The self-inflicted trap of leadership

Sheena Ireland
Wed 18 Oct

October. It's the month that sparks both joy and fear in the hearts of many. 

Joy that the warmer weather is here and even that the silly season is only weeks away.  Fear that the year is close to over and goalposts seem to have shifted so much that actually kicking/reaching a goal feels like a 1 in 100 chance.

Lately I have had many conversations with women in business about the fear of the rapidly closing year. We have had conversations about overwhelm, about missing too many things and stupidly about not being good enough. I say stupidly because while we are saying we are not good enough, the truth is we are, we’re just feeling a little battered from the year that has been.

Recently, after feeling somewhat deflated from focusing on what I haven’t achieved this year, rather than what I have, I downloaded an e-book from local leadership expert Sally Dooley. The e-book ‘Top 5 ways women sabotage their leadership success’ looks at the pattern many of us fall into in self-sabotaging our success and why these patterns have emerged. To say many women I know are currently displaying these five-ways is an understatement — so many of us seem to have frozen with a lack of confidence brought on by burnout from consistently trying to please others and judging ourselves with self-doubt. 

We’re smart women, but for a few of us, we keep falling into this self-inflicted trap!

The truth is, it’s not all our own doing. As Sally notes in her book, there is a lack of leadership identity for women with societal perceptions globally still identifying leaders as male. Everything about the leadership style we are fed in the media and in organisation breathes masculinity, so it is hard to change our unconscious thoughts that leaders are naturally male, even when we tell ourselves we can lead just as well as anyone. 

In addition to leadership identity, Sally writes about low confidence, women’s strong desire to please others, the self-doubt that can creep in regarding our capacity to communicate, and even ineffective networking practices. These are the five ways women sabotage their leadership success. And as someone who identifies as a strong leader, even I see how all five creep into my life at varying times — especially in October, when the year begins to take a toll and reflection leads to what hasn’t been achieved instead of the great amount that has…

Sally is holding a workshop for women called ‘Lead Well Aim High’ on 28 October, and after catching myself in a self-doubt phase, I for one am making the call to attend. I’m also encouraging other to attend as I know many with the talent for leadership who simply dismiss their skills and aim to stay in their comfort zone. 

In my public service career I was fortunate to be in an agency that fostered women leadership and encouraged both women and men to further their skills and contribute to the agencies direction. In a later position outside the public service, I witnessed the complete opposite, where women were the ones who kept the administration going and were discouraged from putting their thoughts on the table. Having witnessed this first hand, I want to talk about women in leadership and encourage change, because speaking up and taking action can influence change. I applaud Sally for taking action and I applaud anyone who encourages women to attend leadership workshops and events, or speaks about leadership identity and influences diversity in their organisation. Every little bit counts. 

Now, for my friends and fellow women who seem to have fallen into self-doubt as they entered the last quarter of the year, remember that you are amazing, you are achieving and it’s time to look at your wants and your career in a clear light, not one dimmed by perceptions and self-sabotage!

Sheena Ireland is director of Specialists in Communication, based in Canberra.