Stepping into the leadership of any form is a rewarding yet isolating process. Every day is spent strategizing, firefighting and multitasking - and I know that most people who embark on the journey love it and even thrive on it. While in general, I don’t subscribe to assessing or making allowances for women leaders based on their gender, it is a reality that we live with every day. There will always be a few different battles that women fight as compared to our male peers. I think that a lot of the limitations that we women set for ourselves in the isolation of our subconscious are what we have been conditioned to every single day of our existence. Even if we have been raised equally to our male siblings the sheer amount of biased content that one is exposed to unknowingly seeps into our thinking. They are so in-built that it doesn't even occur to us to question that thinking.
The fact that this conditioning exists - in every ad, movie joke, and even casual conversation - only occurred to me when some of my male peers gave significantly matter-of-fact simple solutions to my hard-coded self-limiting beliefs. Once that moment of epiphany occurred - there is no limit to our ability to handle things. Being part of organizations that give access to peers from similar leadership positions and having an ecosystem to promote structured peer-based learning is what helped open my thinking. We all grow up with friends who share our past, interests, and values. But once we step into a leadership role, there will come a degree of separation that will come about in the closest of friendships because they might not understand the frustration of something as fundamental as lack of ownership towards work. It is in this mindset that I was exposed to a peer-learning setup.
A peer-learning group is essentially a group of people who are alike in terms of the role that they occupy professionally but come from diverse business industries. This group meets periodically and reflects on their state of mind and issues both professionally and personally. It is a structured and confidential interaction where the members can develop mutual trust and respect to open up over time. The more diverse the group the richer the learning and wisdom it brings to the members. As part of an Ascent all India trust group, my co-members come from across the country, age groups, and industries.
In the daily grind of work, we rarely take time out to think about what has happened and what we want to happen in the future, and how we feel about it. It is just this practice that gives us the most learning – the ability to reflect inwards and share those thoughts with a nonjudgmental group that understands your struggle. The structured reflection process not only allows you to pause and assess where you are at this point but also helps you find those little victories that need to be celebrated and issues that you keep parking month on month. It is these small finds that add tremendous value in opening up your ability to handle things. While all of us attend training sessions and read help books – our access to best practices expands exponentially as we are now able to tap into a whole group’s learning, reading, and experiences with the added footnotes of implementation hacks and customizations that work.
Being in a diverse peer group also gives you the ability to deep dive into a completely unrelated industry and perhaps find some learning that you could retrofit to use in your business. Frankly, the possibilities are endless. As women, we do tend to bring different perspectives to the table. We do have different life experiences after all. Having this perspective to think differently, connect differently to an issue, being more inclusive of everyone – just because we have been doing it every day of our lives, makes women absolute rockstars. We have a lot to offer to the world if only we start participating a little more. For me having this support system where my unique perspective is received and appreciated gives me way more confidence to be assertive in my every endeavor.
Bottom line - we realize that we all battle with the same problem in one way or the other. Firstly, it is reassuring that we are not alone and secondly, we get a whole group to bounce ideas with. What worked or hasn’t worked for one becomes a learning lesson for the rest of the group. This peer group is hard-wired to help you succeed. While all we do is share stories and listen to others' stories, we are building a friendship around the driftwood fire that will support us in moments of doubt, give clarity in moments of confusion, and essential be your companions on the journey of leadership.