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Rethinking Leadership and Expressing Vulnerability

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Beth Anstandig

Before you can lead others. You have to lead you.

If you are taking care of your own needs, listening to your own needs, leading yourself through your day and through your life with some stability, then you are able to actually lead others. Whether that’s on a small scale with a couple of people or an entire organization, or whether that’s at home leading our families or in our communities leading a group of friends. Leadership first and foremost starts with how I am taking care of my own needs. How am I leading myself?

Yet the typical idea of leadership is about leading others. Setting an intention and a vision. Setting direction and pace. Yes, that needs to happen. But underneath those actions, leaders have to make sure they’re taking care of themselves so they can do all those things stably. And leaders have to remember, it’s not about doing all those things alone. We don’t stop having needs as we step up the leadership ladder.

Yet, shame in needing others exists. I talk about this with clients all the time. They reach a certain level where they believe they’re expected to know everything and do it all on their own. They’re afraid to admit they still need others, and they still need support. They’ve become a one-person closed system, who only knows what they know and only sees what they see. That’s a limited perspective and it’s not safe.

Like all of us, leaders need to know it’s okay to express vulnerability because when you do that, you’re demonstrating that you need others. That you want someone to talk and think things through with you. Most of the successful leaders that I work with have identified “thought partners” on their teams.

If a leader isn’t talking about how to need others and isn’t teaching that it’s okay, then it’s not being mentored, and it’s not being role modeled. We learn generationally. We learn how to take care of ourselves by watching how our elders take care of themselves. So, leaders have to show people that still have needs and that they still lean into others for support with those needs.

Our self-care is at the root of our leadership and partnership with others. Regardless of our relational role, hierarchy, or setting, our self-leadership and the care for our mammalian self is everything. So much of the work of Natural Leadership is about sensing the mammal within and listening and attending to what is being communicated. Leadership starts with you.

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