Leading with Authenticity: The Art of Self-Preservation for Women of Color in Academia

Higher Ed Leadership Series

In higher education leadership, self-preservation is the key to maintaining your authentic voice and physical and emotional well-being. The journey can be overwhelming for women of color who have recently transitioned into leadership roles. As you ascend from esteemed lecturers and tenured faculty members to more influential roles such as department chairs, heads of faculty, and deans, you’re not only changing titles; this is a profound shift in identity and responsibility. And yet, amid the accolades and recognition, a silent struggle persists – one that often goes unnoticed but is deeply impactful to the well-being of leaders: the battle with imposter syndrome.  

This article will be your guide, a beacon of support tailored for the remarkable women of color in leadership roles within higher education. In it, we’ll explore the art of self-preservation and provide valuable insights into setting healthy boundaries and navigating the challenges that come with leading in academia. Ready to lead with resilience, authenticity, and confidence? Let’s dive in! 

What is Self-Preservation?

At its core, self-preservation is a delicate balance between maintaining one’s authenticity and achieving professional success – a journey that can be as exhilarating as it is intimidating. You want to grow professionally without having to compromise your values for the appeasement of others. It’s a basic human instinct, often triggered by fear or pain. Self-preservation is a term used to describe the actions you take to protect your health, whether physical or emotional.

It can be as simple as eating breakfast so you start your day full of energy or (for some, more daunting, like) delegating your workload so you’re not overburdened with tasks to complete. In this context, we will look at the art of self-preservation in relation to leadership roles, specifically, how to effectively lead a team that supports you and in ways that align with your values. 

Learning Self-Preservation Skills

I’m willing to bet that self-preservation wasn’t taught as part of your leadership training (if you even had formal leadership training). I’ve seen these types of seminars offered time and time again in the corporate world, but if you’ve never worked in the corporate setting, how does one learn this kind of thing?

I’m here to help! First, we’ll jump into the basics; then, we’ll get into what skills form the bedrock of a resilient leader. Let’s explore the intricacies of self-preservation, empowering you, as a leader, to navigate the complexities of academia with grace and purpose. 

Understanding the Basics of Self-Preservation

Self-preservation begins with recognizing the need for balance in your life. As a leader in higher education, this involves learning essential skills such as setting healthy boundaries, delegating tasks effectively, and managing stress. 

Do you find yourself working long hours, spending too much time away from your family, or simply needing more time for yourself? Do you feel overburdened with work because you don’t feel confident delegating your workload?

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Leadership often comes with increased responsibilities, and setting clear boundaries becomes critical. You want to be there for your students and your faculty & staff, but you recognize that you also need to be able to get work done uninterrupted. Do you feel guilty if you have to pass up a speaking engagement? Anxious about not saying yes to every offer that comes your way for fear of being perceived as unambitious?

Learning to say no, understanding your limits, and prioritizing self-care are all critical skills to develop to set healthy boundaries properly. Understand that boundaries are not a weakness but rather a strategy for long-term success. You don’t have to say yes to everything that comes across your desk to prove that you’re worthy of your position.  

Delegating Work

Effective delegation is a skill that lightens the load and allows leaders to focus on strategic priorities. It also instills confidence in your team; you’ve trusted them to complete a task, allowing them to rise to the challenge. 

Recognizing your team’s strengths and trusting them with responsibilities fosters a collaborative and supportive work environment. You don’t have to do it all yourself, and you shouldn’t. 

Stress Management

The demanding nature of any leadership role can lead to increased stress, let alone one intermingled with the politics of higher education! Learning to manage stress is vital for maintaining your well-being. 

Practicing mindfulness, time management, and seeking support can make an immense difference in your overall mental and physical health. 

Why Are Self-Preservation Skills Necessary?

Why is mastering the art of self-preservation important? Because without these skills, you’ll continue to struggle as a leader. You deserve to realize your full potential, and learning self-preservation skills is another “secret” weapon to add to your arsenal. 

Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism

Transitioning into a new leadership role often triggers imposter syndrome, especially in women of color. We’re often the only one who looks like us in these roles, and the pressure to be perfect and the fear of inadequacy can lead to some self-sabotaging behaviors

Recognizing these challenges is the first step towards adopting healthier behaviors.   

The Need For Authentic Leadership

As I mentioned, the journey from lecturer to department chair comes with not only added responsibilities but also a shift in identity. It’s important to understand that authenticity in leadership is not only acceptable but an invaluable need. Embracing your values and aligning them with those in your new team will allow you to lead confidently and break free from the cycle of self-doubt.  

Strategies to Master Self-Preservation

It’s more than reading self-help books, consuming podcast content, and consulting your friends and family. To succeed, you need a strategic approach tailored to your specific needs. From the invaluable support of a leadership coach to fostering a robust support network, let’s explore some strategies that will help you master the art of self-preservation.

Hiring a Leadership Coach

One of the most effective strategies for navigating the complexities of leadership is hiring a leadership coach. A coach can provide personalized guidance, support, and the exact tools that you need to navigate the demands of your specific role in higher education leadership. 

Our coaching programs at Lead by Design Lab will not only help you enhance your leadership skills but also help you build the confidence you need to tackle any challenges that come your way, all while being supported by someone who has been through those same challenges with years of experience in the industry. 

Building a Support Network

Building a support network within the academic community is crucial and can be challenging – especially if you’ve just moved to an entirely new place to accept your position. Maybe you’ve left behind your support network and are struggling to build a new one. Maybe you feel like you’ve never had the right support network before – that’s okay! 

Prioritizing Self-Reflection

Taking time for self-reflection allows leaders to assess their goals, values, and progress. Regular self-reflection enhances self-awareness and promotes personal growth. It also helps you make more informed decisions that are aligned with your values. 

Empowering Women To Lead Authentically

Setting healthy boundaries, learning to delegate effectively, and mastering stress management are essential skills to have in your toolkit. Recognizing imposter syndrome as an adversary to leaders only highlights the importance of leading authentically – you are the only one who can do what you do the way you do it. Honor that.  

To my fellow women of color in higher education leadership roles: it’s time to embrace your worthiness, escape the grip of self-doubt, and recognize that your journey is unique. Your challenges are real, but so is your strength. The legacy you leave is not merely in titles and accolades but in the lives you impact and the trail you blaze for others to follow. 

Are you ready to embrace the value you bring to the table? Let’s connect!

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