and a life that she looked forward to that was full of calling.
And now, she just wants to get through the day, get the job done and get out.
She had been told she needed to work on her executive presence. Her immediate boss believed in her performance and contributions but could not sell the idea of her being the star that she was to those in management.
I asked her what would it do for her to come across as more connected. She admitted that she should be setting the tone for how others looked at her. She had understood the complete lack of dynamism that she was exuding as a leader. Each time she started to make a change she would self-sabotage and be back at "ground zero."
She had started to feel envy toward her MBA classmates, along with some fear of missing out. She said her career was fading into oblivion and perhaps she was, too. Despite all this, she had the resilience to try, reflect on what snapped in her and take some small steps toward changing herself.
The idea was not to bring back the post-MBA persona but rather to help her executive presence catch up with all she wants to be today — someone who has the gravitas of nearly 20 years of experience, global exposure and who is an extremely competent contributor to her organisation. We started to work together to address the first issue: helping her recognise and shift her self-sabotaging.
She needed to stop actively and passively taking steps to prevent herself from reaching her goal. Evolving yourself is the best ingredient for creating a successful executive presence, as the things around us are also in constant flux — industries change, the environment changes, organisations change and people change as well. It takes perseverance and constant adaptation to change perception across time.
Here are three characteristics of self-sabotage to look out for:
You have run out of steam.
With all the planning, your goals and actions seem to be misaligned. You find comfort in the status quo.
Changing this misalignment means discomfort and you don’t have the “time or energy” for it. You take comfort in living out an image that you have created in the past — you know that your mojo isn’t working anymore but don’t want to take the time out to update your style.
You say you have mellowed, but in reality, you have just run out of the drive. You may call it "toning yourself down" but it is actually the watered-down version of you that you are serving the world. In this unfortunate circumstance, the biggest disservice you are doing is to yourself — you deserve the best of you.
You are listening too much to the over-bearing relatives in your life.
You live to your full glory and there is a chance someone will be unhappy, envious or straight up tell you to stay in your lane. In my experience, I have found the fear of being criticised by a close relative can hold many women back. It goes back to being taught to, and nudged into, taking care of others.
Some women, in an effort to appear "fair" in the workplace, will take less than they deserve rather than asking for more pay or benefits when negotiating a raise or promotion.
Women who are self-critical are often raised by self-critical mothers. It is never too late to re-parent yourself by surrounding yourself with those who are rooting for you. Create a personal advisory board of women who are breaking stereotypes that will nudge you towards a greater self.
Your inner empress does not hold the controls.
Your identity is formed by your self-concept. Your thoughts want your attention, but not all of them deserve it. Don't let your critical, repetitious thoughts control you. This idea of self-concept can be enhanced by choosing a greater version of yourself to play the game of life.
Think of the empress inside of you who operates with your best intentions in mind.
This empress is nurturing, self-assured and filled with inner wisdom. She lives life big enough to thrive and create space for people to show up the best they can. Take the controls of your life and your career and hand them to her. Now try to live a larger version of yourself by listening to your innermost self, which holds all your wisdom, your courage and your confidence.
My client is discovering the true essence of who she has become as a woman and a leader over the years. Her executive presence has evolved from being a dynamic consultant to a self-assured and wise business professional — much like an empress.
And by surrounding yourself with powerful, supportive women and finding that inner support system as well, you can thrive in your personal and professional spheres as an empress, too.