Not given a Seat? Bring a Folding Chair!

I recently found this quote on the UN-Women-Medium page: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring your folding chair!” This was a famous phrase by Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the US Congress in 1968 and it was clearly addressed to women (she always declared to suffer more prejudice for being a woman than for being black).

It got me to think: I believe that today this advice is still quite valid and applicable, but not only to women and not always in a straightforward way.

This is what I have observed: the frequency of managers not daring to bring their metaphoric folding chair to the decision table seems to have increased; and even those who do have a seat are often choosing to place an avatar in the seat, in stead of their true self.

Almost every day there is at least one client, friend of colleague who tells me about their struggles with having or taking a seat; there appears to be a growing anxiety among both women and men, either junior or senior: the anxiety about not being enough, hence not daring to fully show up for who they really are.

Why is this so? At a risk of oversimplifying things, I would infer that this increase is a consequence of the pandemic, which makes us all more fatigued and more cautious.

In a VUCA (Volatile-Uncertain-Complex-Ambiguous) world, it is just human to feel more afraid or insecure and to behave more cautiously or defensively. With the pandemic, we are going through a crisis of unusual proportions in terms of both magnitude and duration. It’s been about a year since we started to grasp that the severity of the crisis was unprecedented and truly global. It’ s starting to take a big toll on all of us.

I think that the difficulties of showing up as fully real are simply manifestations of the classical fight-flight-freeze reaction to threats. Unfortunately, allowing our fears to take over and hijack our behaviour only makes us miserable. but once we know the origin of the problem, we can do something about it, specifically something gutsy that will make us feel great.

First of all, we must reset our physiology (take a few seconds to roll our shoulders backward, slow down breathing, shake and relax all muscles, unclench our teeth and smile; or go for a short walk if we can).

Then, depending on the typology of our instinctive reaction, we can start to feed our courage and focus on adjusting our behaviour. We can also use Brene Brown’s Wholeheartedly Inventory to help us choose the behaviour on which we need to focus more.

Here are the three classical typologies of VUCA-caused anxiety and what we can do to revert to be joyfully real, the best version of ourselves.

  1. “The Cool Avatar” (a FIGHT reaction): I have a seat at the decision table, and I used to have good business acumen. Now I do not know, I seem to have lost my compass, I keep asking my people for more data and more reports, I put everybody under pressure, hoping to find answers that probably do not exist; I do not want them to see my fears, so I put up a tough face and go with the motion; it is a negative spiral that eats up my motivation and everybody’s creativity. What I need to do is:
    • Laugh more and invite others to create alternatives, setting aside the need to always be in control
    • Rebuild my compass from my values, setting aside the need to comply for fear of losing the seat
    • Rest more and stop pursuing the myth of the super-busy, it does not add status, only tiredness and foggy ideas.
  2. “The Procrastinating Perfectionist” (a FLIGHT reaction): I want to be invited to the table, but only when I am fully ready, I am certainly not going to show up until I know everything and I have done everything, I am not going to blow it, I would feel too ashamed. What I need to do is:
    • Learn to accept that I need do it all or know it all, ad start appreciating the complementarity of others, thus improving collaboration.
    • Stop obsessing over the judgment of people, because the one who is really judging me most is myself; my shame is self-generated.
    • Cultivate my own uniqueness, letting go of trying to be like others.
  3. “The Hiding Avoider” (a FREEZE reaction): I insist that it is not the time to make decisions, I convince myself that I am the wisest by not committing; whether I have a seat or not, I bury myself in trivial tasks, so I have no time for making new decisions; I refuse to take a position on changes and rather continue to point at the lack of visibility, spreading anxiety and pessimism around me, so nobody can pinpoint the lack of progress to me. What I need to do is:
    • Cultivate positivity and gratitude, to regain the ability to see alternatives
    • Let go of no-value adding activities and focus on identifying what gives meaning to a day of work.

In order to emerge not only physically healthy, but also mentally sane, from the pandemic crisis, we need to cultivate the feeling of Self Worth that Brene Brown calls being “wholehearted”; this can give us the confidence and courage to be fully inclusive and inspiring leaders.

I hope you found these tips useful, let me know your comments.

Take care and continue to courageously
Lead with a Smile!

Laura Lozza
Managing Partner, Grooa AS
Registered company address: Manglerudveien 93, 0678 Oslo (Norway)
Visiting address: Grooa Inspiria Learning Center, Den Hiek 33, 5421XG Gemert (Netherlands)

At Grooa, we are focusing on Inclusive and Courageous Leadership, and we are launching two networking and growing programs in 2021:

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