By India Taina
When you think of a leader, what terms flash into your mind? Strong and powerful? Confident and charismatic? Willing to make the hard decisions? A go getter; someone who is focused and passionate, while equally collaborative? Now when you put all those words together, what image did you see? A man or a woman? It can definitely vary, depending on who’s reading this. And fellas, don’t feel bad if you thought of a man, or even women readers who thought of men, too. It’s a little ingrained in our society, and I want to get personal and share a small anecdote that I have only ever shared with one other person.
So, I have a tendency to be a tad bit of a control freak, despite how laid back I may appear in my writings, and even in person. Words to describe me are usually “bubbly” “happy” “witty” “intellectual”, and I even had a guy tell me for a straight year that I looked damn “professional”. However, better words to describe my interior situation go a little more like “neurotic” “introverted” “appearance oriented” “gemini” and the like. Basically, I’m like a lazy ass perfectionist, and unfortunately not in the cute cookie-cutter Marie Kondo type of way. No, I just really like to seem perfect, but don’t go the full 9 yards to actually be perfect (blame the millenial— or whatever the fuck generation ‘98 falls in– in me). I struggle very much internally because I have the highest standards for myself and those around me, and I tend to reallyyy project that shit. And I mean P R O J E C T, like the vomit in the exorcist type of projection. But hey, I mean well! To be fair, I had been taught all of my life that great leaders = perfect leaders, and so I really pushed myself (and those around me) to excellence in everything because I was convinced this was the way to greatness. I had schedules, and flight plans, and presented myself to the world as someone who was going to get everything she aspired (no, fuck that) WORKED for, and I was going to be perfect doing it! I was going to look great no matter how shit I felt on the inside, push through every issue like it didn’t phase me, run over bitches who didn’t see my vision the way it needed to be seen, and completely take a shit on my personal needs as a human, because I WASN’T human— I was a damn BEAST. And for some sickos (like myself at the time), this shit was considered motivational. Now here comes the really fucked up part: had someone told me this exact story that I am telling you but added one erectile appendage (a penis, for my light hearted readers), I would think this was inspirational AF. And most people would, too. But because it is I, a vaginal owner, I constantly bashed myself and received bashing for not aligning my leadership style with what was expected of me, as a “pretty girl”. Here’s a very true story highlighting why.
So in college, I decided to join a male dominated sports team in an effort to lose weight and make more friends. Thankfully, both were accomplished by joining this team, and the experience was nothing short of amazing. However, I noticed a growing discontent within the team because although we had a good thing going, there was no way we would ever see a competition day with the practice schedule we had. So me being me, I decided to take things over 🙂 Now, the person who I was inheriting the throne from was beloved by all, including myself. This man was a symbol of justice and truth and equality. He was like Lady Liberty, but less Lady, and obviously, not green… but you get the point. He was the standard for beautiful, laid back leadership, and I could not believe that I was taking his place! I was low key (high key) stressing out, but he assured me in front of the whole team that I would have his complete and unwavering support, and even texted me privately not to psych myself out, things would be great! Man, was this guy AWESOME!
And then within the first couple of weeks, I started to initiate lots of changes to the way things had been before. Some were well received, others had some push back. And then I started to notice I was getting major push back from only one person: Non-lady Liberty. We met up so I could get some feedback from him, because he was H I M, and I knew I could go under his wing for support. So I thought. When we met, it was clear something was off. I thought maybe it was just how his day was going, but as we began to talk, it shifted into a definite personal issue with me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. First, I was told that I would never elevate the team the way that I wanted, because I would never be respected by the people I needed to get to where I wanted to go. It had taken him years to get that respect, and he had so much of that respect from those important people that he was invited to their family outings. I would never get close to that, he assured me. Then, it turned into a commentary on my authoritarian and to the point leadership style, in which, and I quote, if he felt I was committing injustice or being unfair *mind you, this was a newly formed team just starting out, not the fucking Avengers* that I would “feel his hand”. I was so shocked after this meeting that I cried after, and had no idea who to turn to. This man was like the ethnically ambiguous reincarnation of Gandhi to these people, who in the hell would believe me? I wouldn’t even have believed me!
And so the fuckery began. I had told only one person on the team and sworn them to secrecy, so everyone else was completely oblivious. I started to feel really self conscious about the type of leader that I was, and what I was projecting to those around me. Everytime I had to make a decision, I was so hypercritical of my own opinion, because I knew it would be in direct contrast to what male Mother Teresa thought, and that I would be shamed and ridiculed and that I was probably deserving of it. I was pissed because I felt genuinely angry at myself for being so opinionated and so forthcoming. Why couldn’t I just lay low and mellow like light skinned Gandhi and let things flow like I was supposed to? And then that’s when it hit me. I was being a gahdamn sexist to MYSELF!!! In my eyes (and apparently this jackass’), the only way to be a leader was to be an alpha, to be, essentially, a male. And so I was struggling because I wanted to be this boss ass female, but I also had this misguided view that I had to deny a lot of my femininity to BE a boss. So I was angry at myself for feeling “female” things whilst also trying to mimic that “boss” attitude, and on top of it all, I had this ass wipe telling me that I couldn’t even think to mesh the two! Because who in their right mind would respect a boss woman who didn’t play into the nurture mother role? The leadership style that I was trying to project was actually that of a guiding father role, but because that was HIS thing, oh no, he ain’t like that.
Looking back, I really have to admire the cut throat attitude I had because I really put things into the works for that team. I took over for only 3 months, and in that short amount of time, I got practice from 1x a week on the school track field to 5x a week at a local PAL with certified trainers for FREE. Not only that, I got equipment donated from a sponsor and presented my case to the official Sports Council at my University to get approved funding for competitions and we made it in. I DID THAT!!! But I also learned a lot from it, and realized, you don’t have to be this sociopathic cold hearted beast to lead (not that I was even CLOSE to that, far from it, but it seemed to be what I aspired to emulate back then). And you also don’t have to be anything you aren’t comfortable being. I am not a mother figure, and I never have been. My leadership style is still very much like a guiding mentor, but I’ve learned to take it easy on the control aspect.
So, what’s the moral of the story India? Honestly, learn who is worth taking criticism from early on. If you can identify whose opinion is valid from the jump, it will save you a lot of heartache and stress. Because baby we don’t have the time to take into consideration every little vote and opinion when it comes to life. And even in leadership roles, yes, you do have to get comfortable with the fact that not everybody is going to like you. Some people might even hate you because they don’t agree or see the vision like you do. And you just have to reflect on what you are trying to do and really come to the conclusion that what you are doing really is the best way, and carry on. Yes, carry tf on. If you know what you have going is right, do what you gotta do. And although there are effective and proven ways to lead, don’t be afraid to add your style to it. And don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t lead the way you lead just because it’s not aligned with their vision of leadership. There are so many ways to get things done, and if the outcome is met, and you aren’t outright being a dick wad and stomping on bitches left and right, then you’re being effective. Everyone can always grow and learn as leaders, but I’m telling you, don’t take advice from people who aren’t nearly as successful as you. If you’re already stomping their legacy and making huge changes for the benefit of whatever it is you are leading, you can tell that leader to kindly exit stage left, sis.
And last but not least, learn what kind of leader you are. If you are insecure in who you are as a leader, or constantly feel like you are an imposter, that will absolutely show. People will notice. So get comfortable and get reflective babe. Who are you as a leader? What does a good leader look like to you? What from your upbringing has affected the image of leadership that you have? These answers will be completely different for everybody that reads this. And that’s a beautiful thing, babe. Be fucking different, and be fucking awesome.