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Courage, authenticity, vulnerability, and... introversion? This combination of traits does make a great leader, but it’s probably not the first association most of us have with leadership.
In this episode of the Leadercast Podcast, we talked to Luvvie Ajayi—writer, self-described “professional troublemaker” and upcoming speaker at Leadercast Women 2019—about how she stays authentic while keeping aligned with her online persona.
“I don’t spend a lot of time doubting myself,” says Luvvie. “That, in itself, is a type of courage.” Read on for a look inside the episode, which you can also listen to above. TWEET
We question ourselves a lot. But if we hinder ourselves with too many questions about how we move through the world, we end up taking ourselves out of the game before the game even starts. “My courage is just me ensuring that I am not spending too much time beating myself up,” says Luvvie.
She didn’t always radiate authenticity like she does today. It took time for her to learn not to define herself by what others thought of her. “We have to unlearn the things that the world says we are or says we aren't good enough,” she says. “It’s a practice to insist on being who you are.” TWEET
Because—and this is key—you can’t control whether or not others accept you. If people may not like you even if you tried to be someone different, why not just be yourself?
Luvvie is well-known in the public eye, but she’s also still herself. “I don't let visibility change how I show up in the world authentically,” she says. Her fame isn’t a reason to start doubting everything she does.
She calls it a futile effort to try to dictate how others see us. “It doesn't matter if you are the kindest person on the face of the earth, there will still be somebody who does not like you. It's a fact,” she says. “Our jobs are to be who we are in the most thoughtful way possible.” TWEET
At age 9, Luvvie’s family moved from Nigeria to the U.S., where she experienced being the new girl for the first time. Other kids brought sandwiches to school, and she brought jollof rice, which her peers told her smelled “weird.”
“They don't like the jollof rice? I'm still gonna eat it,” she remembers. How people see you isn’t something you can control.
The illusion that leaders have to be extroverts is simply wrong. Luvvie explains that, as an introvert, she gives her energy to people; when she’s out of energy, she needs to be alone to recharge. “Being an introvert is not about being shy,” she says. “When I'm around crowds, I'm giving my energy away.” TWEET
She has to be sensitive to the fact that she has a limited amount of “peopling” in her before she needs to recharge. Based on her social media presence, people might expect her to be the life of the party, but in person, she spends a lot of time observing the room. It’s not that she’s not warm, it’s that she’s calm.
“I'm not the girl who just did a thousand-person engagement, shook all these hands, signed all these books—and then I'm going to go party,” she explains. “I had an amazing time doing it, so now I'm going to go sit in my room so I can get back the energy.”
It can be hard to balance “peopling” with others’ expectations, but doing so is essential to authenticity. After an international flight, Luvvie says she was taking five minutes backstage to eat before her speaking engagement and someone asked for her picture.
“I had to say, ‘Hey, could we take a picture after I get offstage because I haven't eaten. So this is my chance to eat,’” she shares. It’s an example of not saying no to a fan while recognizing that after a 16-hour flight, she deserves time to eat and recharge.
Vulnerability is being honest in a moment when you have no guarantee that your honesty will be celebrated or even tolerated. “Not enough of us are vulnerable publicly,” Luvvie says. “Not enough of us show what it's like to be really transparent and honest, especially in the tough moments.” TWEET
She’s deliberately built honesty into her brand and reputation with the aim that people will identify her as someone who speaks what they’re feeling but may be afraid to say aloud.
Over the years, as her platform has grown, Luvvie’s responsibility for vulnerability has grown, too. It doesn’t change how she speaks or who she is. “It compels me to always be better because I'm more responsible for what I say because now more people are seeing it,” she says.
If she only inspired one person (though she’s already inspired many), Luvvie says that vulnerability is worth it. “I'm hoping that people see me being who I am, being this black Nigerian woman who says what she's feeling and talks about her journey in a transparent way,” she shares. “I'm hoping other people see me and say, ‘Well, because she's doing it, I know it's possible for me, too.’”
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Connect with Luvvie Ajayi on social media, read her book, I’m Judging You, or listen to her podcast, Rants and Randomness. You can also hear her speak live at Leadercast Women 2019, taking place Oct. 18 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta and broadcast to locations around the globe. Get your ticket for the Atlanta event, or find a location near you.