Oh dear. I think I’m having palpitations. Just give me a minute.

Breath in. Breath out. In. Out. In. Out.

Okay – calmer now.

My heart started racing when I came across an article that seemed to be pretty insulting to women in leadership (and men to be honest).

Poster setting a deadline

But it’s not what it seems. The poster is in a satirical blog post by Sarah Cooper titled 9 Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies for Women. She’s written a book along the same lines, ‘How to be successful without hurting men’s feelings’.

Fortunately, instead of going with my first instinct to bash out a social media putdown, I hesitated long enough to see that it’s satire. And then I laughed.

It IS funny but like most humour, it comes from truth and it’s also serendipitously aligned to what I set out to explore:

Why are we reluctant to use our true voice?

Cooper is writing about the workplace but this challenge to be steadfast in expressing ourselves isn’t confined to our professional lives.

In Am I wishy-washy?, I wrote how a throwaway comment from my son showed me that my ‘even-handed’ approach to conflict was more about fear of rejection than honouring my values.

I got responses to this post than to anything I’ve written recently.  

I’ve been accused of being a ‘fence sitter’ previously, and always put it down to seeing both sides of the story… and not wanting to offend anyone. After reading your article, I wonder if there is more to it, such as, not wanting to be disliked for my opinion – ouch!’

Paula’s comments got me thinking about our fear of offending or being disliked.

It’s something that’s been made even more potent by the proliferation of digital platforms.

We know how easy it is to jump on the keyboard in the heat of emotion and shoot out an idea that’s half-baked.

We know that opinions can echo around the globe at lightning speed and have devastating consequences.

We don’t want to be those people – so we back away from our true voices.

But our true voices matter, especially now. 

There is too much at stake for us to hold back, not just politically but for our professional and personal development.  We owe it to ourselves and those around us to be resolute and vocal when we believe in something.

To take on an attitude of leadership and carry it through with authenticity and tenacity.

To have a voice and not be afraid to use it.

The key to unlocking our self-imposed barriers is changing the way we look at things.

Unless someone has told us outright that they don’t like our opinions and therefore don’t like us, that reality exists only in our mind.

But because we’re pretty good at seeing what we think is there, we can usually find ‘evidence’ that supports our theory. It becomes self-fulfilling.

If we can pause for a moment to first recognise that we are making a choice in how we view the behaviour of others, it gives us the chance to make different choices.

We can choose to view others differently.

We can look for signs that they are interested in hearing a different viewpoint. That they may actually admire us for using our true voice, even if they don’t always agree with us.

We can choose to see ourselves differently.

We can look down and see that we are standing on solid ground because we DO have expertise and credibility. And we can remember that for any who disagree with us, there will be others who agree – and they are entitled to hear our voice.

We can choose to see a different outcome.

We can open ourselves up to the possibility that taking a risk and being bold just might pay off. It happens for others – why not for us?

It happened for one of my favourite bloggers.

As I was in the process of writing and rewriting this, a newsletter from marketing writer Mark Schaeffer landed in my inbox.

In a piece titled, ‘Ten years of blogging’Mark was reflecting on how and why he’s found success since he started out.

I also took a risk with my opinions. As a new blogger — but with nearly 30 years of business experience — I was unique. So I started leveraging that experience in my writing and the response was profound. I had found an audience, or, more accurately, my audience had found me. And the bolder I was, the more the audience grew. I was rewarded for just being me, an important lesson for us all today.

It’s worth repeating – ‘Rewarded for just being me.’

Did Mark worry that people would reject him for his views?

Maybe but he didn’t let it silence him.

Sarah Cooper had doubts too.

Before turning to comedy writing full-time, she worked at Google where she picked up on the ridiculous things people do in an office environment. She wrote a blog post called 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings.

I was scared to share it at first because I didn’t want my coworkers to think that I was making fun of them—which I totally was. But then afterwards I had people coming up to me like, “I have a meeting trick! Put my meeting trick in your next post!” 

That post led to her first book, and now she’s on number two – the satire on women’s leadership (that went over my head at first #feelingfoolish).

She was scared?

Yes but bold too. It’s a good message for us, isn’t it?