"You guys are not assertive enough!" was a concern my supervisor shared during a staff meeting. There I was thinking, "You do not give the women opportunities within the division." From my observation, women in my organisation were often the last ones selected to lead a project or represent the organisation at special events.
Growing up, I always considered myself to have innate leadership skills. On several occasions, I have been chosen as group representative by my peers or superiors without giving much thought to the reasons behind my selection.
When my supervisor voiced his concern, I realised that I needed to be assertive and not rely on being chosen. I recognised that leadership was about being assertive, taking charge and getting the job done without seeking authorisation.
Drawing from my observations, the women in my industry whom I considered leaders all had a common attribute, which was 'assertiveness'. These women knew when to take the lead without directive and by so doing earned the respect of others.
However, I soon realised taking the lead in my career and personal life meant I would have overcome the self-imposed limitation I had placed on myself which prevented me from taking the lead on projects and opportunities. Often times, I had deemed myself inexperienced, young and yielding to my older peers. I had the 'newbie mentality'. I didn't speak up in meetings, I didn't ask, I didn't negotiate or stood by my conviction despite being shut down by peers. I realised that my reluctance to be assertive was driven by fear which undermined my confidence and caused me not to maximise my potential.
Taking the lead requires guts and self-belief that you made for nothing less than excellence and your voice and value is welcomed at the table - whether they believe it or not. There will be moments when you will undermined or questioned about what you can bring to the table. Also, earning the respect of others will be a challenge, which you will have to confront by being confident, prepared and self-assured.
For me, taking the lead in my life came with diverse experiences that taught me many invaluable lessons during my professional career such as to being assertive involves acting on self-imposed authority. It will come with moments of doubt and second-guessing, but never allow your self-imposed limitations to limit you from taking action. Instead, step up to the plate and allow your journey to aid in your personal development and prepare you to be a leader who is capable of influencing others.