Are we there yet? How cultivating a pioneering spirit can push career frontiers for you and others

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My own career has been a winding road, crossing continents, sectors and organisations, but finding its own course. I have spent decades trying to learn how to thrive as a leader of people. And in that time learning more, and more deeply, about how women can be experienced and judged differently as managers for the same behaviours, and trying to figure out how to bring my best leadership self to that. How not to get stuck in “it’s just not fair”. Here is what has helped me.

Because you’re right, it isn’t fair. Much of life isn’t, and leadership stereotypes that favour men have been a long time in the making, so it’s up to us, men and women, to build the new social norm of women as leaders. So how might we do that?

The power of pioneering

We need to reframe ‘this isn’t fair’ into ‘I can be a pioneer’.

To change things for ourselves and those following us, we can’t see ourselves as the victim of an unfair system but as courageous pioneers, skilfully navigating new frontiers. Click To Tweet

Let’s think about pioneers.

When travelling in the US, I saw some of the original Oregon trail, wagon wheel tracks formed by thousands of emigrants in the 1800s travelling the same 2000-mile route east to west. Bravely heading off with hopes of a better future. And I thought how important such set routes can be for our safety and how challenging it can be if we need to strike out in a different direction.

Our careers and lives can be like that too. Sometimes those well-trodden tracks can serve us well and show us the way, but sometimes we need to find our own route. It can feel dangerous to go off the beaten track, but it can be a positive pioneering direction. Someone had to set off first without any wagon wheel tracks to follow, with no map, just a compass.

Safe route or new trail?

What gives us the courage to do that, to keep forging ahead?  The reality is there are no straight lines in life, as the pandemic has reminded us. Where do we get the energy to be a pioneer without burning out?  Well when we have no map we need a good compass. Your compass will help you navigate, and your compass is your purpose – we need to be able to answer, why am I doing this? We can all put up with a lot of what if we know why. As Victor Frankl said A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’

Which feels easier and more energising? Something you strive for or something you aspire to? Your ‘why’ flips strive into aspire. Your ‘why’ reminds you what you are going to, not only what you are going from. Click To Tweet

The other thing successful pioneers take along as well as their compass, is fellow travellers.  Pick your fellow travellers well, be there for them when they get stuck and they in turn can sustain you when the terrain gets tough.

Know the real frontier

The real frontier is in ourselves. Listening wisely to our fears about heading off the beaten path will make us skilful pioneers. And discomfort can be good, it is called learning. I have had performance anxiety all my career, but I learned to use it as fuel rather than a handbrake. By seeing myself as a pioneer embarking on new frontiers and creating tracks for those coming behind us to safety.

A pioneer mindset helps us dial down our threat detector and light up our wise radar. So stop and check in with your anger or fear or resentment. We need to listen wisely to our emotions and not be overwhelmed by them. Don’t get hijacked by your evolutionary programming telling you things are a threat when they are not. Any more than you would believe because leadership has had male attributes ascribed to it forever, that means you can’t be a powerful authentic female leader.

We all get stuck in the same old grooves of the wagon trails of our mind, following the same old assumptions, accepting the same old stereotypes and it’s difficult to change.

Get comfortable with your discomfort because it is uncomfortable being a pioneer. Click To Tweet

It’s so much easier to follow the herd and stay in the grooves that have served others so well and take our direction in lock step with others. But then there will be no new paths, and new paths is what we need.

The pioneer is in you. Learn to read your compass when there are no maps, turn strive into aspire, and get comfortable with your discomfort. Become skilful in how you forge new paths, conscious of those coming behind you, understanding that knowing yourself is the ultimate frontier. And choose your fellow travellers well.  We can all be pioneers, there are trails to be blazed.

As always thanks for reading this and sharing it. Feel free to read more on my blog page.

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