Maybe it was a coincidence that I am putting together a presentation about leadership for the Ohana group that I am having some very deep thoughts about leadership this week. It is also happening because of my mental and emotional ups and downs about Ohana as a group and my plans within it.
Due to 4 out of the 5 people I connected with so far in the group having left or about to leave and so much talk about how the group is not working, it got me thinking about my place in the group and what I want to do. On Monday morning of our week 3 in Buenos Aires, I woke up very sure that I was going to “opt out” of the group in the last 4 months (opting out in Remote Year means that you are still connected to the group via all the communication channel but not using the accommodation, work space or participate in any group activities) . I was very sure about the decision because I couldn’t get myself to be excited about having roommates again (we all had our own apartments in Buenos Aires), nor about having to be with the group so much. I felt that traveling in the group was weighing me down. I went to one of my program leaders and told her about my plans, thinking that the only thing I would negotiate is whether I can get a favorable price for opting out. Then the conversation turned in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. She reflected back to me that I wasn’t clear yet that I really wanted to leave and asked me what I have contributed to the group. I said I conducted personal development sessions, and led meditation and workout sessions. However, often I feel these were not really welcomed by many people in the group so I stepped back. She said, yes it is true and asked, have I been vulnerable with the group? She said the first time she really got to know me was when we took a walk down the streets of Lisbon and sat in a café where I told her about having lived in Germany when I was young. She said that was the first time she really got to know me and felt closer to me.
My first reaction was yes I felt it got me closer to her as well, but it was because she was curious and asked me. Many other people hadn’t asked and therefore I hadn’t shared. Then I reflected on some other feedback I had gotten from people which is that I ask a lot of questions and don’t share enough about myself which puts people on guard. That was a surprise to me because I thought by asking questions I show interest in people which would make them like me more, at least this is what I have read, but maybe it doesn’t always work. And since I have no problem sharing anything about myself but perhaps the problem I has is the fear that people are not interested to know, but if the feedback is they want to know but don’t want to ask then I will voluntarily share. The program leader made me realize that maybe contribution is not only about doing, but also about being. That I can let others see more of who I am and impact them in that way.
By the end of the conversation, I wasn’t so sure that I want to opt out anymore. I realized there was more that I can still do or contribute to the group before I give up on it. She gave me the challenge to just have fun, without an agenda, in the next few weeks before I make any decisions. I fully accepted it. It is also very much aligned with the work that I realize I want to do to be a more effective coach, to be more playful and expand my range. It dawned on me that perhaps the challenge in this group is not about doing more or sharing my knowledge – I already know I’m good at that and that’s what I’m comfortable with – but rather about letting that carefree side of me come out and have that serve people.
I then had subsequent chats with another good friend and he said that the Kristina he saw on a trip we took to Basque country in Spain is probably one that many Ohanas haven’t seen. I was surprised by that but realized that could be true. I hadn’t been that open with many people, again probably due to the fear of being rejected. I always thought that I’m just me, I don’t try to hide anything, I openly share my thoughts and feelings if people ask, but I realize now that if they don’t ask I retreat because I see it as a sign that they are not interested and to protect myself from the pain of rejection I pull away or resort to the part of me that I am more sure of, which is being smart, intellectual, and competent. I know I can be fun, but maybe I don’t let it come out with people I’m not close with because I feel that my identity is that I am smart and knowledgeable. Maybe because I think if I’m not that then who am I? It probably comes from my childhood where getting good grades and being smart was what I was rewarded for. Being fun and playful was not.
It seems so counter intuitive to me that I need to try less hard to be liked more. I think about how hard I have to crack my head to lead sessions, to be competent, and to show that I know a lot. But maybe that is in fact doing the opposite. Maybe that is scaring people away. My insecurities are telling me that I am not smart enough or competent enough but maybe other people already see that I am too much of that I can intimidate them. If I was truly confident then I should be able to appear dumb and incompetent from time to time to put people at ease, and not always have to be the miss smarty pants. How amazing to think that I can put myself at ease, go have fun and not appear smart to get what I want.
Another discussion with a good friend in the group also made me realize my own limitations. She said someone said that my tone can be condescending and that I think I’m better than everyone else and that I think I know everything. It was interesting to hear that someone actually said those words. I’m proud of myself for accepting these feedback and not trying to defend it. In a Women Leadership Program I attended in Syngenta I learned that when I get feedback, it doesn’t matter who said it, it just means there are times and with certain people where that part comes out. I can also say that it is just the way that person interprets it and it may not be the truth but the fact it is the truth for even one person means there is a 2% truth in it If that is not how I want to be perceived, then I have work to do. This goes very much hand in hand with what my program leader said, that I need to just have fun, be playful, be silly, be vulnerable, that will make me easier to relate to, and more real.
All these discussions made me think about leadership and what it means to be a leader. I believe:
- A leader is someone who cares about something greater than herself
- A leader adapts to her people rather than asking her people to adapt to her
- A leader takes on things that others can’t take
- A leader doesn’t need to be in the spotlight. She cares about the greater good of the team and strives to achieve the collective objective of the team
- A leader is so secure and strong that she doesn’t mind being wronged, being blamed
- A leader cares about the collective good and collective goal more than she cares about her own
- A leader brings the best out of people
- A leader takes all feedback with grace and is constantly improving herself
I want to be this kind of leader. I came on this trip wanting to do so much, I tried a few things and when I didn’t feel I succeeded I retracted and I got into my own shell. I cared more about my own feelings, started comparing myself to others and feeling sad and hurt that I wasn’t liked as much as some others, I started to doubt about my own abilities as a person and as a leader. I also went into a space where I blamed others, blamed this was not the group I was hoping for, I even felt that I was regressing. I discussed this topic in many coaching sessions and still didn’t come to an aha moment, until when I decided I wanted to opt out which is hitting bottom. With the right stimulus such as these discussions with my program leader and friends, I was finally able to get that aha moment and able to come out from the dip and come back up and see the light and the good in it all.
I had always believed that everything happens for a reason. But sometimes when I’m in undesirable situation I have a hard time seeing what is the reason for this. One thing I have learned is patience. I knew there was something to be learned about this situation. Now I’m finally seeing it and I’m realizing this is exactly the group that I was meant to be in. I am meant to be with people that I normally wouldn’t be friends with. I’m meant to be thrown back into a situation similar to New Trier High School where I didn’t feel like I belonged and I felt like I was not good enough – being that odd Chinese girl who didn’t speak English well. There I resorted to studying as hard I as I could so that I could prove that I was good enough in something. Now I’m back into a similar environment and I’m doing the same. I’m subconsciously marking myself as the intellectual, that is what I’m comfortable with, and perhaps that is why someone said I think I know everything. It comes from my own insecurities – if I didn’t know everything then what is my identity really? Wow, that is such deep-seated fear, the fear of not having an identity, of not being good enough, and therefore not being loved and accepted. Now I’m getting an opportunity to see and believe something different. That I have other sides of me that can be lovable, that if I brought it out more, people can actually like me more. What an empowering possibility! I no longer need to feel inferior, I am in fact wonderful, just the way I am. I am multi-dimensional and I want to show all parts of me to everyone in the group.
I certainly don’t believe I am better than anyone. I believe everyone is amazing in their own way. When I coach my clients the number one cornerstone I stand on is that I believe people are naturally creative resourceful and whole, which means it includes my clients and myself. In the real world I want to think that of people too, but often my own feelings get in the way and when I don’t feel good from an interaction with someone I have a hard time believing that about them and about myself. I don’t believe they are naturally creative resourceful and whole because I think how can they do this to me, when in fact they are not doing anything to me, they are just being. I also don’t believe that I’m naturally creative resourceful and whole because I put myself in the victim position to let them do something to me when in fact they are just being and I feel bad because of the unhelpful meaning I make of it in my own head. If I can step out of all of this and see everyone as naturally creative resourceful and whole I feel so much more liberated, empowered, compassionate, loving, and whole.
From this position, I have decided to ride it through to the end. Because I know there is so much more to be learned from this experience. In fact, the Ohana experience fulfills, or has the potential if I allow it, to fulfill all my top values:
- Learning and growth – I have so many more opportunities to learn and grow. My priorities over the next few weeks or even months is to be more playful, allow myself to be silly, to make a fool of myself, put people at ease.
- Love and connection – If I’m open, I have the potential to make so many more meaningful and deep connections with people in the group
- Fun – I can have so much fun with people in the group or with people I meet along the way.
- Kindness and compassion – I want to be kind and compassionate to everyone. See them always as naturally creative resourceful and whole.
- Open-mindedness – I want to be open-minded to everyone, their being, their doing, their quirks, their views, because there is something I can learn from everyone.
- Strengths and courage – I want to be strong and courageous to ride through the tough times and realize that in the midst of the greatest discomfort is where the biggest learning happens.
This is everyone in Ohana, my traveling family this year. This was taken in week 2 in Buenos Aires. I’m so glad I’m sticking it through with this group of awesome souls.
Post-script: It’s been a couple of months since I first drafted this. I’ve had the most amazing three months since being on this trip or maybe ever. It could be partly because of South America, which I absolutely love, or partly because of the mental shift I’ve had in Buenos Aires. Either way, I’m so grateful for the last three months, the mental shift, all the people that have helped me to make it, and the more liberated, open, courageous, authentic, and playful me that has emerged.