Daring To Be Me: How I Cultivated Authentic Leadership

I didn’t want to do what I saw everyone else doing. I definitely didn’t want to repeat their failures. I was growing out of the people-pleasing phase of my life and wasn’t interested into conforming to someone else’s idea of leadership.

My hope for you is that you find your own voice and your own leadership style that allows you to connect with people.

stephanie-godwin-chu

“If you have to tell people that you are the boss, then you are not the boss!”

The statement was simple, but I will never forget it. The day I heard it, I was sitting in a Bible class. The topic of the evening was leadership. I laughed out loud because of how simple and true the statement was. But as the week went on, I found myself replaying it in my mind over and over. It prompted me to make a decision. I didn’t want to be that person – the one so out of touch and insecure that I needed to throw my weight around and remind everyone constantly of how in charge I was.

I would say, looking back on it now, that statement resonating with me was the beginning of my purpose journey. I wasn’t even in a supervisory role at the time, but I knew that I didn’t want to do what I saw everyone else doing. I definitely didn’t want to repeat their failures. I was growing out of the people-pleasing phase of my life and wasn’t interested into conforming to someone else’s idea of leadership.

Was it possible to be someone’s boss, supervise their work, delegate to them, provide them with guidance and criticism when needed and also love and care for who they were as a person? I believed it was true and found that juggling all of those demands and expectations was my niche. I never had to dangle a carrot to get someone to run faster or work harder. I never threatened or belittled. I didn’t lie or keep secrets. I was just Stephanie all day, every day. I worked hard to ensure that I upheld my values personally and professionally so they were never at odds.

Side Note: It’s so much easier to be one person all of the time and not have to maintain separate versions of oneself.

I was transparent, firm, optimistic, kind and caring. I was the opposite of what many would expect a person in a high-stress leadership position to be. I was determined not to take out my stresses and shortcomings on my staff. I took a servant’s approach. They were there to serve the company and me as their supervisor, but I was also there to serve them. If their fundamental needs weren’t being met, then I looked at it as a failure on my part. What resulted was a powerful dynamic of trust and openness that I didn’t see anywhere else in the company. People would comment that my team was “different” and my team members “actually liked each other,” but what they didn’t know was how intentional it was.

While being purposeful in my pursuit of balanced and authentic leadership, I uncovered a purpose that was so intricately woven into the fabric of me, but it was at odds at times with the goals of my employer. I cared more about the individual than I did the often suffocating metrics that hung over my head daily. If someone wanted to quit, I encouraged them to go find the type of work that they were passionate about, even if it made me one person short during the busy season. If someone had a calendar full of appointments, but came to work devastated by the wreckage in their personal life, I sent them home and took on the burden, delegating what I could. When someone needed to cry, vent frustrations, get angry, cuss or ask for personal advice, I offered my office as a safe space.

I took a risk and it was worth it. I had challenges just like any boss does with hiring and firing staff, having tough conversations, dolling out the constructive criticism and not-so-favorable evaluations at times. I would question whether I was doing the right thing. With examples of the opposite before me, I started to feel like maybe I was too soft and cared too much. But I approached each person and each situation with a purpose and for that reason, I have no regrets. I’ve been able to build and maintain wonderful relationships over the years by doing things differently and choosing to connect rather than dictate.

When I had to call someone into the HR office first thing in the morning to tell them they were being let go, discuss severance, request their key and walk them out of the back door, I felt like a failure. But then, the unusual happened – I got a hug from them and a sincere “thank you,” followed by a genuine request to keep in touch. To me, it was triumph amidst the disappointment.

Today, I’m still not the type of person who can work a room full of strangers or walk into a crowd and demand attention. I’ve never had an iron fist. I’m a quiet observer. I have a fantastic photographic memory and an uncanny ability to learn and recall random facts about history, people and places. I come alive when I can talk about purpose and what I’m passionate about. I thrive when I can teach someone something new. I find confidence when I can authentically share my life experience and make someone else’s life better in the process.

My hope for you is that you find your own voice and your own leadership style that allows you to connect with people. It doesn’t matter if you are naturally loud and out front or a behind the scenes supporter. Everyone has a leader in them. The type of leader you desire to be may not be popular, but from my experience, that’s when magic happens.

Allow the leader you are to be an intimate part of you, not just a representative. Be real and be accountable to who you are and upfront about your expectations. Share with people and they will share with you. Learn about the people who look up to and rely on you. If you don’t know who they are, what drives them, their strengths, their limitations or worries you will never truly understand how to lead them effectively.

No, it won’t be easy.

But yes, I can say from experience that it’s worth it.

Insulate Your Life So You Can Grow

When you are in a season of development and growth, it’s important that you take steps to protect yourself. Whether you are making preparations for family growth, a job transition, career change or relationship shift, it’s necessary to protect the investment you are making in yourself. Insulation is just for a time period – long enough to allow positive change to take place without interruption.

Think about a green house. In the winter, the plants are insulated and protected from the harsh winter cold and nighttime frost. Without the green house, the leaves, stems, fruit and vegetables would get frost bitten and eventually wither. However, once the weather turns warm again, the plants can be moved out into the open air where the atmosphere will encourage their growth.

Here are three areas to be purposeful about during your season of insulation:

Insulate Your Dreams and Plans: Unfortunately, everyone is not going to be able to listen to the great ideas you have and be supportive. There will be negative people and those who simply don’t get it. While you are bringing your vision to life, you may need to stay tight-lipped.

Insulate Your Relationships: Surround yourself with people who will be positive, but honest with you. These should be individuals who are like-minded in what they want out of life, with similar values and life priorities. They are the ones who can lift you up when you feel down and can also give you a push when you need to be held accountable.

Insulate Your Learning: Be careful about the type of information you ingest whether it be through reading, listening or watching. Information does not automatically equal wisdom. Surround yourself with credible information that feeds your purpose and gives life to the vision you are nurturing.

 

Sandwich, Anyone?

 

I’m an introvert. I don’t like confrontation. Enough said.

However, I learned very quickly in my career life that confrontation is inevitable. Whether I was working with children, peers my age or peers older than me, I could count on the fact that we wouldn’t always agree. Additionally, I had to navigate conflicts in personal and family relationships. We all do. Situations repeatedly arose where I needed to set boundaries, speak up for myself and/or politely disagree. Through those awkward moments, I began to use a method that worked well to decrease the amount of anxiety I had going into those interactions.

I could be direct, to-the-point and decrease misunderstandings by using the sandwich approach. You may have heard of it and I admit, it doesn’t work for EVERYTHING, but it definitely works for most. It gives you the advantage of crafting your message in a clear and precise way, while adding in some positive feedback or encouragement to lessen the blow. Once you master this method of managing confrontation and delivering less-than-favorable news, it can make addressing issues that come up in the moment less frightening.

As women, we are often expected to be kind and polite, not to disagree too much and not make waves. Men are usually groomed from a young age to be firm, authoritative and decisive. These expectations from our upbringing carry over into our relationships with our significant others, our children and co-workers.

Delivering news that may be hard for someone to hear, doesn’t make me a b***h, but it does make me honest and human. In conquering the fear of delivering “bad news” without obsessing over the possibility of upsetting someone, I found my voice and I found freedom. This isn’t to say that crafting your words just right means that feelings don’t get hurt or someone won’t react negatively, but being okay with that as a potential outcome is part of the growth that comes with being open and finding your voice. It isn’t always about WHAT you say. The magic is in HOW you say it.

You can do it too! After all, practice makes perfect. Take advantage of this short tutorial on The Art of Sandwich Making.

The Mommy Detour

To be so strong-willed and feel like I was broken somehow held me back from chasing my purpose. I put it up on a shelf. I look at it occasionally and committed that I would one day take it up again. It wasn’t until I overcame my fears and came back to myself that I realized nothing had changed. I was still me.

37_godwin-chuLiterally overnight, I went from being in a corporate atmosphere every day to being a homemaker with a baby on the way. It was my decision, after all, to take a few months off to get things in order before the baby arrived. I was ecstatic and relieved to have some focus and not feel pulled in so many directions. For the first time in a long time, I felt a sense of defined purpose and allegiance to a duty greater than myself – motherhood.

That feeling lasted about a week.

The reality of how lonely I felt started to creep in. Everyone I would normally confide in was at work when I needed to talk. When I did get the chance to chat with a friend, I would grow tired of answering the same questions, “So what do you do all day?” and “What’s it like?” Not to mention how depressing daytime television can be! I felt like the girl in the bubble – everyone was watching to see what I would do in my new habitat. It was a strange type of isolation.

I was expecting my first child. I had a long list of to-dos that seemed impossible to complete. As I got bigger, climbing up and down the stairs with loads of laundry became nearly impossible. It took me an entire week just to assemble a child’s dresser I bought online simply because my growing belly was in the way. I got winded easily. Basic things seemed so much harder and harder things felt impossible.

Eventually, it got better and I settled into my new role with its glorious limitations and I found purpose in the possibilities that each day presented. I lowered my ridiculous standards, set smaller and more realistic daily goals and allowed myself to rest as often as I felt I needed to. I found a groove and I channeled my energy into taking good care of myself and my husband. I tried new recipes, baked, made green smoothies daily and read birthing books. Within those 3 months, I successfully prepped for the baby’s arrival, put the finishing touches on the nursery and settled into an emotional space of eager expectation.

In May 2015, we brought our daughter home from the hospital and there was a new learning curve began. My mother stayed with us for two weeks and my husband took off of work for three weeks. Those first few weeks were a blur of sleepless nights, unspeakable joy and overall exhaustion. I honestly don’t remember many of the details and I slowly fell into postpartum depression.

I had anxiety so bad once my husband went back to work that I would only leave the house for doctor’s appointments and the occasional rushed trip to the grocery store. I felt suddenly alone and once again, isolated. I had this little vulnerable person that depended on me and the weight of that fact was crushing.

What if we get in a car accident?

What if I forget to pack something important in the diaper bag?

What if she starts crying and I can’t get her to stop?

What if I have to nurse and we are out in public?

What if there’s nowhere to change her?

What if…?

These unrealistic worries kept me up at night. They robbed me of peace and sanity. I nursed on-demand around the clock. I didn’t eat well. I didn’t take good care of myself. I barely showered or brushed my teeth. I was so baby-minded that I forgot myself. I forgot the purpose of the whole experience. I forgot to breathe.

To be so strong-willed and feel like I was broken somehow held me back from chasing my purpose. I put it up on a shelf. I look at it occasionally and committed that I would one day take it up again. It wasn’t until I overcame my fears and came back to myself that I realized nothing had changed. I was still me.

I joined a local La Leche League group where I found commonality and normalcy with women I didn’t know, but who were a lot like me. The adult interaction was refreshing. I saw myself in their struggles, successes and moments of weakness. They were real and made me feel like I belonged in a special club of warriors who took on the daily battles that no one witnessed or celebrated. I also took up contractual work on a seasonal basis, which required me to visit the office a couple of times a week and helped me feel connected again.

I’ve learned over the last two years to be transparent. I’ve learned through countless personal conversations, articles, blogs and vlogs that I am not the only one. It happens almost weekly that I have an encounter with someone who reminds me of why I am on this planet. My daughter was about fourteen months old when I gathered enough courage to start again, pick up the pieces and move forward.

And I know now that it’s perfectly okay. I am doing it. I haven’t given up. I will not give up. I just needed some time to gather myself, shake off the dust and refocus. I took a mommy detour, but I still have work to do. I still have a passion to help others, but now I have a small audience. There is a beautiful, chocolate, brown-eyed little girl watching to see her own potential in me. She thinks I can do anything. I am starting to believe that too.

I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, entrepreneur, dreamer, life-changer, leader, encourager, counselor, confidant and writer. I am all of these things. I was made to be all of these things and my purpose dictates that I can do them all with excellence.

I stepped away, but now I’m back!

 

 

My REAL Motivation

Everyone is motivated by something. If you’re not motivated in life, you start to deteriorate.

In college, I was motivated by the prospect of successfully completing my degree. Then I was motivated by securing a job with a living wage. But once I was working full-time and had some experience under my belt, I found myself motivated by the paycheck I could count on like clockwork twice a month. Eventually, it morphed into a motivation for the weekend or the next vacation because the work I was doing didn’t drive me.

Looking back, I realize my motivation was constantly changing because I was looking for a reason to keep going. I targeted a tangible reward in order to psych myself into believing that what I was doing was fulfilling. I was like a horse chasing a carrot in vain.

About three years ago, I was convicted to start living with purpose. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, it became the hardest thing I have ever done. Living each day with purpose meant that I had to approach every decision minute by minute, hour by hour, stop…think and ask myself, “Why?” before I said or did anything. It changed me as a persona and has made me more present in the day-to-day. It has made me a better wife and a more patient mother.

I learned how to say, “No” easily and without condemnation. Before my purpose-driven life, I was a people pleaser. I put my own priorities and goals on the back burner when I thought doing so would enable me to keep the peace. I compromised unnecessarily. I compromised a lot. I finally began to understand that what I was doing was stealing from myself.

“No, I cannot stay late and work tonight.”

“No, I am not going to bail you out of jail.”

“No, you can’t drive my car.”

“No, you can’t have that last piece of pie! I am planning to eat that!”

Dozens of emails I frantically typed that  full of emotion and passive aggressive language were never sent. There were phone calls I decided not to make and lies I chose not to tell, even though I thought the truth would hurt. It was difficult at times to be so honest, transparent and real in my attempts to be purposeful. However, I gained so much peace and comfort from it. I let myself off the hook finally and excused myself from the expectations of others.

 

In the spring of 2015, my husband and I welcomed our daughter. She was the child we had waited and prayed for. She was our first and is still our only. She became my motivation in a way that I never expected. She’s the reason I wake up in the morning with eager anticipation even though I’m not at all a morning person. She is the reason I choose to build businesses and leave a legacy that will carry on generation after generation. She is the reason I want to be a better person, a wholesome example and strong woman. She is the reason I want more than ever for my marriage to work even though it can be tough at times.

I don’t need any other reason. I will never again need a surrogate reason to live my life.

Whatever drives you shouldn’t be temporal. It should be something that takes your hopes and dreams beyond today, beyond the end of the week, beyond the end of the year. It should be something that speaks to your heart and the essence of what’s important to you.

If you’ve identified money as your end goal – what happens when all of your financial needs are met? What happens if the money stops coming in? Do you really think you’ll be on your deathbed and say to yourself, “I wish I had made more money”?

If you are motivated by beauty – what happens when the beauty fades? What happens if your health status changes for the worst?

If you are motivated by feeling wanted or loved – what will you do when the love is gone? What will you do when that person no longer meets your needs?

My daughter being my motivation means that everything I do is done with the purpose of making her life better. It’s a sacrifice that only I can make. I went through a rough pregnancy and recovery just to have her. I’ve sacrificed sleep and comfort to do the best I could for her. I put her first in my daily decisions so that she can have a healthy, happy and stable childhood. She can’t do anything to repay me. I do it willingly and without regret.

Failure is not an option.

Saying that, “I tried” will never be good enough.

I look into her eyes and know that she completely depends on, needs and trusts me. That’s the way it should be and that’s my motivation to be even better than I thought I could.

 

Declare Your Worth or Someone Else Will

I spent years trying to show myself worthy of the title I had been given on my business card. Not only did I work hard. I overworked. I came in early during the week, often getting there before my staff started their day. I left late, skipped lunches and put my personal life on hold. I worked weekends often and holidays. I alienated my husband at night so I could “get work done,” often staying awake into the late hours, pounding the keys by laptop light to the sound of him snoring next to me. I used vacation time to schedule doctor’s appointments, surgeries and overdue household maintenance. I had to feel like I was on death’s door to take a sick day. I never stopped.

I was like so many people, looking for meaning in all the wrong places. I expected that a pat on the back and “good job, girl,” at the end of the day would make it all okay. I expected to feel like I had accomplished something. I became a person who was not confident in my own abilities. I convinced myself that if I stepped away, took a breath or unplugged that it would all fall apart and the destruction would be my fault.

But when you are not operating in your God-given purpose, He has a way of putting a mirror in your face. He showed me to myself in the way that only he could. I had settled and made excuses for why I couldn’t move on. I saw others leave and chase their dreams and I was truly happy for them…and jealous. Why couldn’t I let go too? Why couldn’t I get off of the train?

Then I would go put out a metaphorical fire and say to myself, “Well, I can’t leave. I’m needed here. What would happen if I wasn’t here?”

It would be unfair to say that my so-called career was holding me hostage. No, I wasn’t being forced to do anything. In seeking constant approval and waiting to hear that giving my all was enough, I did that to myself. My personal relationships were suffering due to neglect and my marriage was a roller coaster of disappointments, miscommunication, anger and sadness. Marriages are like houseplants after all, if you don’t feed and water them, they die. I actually surrendered my two dogs because I no longer had the time to care for, walk daily, groom and take them to the vet on schedule. I chose work over everything.

So, one day I found myself in a bathroom stall at work, crying and struggling to breathe in between blubbering sobs. Someone had just made it clear that they didn’t value who I was. I felt crumpled up and thrown away. I put my emotional breakdown on a schedule. I had a meeting in 15 minutes, so I had to pull together by then. I wasn’t an emotional person, but I cried a lot in those months – in the car on the way to work, in the shower or pretty much anytime I found a quiet moment alone. I would tell myself to “stop it,” because nothing was wrong. I should be grateful. I had a job and others didn’t.

I covered my face and asked the question out loud, “I have done EVERYTHING for these people! Why isn’t it enough?”

I called my husband, expecting him to give me one of his speeches about how I would be okay, but instead he said to me, “Don’t worry about it. You won’t be there long.” He saw how hard I worked and what I sacrificed. He was empathetic, but I could also tell he was mad.

That was what I needed – permission. I was loyal to a fault. I would stick with someone or something with the optimistic hope that it will all work out, even when it’s toxic or no longer beneficial. But my husband let me off the hook. He let me know that all I had done was more than enough and it was time to gracefully bow out.

Over the months that followed, I continued to work hard, but I also let go. I let go of the worry I carried about not being liked, appreciated and acknowledged. I stopped caring about all of the superficial things that had kept me bondage. I began to pour my energy into my marriage and my husband, we took a vacation to Florida and I totally unplugged. I didn’t care if the building caught fire. I knew no matter what happened without me, they would figure it out.

My stress level was the lowest it had been in about 4 years. My husband and I discussed a timeline for me to resign and exit my job. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next, but I chose to trust God in guiding my steps to the next season of life. About two months after our vacation, I found out that I was pregnant after two and a half years of trying! So there it was…my purpose defined. I began to do research and plan for life as a homemaker and mom and I have never looked back.

I am a beautiful, creative, ambitious, intelligent and independent woman. I am not the type to walk into a room of strangers, shake a dozen hands and chat it up like a politician and that’s okay. I don’t care what people would like me to be. I know now that I am who I am meant to be. Never again will I put myself in a place where I work so hard to be like someone else.

We are who we are for a reason. I worked for eight years helping someone else fulfill their life’s mission before realizing how far outside of my own I actually was.

Life is too short to live it outside of my purpose.

The Day I Blew the Interview

failing-flame

I’ve taught it to staff in training who came to me straight out of college and I’m sure that many of you have heard or said these things yourselves – don’t chew gum, dress for success, take notes, have questions written down, make eye contact, have a firm handshake, etc. etc. etc.  I was cocky. I did all of these things and more, but I still didn’t get the job.

But how could they not want ME!?? (This is what I said to myself at the time)

I was wearing black designer slacks and stiletto heels.  It was mid-summer and very hot so I chose to don a white short-sleeved tailored blazer and ruffled green blouse underneath.  If I do say so myself, I was the image of perfection as far as interview candidates go.  I felt confident and ready.  I brought with me my leather bound interview folder with my name embossed in gold on the front.  I had read the organization’s web site and had my questions written down on a brand new memo pad.  I brought my own pen for extra flare – not the kind that comes in a pack of 12, but one with gold trimmings and a metal tip.

There was a panel about 4 that sat across the table in front of me, asking questions.  I could sense some skepticism, so I smiled and gave out my strongest dose of charm.  I had an answer for every question because I had already rehearsed.  I knew the right things to say and didn’t see a single curve ball that I couldn’t hit.

I walked out afterward, still confident and imagined how long it would take them to call me.  Would they call me the next day or play hard-to-get and make me wait?  I shuffled through the parking lot, dodging potholes on my way back to the car.  It was a rough neighborhood and I knew it, but I knew I would be making a difference and at the time, the prospect seemed to line up with the person I desired to be in the community,

But they never called. I don’t even remember getting a “we regret to inform you…and we appreciate your interest” email or letter. But in reflection, I don’t blame them.

In my eyes, I did everything right.  I checked all the boxes.  However, I forgot to do the most important thing… I didn’t CONNECT.  In hindsight, if I had worn a pressed blouse or polo shirt with trouser jeans or slacks and flat shoes, I wouldn’t have seemed so high and mighty.  I don’t believe it was because they doubted my ability to perform the job functions outlines on the job description.  I didn’t get called because they thought I wouldn’t be able to connect to the inner city youth they were sworn to serve.

What I learned from that is to know my audience and make it a point to connect, no matter what.  I can’t allow myself to be in a place where I don’t adjust to the needs, perceptions and expectations of those I want to serve.  Whether it’s a job interview, an internship interview, workshop, training or one on one coaching session, we have to CONNECT in order to be our most effective selves.  In failing to do so, we limit our scope of influence and stifle our opportunities for positive change.

Stay encouraged.  Never be too busy to stop, listen, look and CONNECT.