Friday, April 25, 2014

What the Will to Lead Looks Like

On Wednesday, I met Governor Haley.  She looked me straight in the eye, shook my hand firmly, greeted each of the panelists to whom I had been speaking, and took a question I had prepared for her.

“We were just about to share the best advice we’ve ever received,” I said. “Would you like to offer some?”
Governor Nikki Haley stops by Lean In Columbia
She smiled and there was a slight pause as she gathered her thoughts during which others in the room chuckled awkwardly that I’d put her on the spot.

This couldn’t possibly be the hardest thing anyone has ever asked her.

She said, “I use a 24-hour rule.” Whenever there is a decision to be made, she explained, she gives herself 24 hours to ensure it’s the right one.

“We have talked before about emotion being one of the challenges to women leaders,” I said, indicating the group, my Lean In circle, about forty of whom were in the room.

“But it’s also what makes us great,” she said. “We’re passionate.”

Our Lean In circle is gaining traction.

My co-founders and I bonded over Sheryl Sandberg’s book and we’ve been taking to the stage in Columbia to publicly encourage dialogue about issues facing women in business.

Wednesday was our second public forum. It was well attended and well received. We are reaching people with a message that consists, among other things, of, “Have the will to lead.”

For two years I have been on my own, without full time employment. I have been meeting and greeting and networking and politicking.

There have been high times when the opportunities seemed perfectly made for my capabilities. There have been low times when decision makers chose against me.

I feel like I am on the crest of a giant wave right now.

I have a solid contract that is keeping me engaged and several other pieces in the pipeline that could help my fledgling business to really take root.

I have changed direction more than once since the journey began.

I have sharpened my message and honed my craft.

I have learned to focus on the things that matter to my client, not the things that matter to me.

Two years ago I listened to other entrepreneurs say it took them about two years to get where they needed to be. I thought I didn’t have the resources to wait that long.

Their advice seemed ill fit for my ambition.

The governor’s advice wasn’t exactly brilliant either. I’ve heard it said a thousand times before. I even teach it in my English classes.

Her presence is what most impressed me. She’s a sharply dressed woman who carries herself with confidence. She is engaged in the moment and curious about what’s happening around her.

She wears ambition like an accessory.

There may be a million things standing between where she is and what she wants. There may be a difficult journey waiting for her next steps. She may have just stepped off the field of a hard fought battle. But she smiles. She looks you straight in the eye. She shakes your hand firmly.

To be a leader, I think, is to be confident in a way that inspires others to have confidence in you.

Governor Haley projects that. Or at least, she projected it to me and to the room where our Lean In message was being delivered. She was a breathing example of what it means to have the will to lead.

I like to think I have that confidence in my classroom but I know I could use more of it in my business dealings.

I think confidence comes from knowing I have something to offer. Something people need. Something they should be willing to pay for. It also helps to know I have something in the pipeline.

On this crest, I feel a renewed sense of purpose and passion. I feel a renewed sense that being independent was the right choice for me. I also feel confident in the commitments people have made to value my work and pay me accordingly.

It did take two years. And I did have the resources to wait that long. Barely.

It also took earning the PhD. Confidence came with that as well.

One of my friends commented when I’d said I met the Governor, “Does she know how lucky she was?”

I sort of felt that way, standing across from her. I was in my arena, almost a home field advantage, and I felt I reflected, in even just a small way, that confidence back at her.

I’m even the one who prompted her exit.

“Thanks for coming by,” I said.

“Thanks for having me,” she said.

You’re so welcome, Governor Haley. I hope we’ll meet again.

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