The path to leadership that a woman has to walk continues to be rocky. Of course, times have changed and the challenges of today are not the same than those a woman would have faced 50 years ago. Nevertheless, it is a path that brings the challenges of her professional responsibilities at the same levels with the social expectations of all – including herself. The potholes and other obstacles that women have to negotiate on the road to leadership are numerous. In companies where the mindset has remained traditionally masculine, women need to challenge the sometimes discriminatory behaviors against their gender. As unbelievable as it is, there are still individuals in companies – both men and women – who don’t think that women should become a leader. Some genuinely assume that the place of a woman is by her family only. In every business, it is difficult to maintain a high performing career and have a happy family life. If a woman chooses to have children, she will struggle to pursue her career without fearing she’s failing her family. But in the end, the biggest obstacle that a woman has to tackle is not related to what others might expect of her or how she can manage her family life. The path of a woman leader is paved by one core emotion that can bring her professional aspirations to a standstill if she doesn’t learn to control it effectively. Guilt. You need to learn to avoid the guilt trap of leadership to embrace your full potential and become the best possible manager you could be.
People don’t have to think of you as an authoritative figure
There is a big difference between wanting to lead and inspire your employees to follow you, and being called the boss. Being a boss often feels derogatory. After all, everyone has had a bad boss in their career – and you can call yourself lucky if you have never experienced the troubles of handling a difficult manager. There is someone who has marked you by their incompetence, rough behavior or even ability to make themselves unpopular. You don’t want to be that authoritative figure. You want to be a boss who encourages respect and creative exchange. Unfortunately, most people when they embrace a leadership position find themselves battling their own fears: Does the managerial title make you a bad boss per se? It’s a tricky question, and the best way to approach it is to consider how you want to manage. What’s the best type of management style? From a democratic management style where you get your staff involved in the decisions to a strategic management plan in which you focus on the big picture and let managers handle everything in between, there are a lot of options. Defining how you want to work can help you to get rid of the authority guilt.
You’ve worked hard to get there
The impostor syndrome is more common than you might think. In fact, you may not know it, but you could be suffering from it. Indeed, if you believe that you landed a leadership position you didn’t deserve – it was a mistake, and someday someone will notice you’re not in the right role –, you are exhibiting some of the most common signs of the impostor syndrome. Gradually, you can experience guilt, believing that you have taken the role from someone more deserving than you. It’s time to stop yourself. Leadership is earned. It’s not a gift you can be presented with. If your company made you a leader it’s because you’ve already shown you’ve got the right set of skills and inspiration to do the job. A leader is someone who can inspire their team to follow their direction. Consequently, at the point you tackle a leading role, your company already knows your vision and shares it.
It’s okay to feel lonely
If you felt one of the team before, when you sit in your leader’s chair, you’ll experience the true meaning of loneliness. Indeed, while you can complain about the boss to your colleagues; when you are the boss, there is nobody else to talk to. You’ll notice as well that your team doesn’t treat you as one of them. Don’t take it too personally, as it doesn’t say anything about your leadership skills. In fact, the truth is that you can’t be a boss and a friend at the same time. Remember that it is the natural way of things. Staying out of the office in-crowd lets your team bond freely and ensure that you can keep clear boundaries between work and your social life. You can find many communities that support lonely managers and entrepreneurs throughout their challenges, if you don’t want to feel isolated.
Not everything is your fault
As a leader, you are accountable for the mistakes of your team. You need to be aware of that, as you might find yourself falling into the trap of defensiveness. Being accountable is not the same thing than having to feel guilty for failures and mistakes. In other words, while you can accept mistakes, from yourself and your team, and decide to use them as an opportunity for improvement. Indeed, if you approach your role with the mindset that you’re going to be blamed for everything that happens, you are going to struggle with guilt every single day of your leader’s life. Mistakes happen, and that’s okay. Don’t hide them, but see past the individual failure. An error is a lesson to learn.
Guilt makes you a better leader
Feeling guilty is typically described as a negative emotion. Indeed, guilt is perceived by psychologists as a response to a failure to fulfill expectations – aka you’ve done something wrong or didn’t do something that people expected from you. As a rule of the thumb, it’s important to understand that not everyone has the same relationship with guilt. Some people tend to feel guilty more often than others. Their guilt proneness is, in fact, not a handicap in the business life. It highlights a conscientious mind who is keen to have a positive attitude and commit to their work. In other words, feeling guilty actually makes you a better leader, as it encourages you to increase your performance. Your sense of commitment reflects in your actions and in the way you manage your team. The guiltier you feel, the better you become.
You don’t have to know everything
People who land a high management role tend to assume that they have to have the answer to everything. You can find similar behavior in new parents who want to be able to answer every single question their child might ask. In reality, good leaders – as well as good parents – are unlikely to know everything. Firstly, because nobody can. Secondly, because you don’t need it. Your role is to trust each expert in your team to perform their tasks as best as they can. You don’t need to know everything or more than they do – their job is to provide a specific type of knowledge to the team. Your role is to manage. Knowing what they do and how relates to micromanagement, and that can dramatically affect your leadership status. There is no shame in directing someone to one of your subordinates when it comes to niche expertise or everyday task. To be a good leader, you need to know that you don’t have to know everything.
You hate letting go of an employee
As a leader, you have a say in who stays and who leaves your team. For some managers, there is no bigger joy than getting rid of employees. They perceive it as a display of their power. But if you dislike letting someone go, you have to embrace this attitude as a strength. Indeed, when you are responsible for your team’s employment, you need to take this role seriously. A frivolous leader who has no second thoughts of firing an individual is someone who manages through fear and punishment. Feeling guilty about the process implies not only that you care about the individual, but that you are able to take a difficult decision and give your employee enough feedback to improve before it’s too late.
Learn to relax
Finally, you’re a manager. But managing doesn’t mean you should dedicate all your waking hours to working. On the contrary, you need to allow yourself some well-deserved rest. It isn’t always possible to plan a vacation to recharge your batteries on a sandy beach. But you can make sure that your evenings are not spent at the office. You need to set a time frame for the work day so that you can leave room for your social life and your family. You can also let experts handle emergencies as they occur. For instance, you don’t need to be available when your website crashes – let an IT agency tackle the issue instead. Worrying doesn’t make you a better leader if you don’t have the professional skills to solve problems.
Guilt is a powerful feeling that can cripple your path to leadership. While developing a sense of responsibility and accountability makes you a better leader, it shouldn’t hinder your activities. Embrace your guilt and identify its triggers to learn how to become a more relaxed manager in the long term.