True north

Tara and I shared a lovely moment yesterday.

At dinner last night, with her mouth stuffed with bread, she started complaining about something. Since I discourage speaking with a mouth full of food, I visibly ignored her complaints. She ran to Agam and kept uttering some words that made no sense to either of us. Suddenly the mood switched from playful to trauma. Tara had tears in her eyes, and she looked at me with a pleading face and kept repeating her words.

Now Tara in tears is not the problem here. She is a pro at fake tears. The problem was – these were real tears. And as her mother, I knew she was struggling with something. As a baby, Tara rarely cried. She was fed, changed and cuddled way before her thresholds would peak. And even as a toddler, she has had tantrums, but not a lot of serious crying. I can tell from her eyes if she is faking it, which is usually the case. But that was not the case last night.

I saw in her eyes, a certain fear of not being understood. The trauma of not getting through to her parents, and the desperation of getting her point across. It was the first time I saw her in such a situation. And as soon as Agam figured out what she was saying, we all took a deep sigh and I hugged my Tara close and tight.

At that moment, I saw myself in Tara’s eyes. For the past two weeks,  I have been in the same situation as she was. I feel like no one is understanding what I am saying. And unfortunately, unlike her, I don’t have enough people around me who are willing to understand my perspective. Unlike Tara, my story is not going to end in hugs. But that’s besides the point.

Tara and I are more than three decades apart in age, and yet we experienced the same emotion. I am so glad I could empathize with her feelings in that moment. Decoding human emotions is a powerful skill. The hug was the right cure for her.

Another powerful skill is authenticity, especially for women.

I am a few chapters into a very inspiring and reassuring book, Discover your true north, by Bill George. I heard about the author at a HBS Executive Ed Graduation event in Boston, earlier this year. My brother-in-law attended a class by Bill, as part of his program at Harvard, and I ended up chatting with him about authenticity in leadership, and that being a challenge with women leaders in particular.

More so for women, because most of them assume that to be an effective leader, they need to behave like a man. And in doing so, they don’t stay true to their values and fail to be authentic in their leadership styles. I have seen a good range of women leaders and there are very few who shine through as exemplaries. In fact, if I look back, I can only recall two out of at least fifty or so, that I distinctly admire, and continue to learn from. We need more authentic women leaders.

I am such a sucker for authentic leadership. I am attracted to it like a magnet, and I get easily turned off if a leader is being fluffy. It was really hard to find authentic leaders at Deloitte. Salesforce was a mixed bag. But at Google I am fortunate to have encountered a few. Those are the one’s to follow and emulate. 

I don’t know when and if I will discover my true north, but I do know that Authenticity and Empathy will be my guiding stars along my journey.

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