Katie Jenkins: The Myth that Holds Us Back From Leading
“If only the top 1% think they’re leaders, we’re tragically wasting potential.”
Think you’re not a leader because you’re not in that corner office? Think again.
That’s what Katie Jenkins, a Senior Vice President in communications for a global bank in New York City would like you to consider.
Katie and I spoke last weekend about leadership in the workplace, common misconceptions, and the opportunity we all have to be leaders.
“The biggest myth that we get fed by managers, or people who become senior in an organization,” she says, “is that the only way to lead is to be like them and pay your dues and work your way through the organization. And it’s just not true! On a daily basis I see that it’s not true,” she says.
Katie explained that leadership isn’t something that happens from a corner office. True leadership is something any of us can do, starting now, with our next interaction.
“We get so many opportunities to intervene in the story of our lives and other people’s lives and set them off on a different course, we really do.”
She states, it’s as simple as “smiling at somebody that’s having a bad day, or choosing to show up differently in a conversation when you’re fearful it might go in the wrong direction, and actually you make a conscious effort to direct it in another.”
“These aren’t big, earth-shattering moments,” she says. “These are things that are going to skip over your head unless you stop to notice them.”
And that’s what makes real leadership illusive. “99% of the population don’t spot that opportunity or [they] spot them but don’t act because they’re paralyzed by fear. It feels risky to do something different.”
And that’s where we get stuck, Katie says. “We’re not very good at quantifying emotional risks.”
People want safety, but “in real leadership, there isn’t that safety, because you need to take risks. You cannot be a leader without taking risks.” But it’s how you look at that risk that matters.
“It’s perceived risk,” she says, and suggests we look closely, and “truly understand what is or isn’t at stake.”
For example, “when you make a choice to stand up to a manager who is managing instead of leading, when you have the courage to speak and follow your gut instinct when you know that something is not right, and there’s a better way of being…”
There’s a “risk of going against social norms.”
But leadership isn’t about “avoiding being ostracized or avoiding being seen as different or weird or going against the flow”, she says. It’s about “striving toward something.”
Once we see what is really at stake- the wellbeing of everyone, not just ourselves- then the perceived nature of risk changes.
“It’s not ‘what is the risk of me taking this action or behaving in this way?’ It’s ‘what is the risk of me not taking this action and not behaving in this way’?”
For example, “the absence of humanity in the workplace stunts creativity and problem-solving, alienates customers, and minimizes the very connections and empathy needed for organizations to truly thrive and prevail.”
It’s about “taking a stand for humanity, being human and fighting for a different way of connecting with each other.”
In other words, how would the world be better if we took more of those emotional risks?
For Katie, this is where the magic starts. “Small actions have a big impact. You don’t need to climb Everest, you need to take a first step.”
“We’re capable and able to do more than we think is possible. And actually humankind has proved that throughout history.”
Katie explained that just being conscious of your impact- with everyone- can create magic that ripples out.
“I’ve learned from and been led by people who are working checkouts… [they] can teach me more about how to interact with a stranger, how to have a positive impact, than the senior guy sitting behind a big desk in the corner office.”
She cautions us not to underestimate this kind of impact.
“I almost think of it like twitter. When you put something on twitter, it’s not just the person that reads it- it kind of ripples out… If you start with something pure and good, and that starts to ripple out, that’s astonishing. And it can have such a hugeimpact. Equally, negativity and starting from a position of low expectations… again, that also ripples out.”
“It really is about being human and showing that vulnerability which people connect with. That’s the positive stone you could drop and have a huge ripple affect.”
When I asked her what she most wants my readers to know, she answered “That the emotional risks are not as great as you think they are. That small actions can have big impact.”
“Magic is just something being achieved that you didn’t believe was possible… Yet we’re capable of so much more than we believe is possible… We’re each capable of magic.”
It all boils down to one question. “What stone are you dropping into your pond?”