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How to integrate your life experience into your leadership practice

I was inspired on my walk earlier this week!

On her podcast, Dare to Lead, Brene Brown had a fascinating conversation with actor, director, and activist America Ferrera. 

Rather than being jaded by Hollywood and her fame, America Ferrera is introspective, thoughtful, and articulate. It was a joy to listen to her muse about her life and personal experiences. 

The part of their conversation that inspired me the most was the concept of integration

 What does integration mean?

American Ferrera - Bring Your whole self to work with pride, Photo 25586247 / America Ferrera © Sbukley |

Well, it means that you, as a leader, bring your whole self to work with pride. You literally integrate every aspect of your life, your experiences, your talents, your strengths, your failures, your mishaps, and even your scrappiness into your leadership practice. 

Let me give you an example. 

Drama has been a passion of mine since I was about eight years old. I was even a drama major at a school for the arts in high school. Yes, like Fame or Glee…but there was much less dancing on the tables!! 

While I am not a professional actor, I have always been grateful for the ways that I have been able to integrate my acting experience into my profession. My drama training has helped me to feel confident delivering a keynote on a stage in front of hundreds of people. It allows me to engage an audience in a zoom workshop. It provides me with the ability to be really collaborative and build high-trust relationships within my team. 

What happens when we don’t integrate our whole selves into our work lives? 

Well, according to Brene Brown, when we ignore or hide key aspects of our true self from our lives and work, we start to feel edgy and exhausted. 

So, here are some key questions that you can ask yourself to ensure that you integrate each of your life experiences into your leadership practice:

  1. Which of your life experiences, both positive and challenging, have helped you to achieve all of your successes in your career? 
  2. What did you learn from your biggest screwup?
  3. What makes you quirky, and how can you bring that part of yourself to your leadership practice?
  4. What have you learned when you asked for help?
  5. What have you learned when you didn’t ask for help?
  6. What did you do to overcome a situation when you were nervous or scared?
  7. What do your friends love most about you?
  8. What do you love most about yourself?
  9. What are you better at than most people?
  10. What is your unique way of motivating your team?

This concept of integration is transformative.

It means that you don’t compartmentalize who you are.

It means that you don’t hide any parts of yourself at work.

Rather, you leverage your war wounds, baggage, and personal experiences with pride.

It is these qualities that make you empathetic, unique, and really special.

It is these qualities that make you the best leader possible. 

 What can you do to integrate more of who you really are into your role as a leader? 

Vanessa Judelman

Vanessa Judelman is an author, coach, and sought-after leadership expert. Over the past 20 years, she has created a proven formula to develop results-oriented leaders who feel empowered and confident in their job. Vanessa is the author of Mastering Leadership: What It Takes to Lead in Today’s Fast-Paced World. Order your copy here.

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