• Vanessa Anstee

Leadership: How to handle other people’s reactions and not turn it into self-doubt.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is learn to stay in my leadership particularly when other people clearly aren’t happy with what I’ve said or done.

Leadership often seems simple – you set an intention, you decide to take action and you move forward. But life is not always simple, and people may or may not agree with your opinions, decisions and leadership. When the stakes are high, or people have differing opinions or there is a lot of emotion, it’s easy for things to get sticky. People get upset and they vote and take sides. It’s those moments that I find really test my leadership. Can I really hold the line?

I’ve found that building trust within myself is key and really knowing the stake that I am holding for my leadership helps me build that muscle of stay. But if I’m truly honest there are still moments where I turn to doubt. I refer to doubt as a she because her voice is like a headmistress. She has a haughty sometimes patronising tone and when she is present; I find clarity and decision making tricky. If I listen to her and give her power, I get lost in a sea of what ifs and depleting emotion such as worry.

I have learnt that certain human, emotional needs can trigger her. Tony Robbins refers to six human needs and for me the one that can derail my leadership the most is the need for love and connection.

In the past when I lacked awareness about this, I would find myself passively defending my position by trying hard to please or seek approval before taking action. It was if unconsciously I thought I could somehow lay the groundwork or smooth the way so that everyone would be happy with my choices. I’ve learnt that whilst these behaviours create some kind of harmony, there is a lot of wasted effort and energy, and there is always a personal cost to my integrity that in the long run makes me irritable within myself, knowing that I have betrayed my authentic truth.

I have finally accepted that having an awareness that this pattern can run me doesn’t make me deficient or not enough; it simply makes me human. I've stopped judging myself so much about it because all that does is make the pattern stick even more. Instead, I let the awareness of the pattern go and that gives me more choice. I can choose to listen to the doubt and create endless delays or default to what others want, or choose to stay with my leadership, despite the fear that I may be unpopular. I am learning not to negotiate with myself when others show displeasure in my actions and I’m standing by myself more.

In my personal life that’s lead to teenage angst and dramas but what I now know is that those emotions blow through pretty quickly. In my professional life it has meant that my leadership voice is developing – it’s becoming stronger and clearer. I do know what I stand for and why and that means I have opinions. I do not force those opinions on others, but I don’t seek everyone else’s opinions and use my coaching skills to get me off the hook. Instead I take action on the things that matter to me and that gives me a feeling of integrity that definitely trumps being liked or fake harmony.

Of course, I feel the “ouch” moments when someone throws things back in my direction and tells me all the reasons why it is unfair, or I am wrong in some way. But I take a deep breath and remind myself that they are entitled to their reactions and that they are none of my business. I choose to stay out of analysing them, figuring out and adapting myself to calm them. Instead I remind myself of the bigger picture, the why of what I am doing or not doing and paying attention to the wise woman who’s voice is starting to grow as I give her space within me to breathe and speak up.

If you find yourself swayed by other people’s emotion when you’ve taken a leadership stance, try this:

  • Be clear with what yourself about what you are feeling and name that emotion

  • Consciously choose the emotion that will help you as you stand your ground. Name that emotion and fully lean into it.

  • Remind yourself that you are here to walk to the beat of your own inner drummer and stay real.

  • Let others have their reactions. They are their business and not yours to resolve.

  • Know your strengths and trust in them.