Thursday, August 14, 2008

I was a closet leader. How about you?

Everyone who knows me knows that I love to collaborate. I believe that the best ideas, efforts, come from multiples and creating is not a solitary act. But seeking collaboration can sometimes be a symptom of closet leadership, a common condition that may be outgrown.

For years I’d been told by various bosses that I was a natural leader because CEOs, vice-presidents and everyone below them tended to listen to me even when I didn’t have a big title. (I never cared about titles, which was definitely one of the things companies liked about me.) The closet leadership quality proved to be a benefit as well as a huge thorn in the organization’s side depending on the boss I had at the time. Try to control me, and I became unproductive and unhappy. Give me some resources, a team and complete freedom and I’d create miracles that saved the company money and made my bosses look great. As long as I wasn’t in the spotlight, I enjoyed taking charge. Maybe it was the shyness left over from childhood. Maybe it was because Myers Briggs labeled me an introvert. Maybe it was just fear.

But this year. This year was different. In my new creative life, I was still hoping to stay behind the scenes. Wishing to collaborate, I approached a national organization to run some meetings for them. They weren’t interested. I had tried to volunteer for a women’s organization for years and they still weren’t interested. I was supposed to develop a workshop series with a colleague and realized that our visions weren’t matching.

At first I felt a little rejected, a little lost and deflated. I felt all alone. Then I heard a message in my head. It turns out the universe was yelling pretty loudly because sometimes I can’t hear it when it whispers. “It’s your time to step up. Do your own thing.” It took a little while for it to sink in. Mainly because I didn’t want it to be true. But I knew it was. It was time.

So I mustered up some courage and decided to heed the call. Now I’m deep in the process of coming out of the closet to take full ownership of the things I’ve loved and believed in for years. I’ve launched my own writing workshops, am starting a creative group that meets every couple of weeks and beginning to research the creation of a non-profit creativity incubator. Am I scared? Yes. Sometimes. But then it feels great. I’ve reached new levels of confidence and feel more myself than I ever have before.

Sometimes you just have to have a little courage to come out of that seemingly safe closet space. I realize now that it’s really not that safe or comfortable in there. At some point, it starts feeling claustrophobic and frustrating because our visions demand to be let out, paraded in public and grown.

I still believe in collaboration, but now I know that if something I want doesn’t exist, it’s up to me to take the lead in creating it. Even if it means being in the public eye. It’s ok to let everyone know that you are committed to a project you believe in and have others join you in your quest. If you can’t find that job, club or product you’re looking for, ask yourself if it’s time for you to step up and out. Are you a closet leader? Come on out! The rewards are well worth it.

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