Leadership. Reframed.

“As you go higher up, it gets more lonely.”

This expression from one of my former managers somehow got stuck in my subconscious for more than a decade for me, without me realizing how much damage it has done to my mental model until recently. This also explains why I was reluctant to be in a leadership position for a while – it feels lonely, it feels like a burden.

But does it have to be?

It took a week of severe tension headache for me to realize that there is actually another paradigm that I have been yearning for leadership, especially for me and the other female leaders. Yes, you heard it right – a headache.

I had suffered from a severe tension headache from misaligned neck vertebrae. So, when my accountability sister, Carley, who is 13,000km away, called, I informed her of my medical condition. It turned out that the call was a gift for me – she was so kind to help me with a guided meditation to recognize the trigger and heal the underlying emotional pain (aside from the fact that I do still suffer from a misaligned neck vertebrae, physically).

From the guided meditation, I realized that the emotional pain was due to trauma and a lot of stress from my fear of higher authority, from fear of missing expectations, from fear of expressing my opinion, when it matters. This is almost always exacerbated when I work with a female leader.

I got curious. Why such dynamics? What is my belief in leadership that made me respond this way?

What do I want to create instead?

  1. I want to create a new model / paradigm of female leaders where we amplify each other. A space we bring other female leaders up together, honoring each other’s strength instead of dismissing them. I am totally cognizant that the current context and the structure in the corporate world requires resilience and competition to survive. Habitually, that might have contributed to this survival mode without us realizing it. I have heard so much from some of the female leaders that they do not think gender is an issue, it is all about their competency that made them so good – in turn, they become so judgmental on other women. (I made the same mistake!) What is new is that the realization that not all women have the same opportunities, so it is important for the other female leaders to lift them up and be open by honoring the uniqueness of what each individual has to offer.
  2. I want to create a space where I (and my team) can honor our own creativity and play. The future of work will require a lot of imagination and creativity to solve complex problems. I used to (maybe still am, but less) be very particular about process, deadline and risk management. I hate to generalize but I tend to see more of this pattern in female leaders, seeking for ultimate perfection. While these are still very critical for deliverables, there is another aspect at play that is worth exploring – imagination. The beauty of having a balanced model (alternating between discipline and creativity) is that it will yield better solutions. I am constantly reminded that brilliant ideas usually come when we are relaxed, not when we are pressured by the “shoulds”. Somehow, I feel more pressured by female leaders of their expectations – still learning how to manage that and letting go. 🙂
  3. I want to create a model where my team are able to express themselves better. No longer do we live in a world where a leader knows everything. The realization that a sum is greater than its part is super powerful. Equally, I am always in awe to see some of really grounded leaders who are effective, yet provide so much space for each team member to excel and shine- that is my role model when I turn 50.

Most importantly, by creating this new paradigm and model of leadership, I feel much more hopeful and much less lonely. It is not a lonely journey, but rather a journey of a group of people with a shared mission, TOGETHER.

I am curious to hear your experience and aspiration on this, happy to hear your insights.

One thought on “Leadership. Reframed.

  • Love this Zalina. I’ve been in leadership for over a decade, and my most deeply satisfying and lasting memories come from those women who I was able to empower and mentor into their own leadership. Some of them are still in touch and doing brilliantly. And yes, I also need to stay aware of my own perfectionist and critical tendencies. But you are right – supporting female colleagues with their own creativity and leadership makes us feel more connected and less lonely as women leaders.

    Liked by 1 person

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