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Stories

Ilana Gensler, MA'19

Perspectives from a new leader

‘Communication.’ ‘Harmony.’ ‘Relator.’ ‘Responsibility.’ These are a few themes from the Clifton Strengths Assessment that I’ve used to shape my identity as a young professional for years. But ‘Leader?’ Never.

After nearly four years of working in higher education, I’ve come to understand my leadership voice, purpose and contribution to my institution, and I attribute this profound “aha” moment to six icons of female empowerment and their many tools and exercises that guided the “Academic Impressions Conference, Women’s Leadership in Higher Ed: Become Your Most Powerful Self.” Below are four themes that will resonate with women still developing their inner coach, executive presence, and identity intersectionality.

Understand the “why?”

If someone asked you, ‘from where do you lead and why?’ would you have an answer readily available? What about, ‘what in your life sparked your mission?’ or, ‘what is your definition of having it all?’

In order to navigate these prompts I needed to first, tell my story and then, own it. Here’s what I came up with:

When middle school academics always felt like a battle – with the exception of English class – I declared school wasn’t for me. Then, I turned to the art of writing, and discovered journalism, where my strengths were instead drawn upon and celebrated.

This quote by researcher Brené Brown summed it up perfectly, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

While working to learn my authentic leadership voice as it is informed by my identity, I thought about what gets me out of bed in the morning. For me, it’s knowing that the purpose of my work is to build a culture of connectivity. Just the simple exercise of identifying your purpose can help you become a stronger leader.

Create an inner coach who is stronger than your inner critic

There are different stories that we tell ourselves at work that lead to dangerous ‘self-talk,’ which include: 

  • All-or-nothing thinking – thinking in extremes: I am either a success or I am a failure.
  • Jumping to conclusions – judging something without having all of the facts.
  • Emotional reasoning – believing that what you feel is true, regardless of facts.
  • Should statements – negative thoughts that cause anxiety and fear.

Personalizing – assuming feedback is given to you, rather than your work.

If we can recognize the spiraling thoughts that come from our inner critic, we can interrupt and replace them with messages from our inner coach. 

As the famous novelist, Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery is not in finding new landscapes, but new eyes.”

Through this exercise, I’ve developed a new mantra for my inner coach: “Don’t apologize for wanting to be successful.”

Develop Influence and authority

Ask yourself: how would your coworkers describe your reputation? Would they say you produce a high quality of work? Are a problem solver? Are willing to help? Take initiative?

While authority stems from position and title, i.e., your credentials, influence derives from respect and persuasion and can be thought of as an act of informal leadership. You can influence without authority, or have authority but fail to influence. You can influence up, across, and down, regardless of where you sit in your institution’s organizational hierarchy.

Your professional relationships are a culmination of the quality and quantity of positive interactions and productive problem-solving experiences you participate in. As the balance in your professional relationship grows, your potential to influence does too. As we practice asserting our authority, we establish it.

Leverage strengths to achieve success

There’s comfort in knowing that strengths are transferable. When reflecting on your current job, ask yourself, ‘do I feel the same way heading to work on Friday as I do on Monday?’ If you haven’t pondered this before, separate the tasks that take up most of your day, the tasks that you set aside little time for and decipher which ones drain or energize you. After doing so you’ll gain clarity on the responsibilities that give you energy, and in the long run, your value set within a team to conclude whether or not your role/place of work shows those values.

By reflecting on our purpose, leveraging strengths, developing our inner coach, and acting with greater influence and authority, we can grow as leaders and expand our impact.  

Ilana Gensler, MA’19 earned her Master of Arts in Journalism from Northeastern, and uses communication and data analytics skills from her program in her work at the Office of Alumni Relations at the university.