Exploring who we are is a critical part of the human experience. From an early age, our likes and dislikes are evident. As we mature, we work to define our values, beliefs, and communications styles. These qualities form the core of what makes us unique.
These essential components of our being show up in every area of our lives, from family to career. While we may work to hone our managerial skills in the workplace, finding our leadership voice involves evaluating and embracing what is most important to and unique about us in every facet of our existence. The principles that are uncovered can be applied to any situation, regardless of whether it involves a leadership position.
"Sometimes it takes us a while to feel comfortable using our own unique voice," said Lori Liddell, CPA/ABV, senior manager of fraud, forensic, and litigation services at HORNE LLP in Ridgeland, Miss. "It may be time to explore creating or adapting your leadership voice if you feel like you're constantly putting on a mask and pretending that you think things that you disagree with, or that you're stifling too much of who you are."
Here are some tips to help you find your leadership voice — and the confidence to express it:
Know your core values. At the beginning of their leadership journey, people are often eager to please and unsure how to share their true perspective. They may feel uncomfortable being a dissenting voice. Taking the time to identify your core values helps resolve that sense of uncertainty, Liddell said.
"There are things as a leader that you can't compromise. These are your core values," she said. "When you begin compromising, you feel conflicted."
"Leaders have to be deliberate about articulating their values and living by them," said Sarah Froning Nodarse, Ph.D., a Chicago-based leadership expert and organizational culture strategist with consulting firm The Zone Global. Once you have identified your beliefs, outline how those values will show up in your work and interactions with colleagues, she advised.
To create a concrete vision of your values, Paul N. Larsen, author of the book Find Your Voice as a Leader, suggested writing out responses to the following questions: What am I strong in? What am I committed to? What do I want my life to look like when I look back in six months?
Be confident. A crucial component of finding your leadership voice is being comfortable with and confident in who you are. That starts with embracing your strengths and how they are integral to your accomplishments. Don't be shy about identifying what makes you unique, and step into how those skills add value to your team and organization, Larsen suggested.
"Recognize that something got you where you were today. It's not luck or not fate — it's you," Larsen said.
While it's a critical step, gaining the confidence needed to embrace your leadership voice involves a significant amount of work.
"To be confident as a leader, you have to be fearless about introspection and personal development," said Froning Nodarse. "Most leaders are technical experts, so they have the doing aspect of their roles covered. However, they need to attend to their being — the qualities that make them human."
Building your EQ, or emotional intelligence, is at the heart of this reflection. For instance, healing your unresolved wounds and identifying the qualities you dislike in others may reveal an area of discomfort about yourself. This knowledge is essential not only for you to be fair and transparent in your interactions with others, but also in cultivating the compassion you need to inspire others, Froning Nodarse advised.
Defend against impostor syndrome. Regardless of how long you've held leadership roles, you'll often find yourself facing impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is a thought pattern where individuals doubt their achievements and have a persistent fear that they will be exposed as frauds. If you start to lose confidence in yourself, be deliberate with your thoughts to help you stay the course and not lose confidence, Larsen suggested. For example, you can practice mindfulness to help you identify and change defeating thought patterns.
Be able to take criticism. Getting team members to like you can feel like a way to ease the tumult of impostor syndrome. However, your management style shouldn't be driven by a desire to be liked.
"We have to release the likability factor," advised Larsen. He noted that people who are too caught up in wanting to be liked can have a hard time taking feedback from others. It's not possible to improve what we don't acknowledge, he said. "Leaders should find the objective truth in the feedback they receive and take it as an opportunity to develop further."
You can also set goals to develop your weaker points. It's critical for leaders to be honest with themselves about their weaknesses and view them as opportunities for development, said Larsen.
Take it slow. Change does not take place in organizations or individuals overnight. Understand that finding your leadership voice is a process that takes time. Larsen encourages leaders to take baby steps as they work to discover their voice and slowly adapt their mindset and actions.
Like any skill, finding and exercising your leadership voice is an ongoing process. New circumstances or personalities will test it. By making slow, steady steps, you'll be well positioned to navigate new challenges with an increasingly strong voice.
Brandyn Campbell is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.