Always Consider Yourself a VIP
Many of you are already active in the workplace or will soon be entering workforces all over the world—in privately held corporations, large foundations, small not-for-profit organizations, advocacy groups, government positions, or other jobs right in your neighborhood— and yet, you may not know a very important secret: There is a leader inside each of you just waiting to come out! All you need to do is develop and hone the skills that will help the leader in you to surface and shine.
Leaders are not only born, they can also be created. Even if you have never held a leadership position and were told that you did not have “leadership potential” as you were growing up, you can learn what it takes to be a leader right now. Like math, science, and languages, leadership can be learned because it requires skill sets that can be taught. And since you are clearly capable of learning, the path to leadership is one you can always pursue.
However, along the path to leadership success, you will have to refuse to give in to negative thinking that can hold you back. Too often brilliant and beautiful young women of color sabotage themselves, sometimes without even knowing that they are doing it, so that they never become the leaders they are capable of becoming or achieve the level of leadership success they deserve. The most critical aspect of leadership is self-esteem, which must flow from the core of your being.
In order to become a leader and remain an effective one, you must always consider yourself a Very Important Person (VIP). This doesn’t mean that you should be arrogant or cocky and walk into your job believing that you already know everything you need to know. Instead, it means that you need to feel confident that you are bringing much value to any workplace and that your cultural strengths, values, and work ethic will stand you in good stead as you go about learning how to do your job, and that you will be successful despite any challenges you may face, whether they are small or large.
How you feel about yourself is imperative to moving forward and sustaining your efforts to meet your leadership goals. Feeling that you’re a VIP, reminding yourself that you’re a VIP, dressing like you’re a VIP, and acting like you’re a VIP (within reason, of course) will help to give you the confidence you need to conquer real and imagined obstacles in your workplace. Rest assured that you can overcome any hurdles you may encounter on your way to becoming a leader —just be prepared and hang on to your hat. External—and maybe even internal—forces will surely test you.
Because we live in a society where people of color and women are not always valued, some of us consciously or subconsciously transfer the notion that we are not valuable to beliefs of inferiority or inadequacy about ourselves.* A recent Harvard University study identified two kinds of prejudice: individual and systemic. The first kind of prejudice is held by individuals about members of groups other than their own. The second is a set of institutionalized assumptions, attitudes, and practices that have a kind of invisible effect in systematically giving members of more powerful groups certain advantages over members of less dominant groups. So you are not crazy, and you are not alone in feeling that some things are not right or fair in our society. Despite all of the progress women and people of color have made, there are still obstacles in many workplaces. Therefore, you must be ready.
The first step to handling any sense of unfairness in the business environment is to accept that prejudices of all kinds exist. Indeed, many of us are prejudiced, and instead of letting these feelings get in your way, you must find creative ways to move around them. You may feel frustrated at times, not knowing how to get ahead or what steps you should take to advance. You’re not alone. Don’t be discouraged. Instead, concentrate on working hard, working smart, and gaining the knowledge you need to move forward. By remaining focused, you will continue to make progress.
Your ability to remain motivated and continue to believe in yourself as you travel along your leadership journey is very important. In the sport of working, you will need to learn not to take personally everything that happens to you. You must become a savvy “player” in the work “game.” Once you decide to become a leader, you put yourself squarely in the game and you must play. You must also be prepared to win as well as suffer some losses along the way. Often those wins and losses will yield critical lessons that will help you mold your own unique leadership style that will make you stand out and move up. Be prepared for the rules of the game to change, sometimes midplay, sometimes completely. Make it your responsibility to keep up with what is going on. Plan to put your own special imprint on your workplace by bringing the very best you have to the table every day. Always hold your head high and remember that you are a VIP, no matter what position you currently hold. You’re already on your way to leadership success!
Given our country’s history of legalized slavery, indentured servitude, and the treatment of women as chattel and children as possessions, we should not be surprised if occasionally some of us buy into notions that we are not worthy, that we are undeserving, that we are second best. As a subculture within a dominant culture, we may see more negative than positive reflections of ourselves being portrayed in the media. And in the workplace we may see other employees who don’t look like us advance more rapidly than we do (and sometimes they don’t have half the credentials and experience that we have) and we may wonder why.
While there are nearly always things we could do differently or better in our jobs, we all know or have heard of situations where other workers we may have welcomed to the company and trained have received promotions instead of us or much sooner than we do, or co-workers who have gone overbudget on their projects while we have stayed within our budgets, yet they have been promoted and we have remained in our positions. We have met “hotshots” who seem destined to shoot to the top of the department or company no matter what they do or how many failures they produce. This process is often referred to as “failing up.”
These experiences can be discouraging, but they can also be motivating. We must learn that everything we are going through is all a part of the game—surviving and thriving in the workplace—and the sooner we face this reality the better we will be able to compete in the leadership arena. We must keep our confidence intact and realize that outer forces have nothing to do with our inner spirit—our resilience—that we inherited from our MAMAs and others. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, who sacrificed mightily so that we could have the privileges and opportunities we take for granted today. Through them we know and affirm that we are amazing women, and with confidence in ourselves, we can do anything!
m Nothing worth having comes easy.
m You have to work twice as hard as everyone else to get anywhere.
m You are worthy and deserving of having the best of everything.
m Make yourself number one.
m If you don’t take care of you first, no one else will.
To Attain Victory, Stay Positive
Master the art of positive thinking. To become a leader you must have a positive mental attitude, which you can achieve with positive self- talk and looking at what is right with people instead of what is wrong with them. Positive self-talk means saying positive things about yourself to yourself and to others. You are what you think, and you can accomplish what you think you can. For example, if you tell yourself that you can’t perform a particular task or difficult assignment, then you are setting yourself up for failure. You must tell yourself that you can meet professional challenges that come your way. Instead of thinking, “Oh, I can’t do this. I’ve never done this before,” say, “This is new to me. I’ll give it my best shot.” Then go do your homework, consult with others, go online, request the reports, do whatever you need to do to get the information to complete the assignment to the best of your ability. Positive thoughts create constructive energy around you.
You must establish this habit of positive self-talk in your mind, because it requires regular reinforcement. Make it a habit. Invest five minutes a day before you head out to work. Tell yourself you can meet any professional challenges that life has to offer. Write down your positive affirmations in your Personal Leadership Notebook and read them out loud, or write a positive prayer. The spoken word is extremely powerful.
• I release the past and now allow myself to be filled with positive thoughts.
• I deserve the best and welcome it into my life.
• I see the good in everyone.
• I accept for myself all the good things that life and work have to offer.
• I am worthy and deserving of new challenges that come my way.
• I am in the process of making positive changes.
Be actively aware of what you’re thinking. What kind of voice do you hear in your head? Does a voice tell you that you can’t do something because a family member warned years ago that you were going to fail? Or that trying something new was too risky? Or that traveling abroad or to other parts of the country is dangerous? If you begin to see a pattern of negative thoughts, write them down and then create positive affirmations to cancel them. You must reprogram your thoughts. It’s the only way good things are going to come to you in life. You can make it a good day or a bad day by controlling your thought process. Even if something bad happens to you during the day, you can decide how to react to the situation. Your reaction is your choice and your choice determines how you will respond—positive or negative. Create positive images, statements, situations, outcomes, interactions, and exchanges. You can change your life if you change your thinking.
Having a sense of humor also comes in handy and can help you with your positive attitude. There will be times when you’ll just have to throw up your hands and laugh.
Negative self-talk can lower your expectations, and do damage to your self-confidence and leadership ability. People want to follow leaders who are positive. One of a leader’s most important jobs is to set a positive tone.
People who are positive tend to be:
• More productive at work.
• More likely to be noticed and recognized by their boss.
• More likely to attract co-workers to them.
• More likely to be open to new experiences.
• More likely to recognize opportunity when it comes their way.
We haven’t always been exposed to positive images in life, whether due to the media or the racial divide. Not everyone was raised by supportive or well-educated or instructive parents. We haven’t always been around positive family and friends. While growing up, some of us didn’t receive the attention and encouragement we deserved in classrooms from teachers. While our parents were sometimes struggling to make ends meet, or being challenged by more obstacles than we experience today, we haven’t always had the most positive view of the world. Unfortunately, we can even be negative about ourselves. Sometimes we assume that the challenges we are facing have been set before us because we are Black or women. While this may or may not be true, we may become paralyzed with anger or fear because of our own beliefs. We can get in our own way by deciding that “they’re out to get me,” or “they just don’t understand or value me,” and that nothing can be done about it. Look beyond skin color and don’t focus on it. We cannot let differences, or what others think or feel, get in the way of achieving our leadership goals. Despite the negative forces around us or inside us, we must overcome them as we embark upon this journey. We have to be positive and view the world in a positive light. For not to be positive would be to give up all hope. We are a strong and spiritual people. We have survived through the ages with physical strength and the strength of our minds. Negative thinking that creates negative emotions can lead to stress, anger, and hostility, as well as disease. So keep your thinking positive.
Write a list of your good qualities and assets in your PLN. Place positive messages to yourself around your home, tape them to your dresser and medicine cabinet mirrors. Read them out loud and often. Carry them with you in your purse and keep them in your desk drawer at the office and refer to them as a reminder whenever necessary. Refresh or update these positive messages or affirmations to yourself on an as- needed basis. Even if you’ve been in your position for years, look at today as if it’s your first day on the job and immerse yourself in positive thinking.
m There’s nothing in the world you can’t do once you put your mind to it.
m Always take the high road.
m Stay on course and expect to be successful.
m Positive energy yields a positive attitude.
m Hold your head up high.
Racism Is No Excuse, but It Can Be a Motivator
As a Black women in America, you will be confronted by or exposed to racism, but instead of getting angry, letting it defeat you, get the best of you, keep you down, prevent you from growing, exploring, realizing your full potential, and manifesting your dreams, use racism as a motivator to accomplish your goals.
Allow the racism that exists to move you in a forward direction and make you all the more determined to achieve your goals so that no outside forces throw you off balance and make you lose focus on what it is you set out to achieve. In this case, your objective is to acquire the skill sets necessary to become a good leader, a better leader in the workplace.
A recent Harvard University study reveals that while most fair-minded managers judge you according to your merits, there are some who judge you according to unconscious stereotypes and attitudes. It’s the kind of prejudice that is not overt. It’s prejudice that’s subconscious and made through associations that are learned early on. Things commonly associated with each other like thunder and lightning, or gray hair and old age, don’t always coexist.
From the Hardcover edition.