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Leadership and Identity Autobiography

Erin Lewis
Seattle University
SDAD 579: Student Development Capstone Seminar
Professor Diaz
February 14, 2014

Leadership and identity autobiography
My identity as a female is one of the mostif not the mostsalient of all my identities,
and it is the one that I related to at the earliest age. From the very beginning of my life, my
parents instilled in me the mindset that I could do anything that I wanted. My dad, a computer
programmer, pushed me towards math and science from a very young age. He did this for a
couple of reasons, the first being that I displayed a talent for math and science in my very first
round of tests in first grade. The second reason he encouraged my analytical mind is because he
understood the doors that would be open to me as a woman in the science, technology,
engineering and math fields. My dad often asked me to help him with building projects in his
shop in the garage, encouraging me to play with the wood scraps and build projects of my own. I
knew how to properly use a hammer by the time I was in kindergarten, and I could tell you the
difference between a Phillips and a flathead screwdriver around that age as well. Some of my
earliest memories are of helping my dad use the ShopVac to clean up the wood dust in the garage
and pushing a large broom around to get all the scraps off the floor.
My mom was pleased that I grew up as a very active little girl. She was thrilled that I
loved soccer and softball as much as I loved my ballet classes. In the summers, my sister and I
helped my mom work in the yard, built our lattice fence, and played catch in the front yard. My
mom was an athlete all through high school, so playing sports was a given for me and my sister.
I do not remember crying very much as a little girl, and I definitely was raised to not be a whiner.
My mom did not let me or my sister wear make-up until we began high school, and this was fine
with me because I always had at least one sports practicesometimes twoevery day after
school and make-up would just get in the way. I had beautiful skin, my mom told me, and it
would be a shame to make it break-out by putting make-up on it. Tight jeans, short tops and
skirts, and straightened hair were all things that were highly discouraged by my mom. She
encouraged me and my sister to be natural because we were both beautifuljust the way we
Currently, I have great appreciation for the way my parents raised me. They did not force
gender norms on me, and not only was I allowed to play competitive sports, play in the
woodshop with my dad, and get super dirty when I played outside, I was actually encouraged to
do all of these things. Yet, eventually a time came where I was interested in make-up, wearing
more traditionally feminine clothes to school, and spending time on my hair in the mornings.
However, my parents held off as long as possible on these activities. My mom never wanted to
stifle my natural self, yet she did not want me to be overly feminine. My parents raised me to be
strong and outspoken and to always fight for what I believe in. I suppose they figured that being
girly would get in the way of that. Now, I appreciate them because I am definitely not a push-
over and I ask for what I want and need because I have never known anything different.
Most of the women in my family are strong and outspoken. They also have a tendency to
live well into their nineties, which is a great family trait to inherit! The men in my family have
some pretty serious genetic heart conditions and have a tendency to pass away between fifty and
seventy. This means that the women in my family will live half of their lives without their
partners, parents, and sometimes children. This genetic condition, I believe, is part of the reason
the women in my family are so strong, independent and self-sufficient. We know we are going to
need to have the skills and ability to do everything ourselves because our dads, husbands, and
brothers are likely not going to be around as long as we are.
My dad passed away on the same day that I was accepted to Seattle University after a
long battle with health issues that stemmed from congenital heart disease. My dad was sick for
more or lessthe entirety of my life, and I began to hold back my emotions at a very young age.
My dad was going through so much that I did not feel it was right to complain about anything
because he always had it so much worse. This led to me internalizing a lot of my emotions and
becoming less skilled at communicating my emotions to others. I have ended many relationships
because I lacked the ability to open up, be vulnerable, and effectively communicate with my
partner, so it was easier for me to just leave. But when my dad died, I realized that life is not
worth living if you do not have people you love to share it with.
I decided then that I would embark on a journey of self-discovery and take time to
intentionally discover who I was as a person. It is a common stereotype that women like to talk
about their feelings all the time, and I think people did not know what to do when they met me
a woman who had no intention of sharing my feelings. Yes, I would show anger and frustration
and joy, but never sadness or depression or any other emotion that would make me vulnerable. I
would turn any situation into a joke in order to avoid actually dealing with the feelings that I
tried so hard to suppress. It may sound a bit silly, but my entire life changed when I took MGMT
575: Leading With Emotional Intelligence (EQ). That class gave me a new perspective on what it
means to be a woman leading with emotional intelligence. I have always considered myself to be
perceptive of others, but I realized that I was not perceptive of myself. My self-awareness
skyrocketed in that class, and I can see my leadership becoming more and more effective with
my students, coworkers, and friends as I continue pursuing this EQ journey of self-awareness.
My identity as a female is key to my effectiveness as an educational leader. The field of
educationhigher education includedhas a disproportionate number of females overall in the
workforce, but many of the higher-level positions are still held by men. As an entry-level
professional, my female identity may potentially hinder my chances at getting the job that I want
because there are so many females in the field. My mom is an educator, and I do not think that it
is a coincidence that both my sister and I ended up going into the education field. I have a
passion for education and for the student experience, and I have no doubt that I can make a
difference for students and help improve their overall college experience. Additionally, my deep
passion for and dedication to EQ will continue to benefit for me as I pursue professional student
development work.
I absolutely foresee roadblocks in my future, in part due to my female identity. I want a
seat at the table, and it is more challenging for women to be taken seriously and to be valued as
they move up the ladder than men. However, my leadership skills and my focus on fostering
personal relationships with my coworkers and students will play a major role in overcoming
these roadblocks and may potentially even steer me onto a path that I was not aware of before.
The idea that my life has to be planned out is one that I rid myself of earlier this year, and it is
amazing how many doors are open to me now that I had not previously considered.

Major values and themes
In discussing my values and potential themes that come from my female identity, I will
first begin by providing my personal and professional mission statements:
Personal mission statement
I am an individual who values communication and responsibility above all else, and they
are my core values. They encompass many of the others that I find to be significant navigators
for my life such as honesty, commitment, integrity, and respect. I am intrinsically motivated to
uphold these values in my daily life, and I rely heavily on them to develop and foster deep and
meaningful relationships. Guided strongly by my core values, I strive to bring my authentic self
to every situation. I seek challenges and am constantly setting new goals to improve myself. My
strong desire for learning and understanding guides me to seek out diverse perspectives, unique
experiences, and people who are different from me. Not only am I committed to developing my
intellectual intelligence, but also my emotional intelligence. Believe that understanding ones
self is the key to understanding others, and I seek constant emotional growth so that I can live
authentically and in harmony with others.
Professional mission statement
I strive to create inclusive communities and meaningful relationships within my
profession. I bring to the table a strong work ethic that is supported by my core values of
communication and responsibility. Every studentand every personhas unique talents, and I
seek to help them develop their strengths and believe fully in their leadership abilities. By
creating continued opportunities for personal and professional development, I am an empowered
professional who is confident in my skills, talents, and strengths. Leading with my strengths
and helping others do the sameis a passion that I strive to implement in my daily work. As a
professional, I have come to understand the importance of self-awareness and identity in the
work I do, and I seek to help students discover themselves and constantly evolve into their best
selves. My passion for motivating and mentoring students energizes me daily, and I strive to help
them become critical thinkers and independent individuals who are always eager to learn more
about themselves, others and the world. Finally, I value the process as well as the final product. I
believe that the road we travel, personally and professionally, is just as life-giving and affirming
as accomplishing the end goal.
Values and themes
The first value that I will address that comes from my female identity is communication.
This value is critically important to me not only personally, but also in my leadership and in my
professional capacity. Communication navigates my entire life; it affects the relationships that I
develop and keep, it determines how well I work with my coworkers and students, and it guides
my thoughts and actions. I think there are certain assumptions that women are natural
communicators and that they are better at communicating than most men. I disagree with this
stereotype. For me, communication can be challenging because they way others perceive my
communication is the way they are going to shape their story about who I am and what is
important to me. Being crystal clear, being confident, and being direct in my communication in
my personal life and my professional life is something that I strive for at all times.
I have been provided with some great critical feedback regarding my communication
style over the years. One thing that folks have pointed out is that I have a tendency towards
perfectionism, so I will internally process my thoughts and wait quite a while before sharing
them aloud. I choose to do this because I want to make sure I fully form my thoughts before
saying them aloud; however, in situations where I am looked to as a leader or an authority figure,
I have been told that this can be intimidating. People can see that I am thinkingbecause my
face hides nothingand when it takes me a long time to respond during a discussion, this can be
viewed as being judgmental or intimidating. This is feedback that I have taken to heart and am
consciously focused on at all times. However, it also stemsin my opinionfrom a stereotype
that women are supposed to be filling people in about what they are thinking and feeling all the
time. So, when I do not do that it is confusing for people.
The second value that I will address that comes from my female identity is responsibility.
Responsibility was instilled in me from a very young age, and flakiness was simply
unacceptable. Responsibility for me takes many forms; it means being responsible for my
actions, it means being the person to take on challenges and then follow through on them, and it
also means living ethically and with integrity. One of the ways that my responsibility value
manifests itself in my daily life is through the fact that I take on a lot of responsibilities and roles
outside of simply being a student or an employee. I am someone who is always on extra
committees, going above and beyond the job description to do the best job possible, and taking
on additional leadership opportunities. I function at my best when my schedule is full, largely
because this requires me to be incredibly organized and manage my time effectively.
Not only do I value responsibility for myself, but I also expect it of others. This can prove
to be difficult sometimes because there is no bigger disappointment for me than a friend, family
member or coworker who lacks responsibility and follow through. As a woman, I feel the need to
be even more thorough and responsible because I constantly think people are looking at me,
waiting for me to drop the ball and then blame it on my the fact that I am a woman. It was too
stressful for you, you took on too much, you let your emotions get in the waynone of these are
comments I ever want to hear. I do understand, however, that I am my own worst critic and that
no one is judging my actions more harshly than I am. Too often women allow others to step in
and make decisions for them, and that is simply not my style, perhaps even to a fault. I am
stubborn and I want to be in control of my own situation and my own success. This is where
responsibility shines the most for me.
Lastly, I value mentorship and specifically the women who have served as wonderful
mentors for me. Women have the power and the ability to open doors for and pave the way for
other women, especially as they move up in their careers. It is very apparent that networking is a
critical component of professional development and upward mobility in a career, and mentoring
plays a significant role in networking for me. I have been privileged to have some incredible
female mentors throughout my life, beginning with sports coaches when I was younger and
moving to professional mentors currently. They have provided me with unwavering support both
personally and professionally, and they have also introduced me to several people who will
potentially play key roles in my career as a student development professional.
The mentoring program through SUSDA has been an invaluable experience for me for
many reasons, and it is a program that I value very highly. Not only do I have a strong personal
connection with my SUSDA mentor, but her mentor as well has played a significant role in my
life. The three of us, along with my SUSDA mentee, get together once a month for brunch and to
discuss internships, the job search, and life in general. It can be challenging for women to
advocate for themselves in certain situations, and it is wonderful to have strong female mentors
to not only advocate for you, but to also help you see in yourself what they see in you.

How values and themes manifest in leadership
Being a female who values communication, responsibility and mentorship has had a
strong effect of the way that I view and judge others in an educational environment. First of all, I
have a very strong-willed personality and I have no issue with speaking up for myself or
expressing my opinions. In educational environments, I have had plenty of men talk over me or
interrupt me when I am sharing my point of view. I previously viewed that as simply rude, but I
now view that as exerting their male dominance over me and my opinions. I work hard and I
have no doubt that if I earn a seat at the table that I will represent women well in that type of
environment. My opinions are well thought out and are worthy of being shared.
As I mentioned briefly above, I have very little patience for individuals who do not value
responsibility. I understand that communication is something that is learned and that many folks
struggle with this, so I am much more patient with this value than I am with responsibility. I
know how difficult it can be to work with students and coworkers who lack follow through and
choose to not take on responsibility in the workplace. I know that I will encounter more
individuals like this, and this is going to be a constant struggle for me professionally. If others
choose to not take on responsibility or tasks, I end up taking them on. Sometimes I even overstep
because I think I can do a better, more thorough job than others. Working on balancing my
perfectionism with the importance of delegating is something that I am really trying to work on.
Students are often not going to have the level of follow through that I do, they might not plan as
thoroughly as I would for a program or a workshop presentation, and I need to be okay with that.
Determining my bottom line definitely needs to be priority number one in working with students,
and then I need to allow them to have creative freedom so they can have ownership over their
own ideas, programs, and events.
As a woman who has serious ambition and drive, fear of failure is something that is
constantly on my mind. It is my perception that women in leadership positions have a great deal
more invested in each and every role they take on because they are constantly competing with
men who have been told their entire lives that they can do anything they want. Women leaders
are automatically one step behind because traditional gender roles tell them that the workplace is
meant for men, executive positions are meant for men, and high salaries are meant for men. I
also feel additional pressure because I am a woman who is unsure if I ever want to have kids, so
according to society I need to be extra successful in my career in order to make my decision to
not have children worth it. I do not buy into this idea, but on a societal level it is certainly
Additionally, many people view education as a womans profession because it is a
nurturing and caring profession. While this is absolutely trueand while it absolutely ties in
nicely with my mentoring valuethere is also nothing wrong with striving to be a high-level
woman in education. I strive to be an executive-level leader, with a seat at the table and a hand in
making policies on a college campus. Of course I enjoy caring for and nurturing students, and I
also seek high-level leadership in my career. This is a tough balance for me because so many of
the folks at the higher levels are men; among a room full of high-powered men, expressing
emotions or showing care for the students can be looked at as weakness. In reality, showing care
for students and showing emotions is simply showing vulnerability, and there is nothing weak
about vulnerability, especially if it is coming from a genuine and authentic place. I am learning
this slowly.
In terms of how my values affect my leadership style, I strive to be a supportive
supervisor to my students and to my coworkers. I value open, honest and direct communication;
that is how I prefer to receive feedback, and that is how I often choose to deliver feedback. I am
learning that not everyone appreciates direct feedback, so I am calling upon my individuation
strength (StrengthsFinder) to determine the best way to provide feedback and praise to each
individual student. I have a keen sense of students unique skills and talents, and I pride myself
on being able to bring out the best in them. Bringing out the best in them means giving them
feedback and appreciation in a way that is most meaningful for them, not for me.
One of the ways that my values benefit me with regard to my ability to lead a diverse
group of students is the fact that I value one-on-one relationships and individual communication,
as well as group communication. We all have stories about one another that occur as a result of
our perceptions and first impressions, and I also do my best to ask questions and have
conversations with students rather than make assumptions. In no way am I perfect at this, but I
have enough awareness of what it takes to manage relationships that I am fairly skilled at this.
People want to feel understood, and by taking the time to really get to know someone you are
showing that you care for them and they are much more likely to be honest with you in regards
to their needs.

Identity and leadership effectiveness
I honestly believe that I have the potential to be a very effective leader. I have a great
understanding of myself, my strengths, my values and things that are challenging for me, and
that is definitely the first step to being an effective leader. I am definitely aware of how my
identity as a woman affects my leadership. One limitation that comes out of the intersection
between my leadership and my female identity is the fact that I have a tendency to be defensive
about my choices; I take pride in thinking things through, therefore I can be defensive when
peoplespecifically menare critical of my decisions. My stubbornness can get in the way
sometimes, and I am also aware of that and working towards being less stubborn in situations
that are not critical.
In my opinion, there is nothing that makes you a more effective leader than having
effective communication skills. As a woman, clear and effective communication is even more
important. I have no desire to appear wishy-washy in my opinions, and I never want to give
others an opportunity to misunderstand or misinterpret what I am communicating. According to
my StrengthsFinder, communication is my top strength, so it is no surprise that I value it so
much. Responsibility is my second highest strength, and as a woman I think it is incredibly
important to take responsibility and effectively follow through on tasks. I thrive when provided
with opportunities for challenge and increased responsibility, and as a woman who strives for
executive leadership, these are important qualities to have.

Learning goals for the future
When I think about the future, things that I want to work on, and how my female identity
will continue to affect my leadership, there are several areas that I would like to focus on. I strive
to have a balance of caring/nurturing and assertive. I strive to have a balance of empathy and
high expectations. And I strive to have a balance of being process-oriented and goal-oriented. I
have much to learn still about myself even though I am generally very self-aware. I know what I
need to work on, and I still struggle with making progress on those things. Awareness,
knowledge and skills are things that we often discuss in the SDA program, and I am in the
knowledge phase at the moment. The next step is to develop the correct skills to be as effective
as I can be.
Additionally, there are so many things about my female identity that I do not currently
understand, and therefore do not understand the effect they may have on my leadership. I would
like to continue to explore this further. Part of my action plan for this is to further research
gender development theories. Theory is a weak point for me, and I strive to become more
knowledgeable in this area. One thing that I am never afraid to admit is that I have so much
farther to go in my own developmentas a woman, as a professional, and as a leader. I am
constantly working to improve myself on a daily basis, constantly reading and having
meaningful discussions with peers and students. I am definitely not too proud to admit there I
have a lot to learn. In fact, I am excited about all of the opportunities that I have to become a
more effective leader in my profession and in my life.