Many times, leaders believe we have to be seen as fearless, strong, and all knowing. We often think showing any sign of vulnerability indicates weakness. However, author David Williams points out in his Forbes article that, “In reality, vulnerability is a strength. Every leader has vulnerability. The greatest leaders have the self-awareness to recognize this fact. They also recognize that showing their vulnerability is a sign of courage and strength.” In his book, courage is the sixth ‘Non-Negotiable’ that he covers in his book The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning.
I find this notion to be true and have included it as one of the themes in my keynote. I presented this speech at the Bend Chamber 2018 Women of the Year Awards. Sometimes we need to share stories that we don’t want to admit to help current and future leaders. So after struggling with traumatic brain injury (TBI) the last five years, I briefly shared my story with the audience of nominees, award winners and Bendites.
I have spent my career as a Type A, workaholic, altruistic, high achieving leader trying to solve difficult problems for my industry, company, employees, mentees and colleagues. I truly believed I could run my body like a machine and travel 3 weeks a month, work 10-18-hour days, survive on 2-4 hours of sleep while doing my day job and volunteering to lead committees for the White House, UN Women, and actively participate on 12 non-profit boards, volunteer for local community activities, be a good friend, and wife. This all came crashing down in February 2013 when my body forced me to take an unplanned medical leave of absence. I will go into that story in more detail in my next set of blogs. I want to focus here on the message that leaders need to share that we are not invincible. We can’t keep driving at a crazy fast speed, with focused accuracy for a long stretch and not result in a disaster.
In my keynote, I focused on two major areas, my childhood and upbringing that brought me to this intense drive, ambition and desire to make an impact no matter the cost. Secondly, the need for leaders to say it’s okay to give us some ‘white space’ in our lives and ask for help. I’ve now launched a new company focused on helping start-ups, small and medium size businesses, organizations and government agencies to harness inclusive innovation for their competitive advantage. Many times, these groups are lean and may not have the resources to understand how to ensure they are diverse enough to meet the needs of their customers. Also, they must ask themselves if they are running the as efficiently as possible and utilizing all of their employees’ capabilities.
Most diversity and inclusion consulting is priced out of reach for these organizations even though 80% of our working population in Bend works for these groups. So creating an affordable, consumable framework has created a ton of interest for Ranemaker Institute in helping Bend aspire to be one of the most inclusive cities in America. At the same time, I have had to learn to be honest about my current vulnerabilities so I don’t fall ill again.
I can’t take on every company, organization or governmental agency I want to help. My TBI has restricted how much time I can spend on a computer, working with large groups of people and the amount of stress I can handle. I can’t work a normal work week and I still take a 2-3 hour nap daily. I focus now on asking for help, only having a client a month and my workshop series. I balance my ego’s need for making an impact and helping businesses in Central Oregon with time outdoors, relaxing, painting, reading and napping. I think it is important for us to show we can still be successful, make significant impact in our community and have a healthy life balance. We just need to realize that impact may not be instantaneous but takes a lot more time. I have learned not to start the race with a sprint but keep a steady may be even slow pace for its entirety as our life is a marathon that we want to enjoy for a long time. I don’t want to drop out before I’ve lived to a ripe old age. So next time you feel you are exhausted and just need to finish one more thing, may be you need to take a mental health day instead, a few minutes of meditation and enjoy an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm for a good laugh.