As I climbed the proverbial corporate ladder, I started to become acutely aware of how complex human behavior really was and how difficult being a leader of other people can often be.
Driven by an insatiable need to be liked, respected, and admired were aspects of my personality that, at times, interfered with making the right decision, having a crucial conversation, or setting a clear boundary with those who reported to me.
Yes, my ego was driving the bus. I wasn’t alone.
I started noticing for myself how styles of leadership varied greatly from leader to leader—Autocratic, Casual, Inspirational, Indifferent, Command-Control, Micro-Manager.
The lens through which I viewed leadership was further compounded by being a woman, often the only woman in a room. I witnessed firsthand the gender differences in how men and women led, problem solved, and communicated to others.
As a former executive, having experienced high pressure and looming deadlines, I quickly saw how respected leadership qualities fell by the wayside as soon as the stakes became higher.
When you add a stress inducing comment, experience, or event to the mix, it’s not uncommon that leadership poise crumbles to that of a toddler being refused their favorite toy.
Upon further study, I learned that when leaders are subject to severe stress or high pressure, the fight, flight, freeze effect or the more primitive part of the brain starts to take over. Our bodies prepare to protect us.
How many of us have experienced muscle tension, increased heart rate, felt our mouths tighten under perceived threat? We literally lose our ability to think straight. This shows up in a myriad of counter-productive ways: defensiveness, emotionalism, anger, resentment, mind-reading, story-making, and all sorts of internal distortions, deletions, and generalizations.
I’ve been there. I’m guessing, so have you.
In my role as an Executive Coach, this shows up as:
Working longer hours to please our boss
Increased anxiety, stress, and feelings of being undervalued
Low self-esteem and questioning of our competence
Diminished mental, emotional, and physical health
Fantasies of quitting, walking out, revenge
Toxic water cooler talks and low morale
Without a strategy for dealing with high pressure, the impacts to your life are significant. My recently published article tells the story of what stress and anxiety did to my life.
So, how do we begin moving away from high pressure to transcendence?
The only way to overcome these challenges, in my opinion, is to redefine the beliefs and values that make you tick. In essence, your identity as a leader.
Recently, I have become enthralled with the topic of transcendent leadership. In The Meaning Revolution by Fred Kofman, he writes that transcendent leaders “are able to put their self-interests aside and help others to feel connected with others on a team on a great mission or ennobling purpose.”
What is the higher purpose? One of my favorite coaching questions of all time.
In my experience, true transformation begins the moment we choose to see the vision and not the obstacles. BNI Founder Ivan Misener preaches this truth and I am a true believer in its premise.
Obstacles are one of the reasons people contact me about executive coaching. Soon after we begin our coaching engagement, it’s not surprising to discover internalized belief systems that drive their decision making and create psychic pain, stalls their growth, and results in all sorts of communication problems.
That’s the golden moment.
That’s when clients lean into the pain of their discomfort and not back away from it. That’s what transcendent leaders do.
I define the transcendent woman as “a woman who leans into her exceptionality. She operates and makes decisions from a rock-solid inner state that is personal and self-defined”.
A transcendent woman is far from ordinary. She is highly motivated by reaching exceptional heights in self-awareness.
In my 20+ years of working alongside CEO’s and Executives, I created my own list of what it means to be a truly transcendent woman in leadership.
Here is what I found: the 12 traits of a transcendent woman.
Transcendent women are inclusive. They care deeply about fairness and equity – the rich, poor, middle class. They embrace diversity not only in race and gender, but also in range of thoughts, opinions, and experiences.
Transcendent women are deep listeners. They embody a physiology of excellence that immediately conveys trust. They use sensory acuity beautifully, mirror and match, and instantly build rapport with others like it’s nobody’s business.
Transcendent women embrace full expression. They are unafraid of emotion and refrain from labeling anything as either good or bad. Tears, anger, frustration, joy, all are welcomed. They ‘attend and befriend’ their inner disturbances. Everything is held up under a learning lens.
Transcendent women are magnetic. They light up a room with their unique charm, whether that’s a quiet, wise energy or a boisterous, active energy. They draw people close to them with their undiluted joy in simply being alive.
Transcendent women are led by unshakeable commitment. They are committed to their mission, their purpose, and their values. They are unbounded and free of the tyranny of impression management.
Transcendent women leave everyone with an impression of increase. When you are around a transcendent woman, you always walk away feeling good. They make it a point to leave everyone feeling seen and heard.
Transcendent women maintain beautiful boundaries. They trust their inner wisdom. They say no. They protect their mental and emotional energy. They are mentally resilient and accept that they won’t be liked by everyone.
Transcendent women are beautiful questioners. They are exceedingly curious about people’s lives, their motivations, desires, wants and needs. They ask questions that inspire others to consider other perspectives.
Transcendent women are poised and composed. They know how to think on their feet, take back control of their body, and are well-versed in how to respond under pressure. They practice this skill daily and imperfectly. They understand it’s a “practice”.
Transcendent women are courageous and take risks. They understand the power of persistence, the need for decisiveness, and the peace that comes with noble failure. They are driven by the possibility of succeeding rather than the fear of failing. They don’t identify with their mistakes. They are learners.
Transcendent women are led by virtues, not power. This includes having the bravery to speak up, speak out, and always do the right thing, even when the right thing is unpopular. Honesty, integrity, and leading from a strong inner conviction is exceedingly important to them.
Transcendent women influence vs convince. Women who influence others do so almost imperceptibly because they believe in their intrinsic value. They don’t focus on convincing others of anything because they operate from a place of high self-trust.
The road to becoming a transcendent woman is much like driving a car on a winding mountain side, with nothing separating you from a sudden sharp drop to the ocean below.
Skill and practice, coupled with meticulous attention, focus, and perseverance is essential to avoiding swerves or veering too far over the edge.
Armed with a precise focus, the drive is breathtaking.
Enjoy the ride.