When Life Gives You Lululemon(s): Finding Your Leadership Voice

“When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Bell

I’ve had the privilege of being a Lululemon Ambassador for the past 2 years and have officially transitioned into a Legacy Ambassador. These past 2 years have flown by and I’ve often felt that I didn’t utilize my time as an Ambassador as well as others. Was it because most of my term as an Ambassador coincided with me going back to the University of Montevallo as a full time graduate student? Was it because my work schedule didn’t always allow me to join in with the Sweat groups during the week? Was it because most of my weekends were spent logging long, lonely miles in the woods? I’m sure I could insert a million reasons why I don’t feel like I took advantage of the ambassadorship like I should, but it’s hard for me to actually dwell on the negative.

So what were the positives of being a Lululemon Ambassador? Well having some rad ass photos on display in the store was pretty sweet…

pics: James Acomb

Getting swagged out (especially the shorty shorts) from head to toe in some of the best clothes imaginable was pretty stellar…

But the things that radiated more than anything else were the culture and the people.

Lululemon’s progressive mindset shines through in every aspect within their culture. Lululemon does an exceptional job at promoting wellness and a positive mindset. They genuinely want to better the community that surrounds them, and they truly invest in peoples lives.

Out of the entire 2 years I spent as an Ambassador for Lululemon, the biggest take away for me was from a Leadership Accelerator and Coaching Program that I had the opportunity to participate. The program focuses on elevating your leadership capacity through the cultivation of self-awareness, development of healthy work/rest rhythms, deepening effective communication, maximizing and multiplying influence and personal vision and value alignment. This amazing pilot program was spearheaded by Alexis Girvan.

In January 2019, I had just made some big life changes when I started back to the University of Montevallo to pursue my master’s degree in counseling. The counseling program in itself has been nothing short of life changing and it paired gracefully with the Leadership Accelerator program that Lululemon piloted in February 2019.

Other than black coffee and maybe a scrumptious blueberry muffin, I didn’t really know what to expect when I rolled into Innova Coffee shop for the first Accelerator program. The setting was intimate and relaxed and I was surrounded by some truly amazing and inspiring individuals. We didn’t waste much time before deep diving into the program. The first of five Leadership Accelerators was probably the most profound and impactful for me.

Alexis turned on the PowerPoint and I read the title: Discovering Your Leadership Voice. Leadership voice? What the hell is a leadership voice? I thought to myself, “well I definitely don’t have a strong leadership voice.” To a degree, I think we’ve all been conditioned to have a vision of what a leader looks like. Most of the time we picture a strong, respected individual standing in front of a crowd getting others fired up…

But leadership doesn’t always look that way. I’ve learned that sometimes it looks like a scrawny guy on the bed of a truck in pink sequin shorts, a lime green fuzzy vest and a blue wig…

I’ve always been told that I was a leader but have always found it hard to picture myself as one… especially not someone that’s leading the charge into battle. I’ve always found myself to be that quiet lil cheerful dude in the middle of things, just being encouraging, supportive and celebrating other people’s achievements. Well… turns out… that’s a type of leader as well.

Counselors and assessments go hand in hand, so I was thrilled to be going through assessments regarding my leadership voice. The program is insightful in the simple fact that you get to explore not only your leadership voice, but you get the opportunity to deep dive into the other remaining leadership voices. By understanding and learning the values of other leadership voices, you can understand how to better communicate with each type of voice. It allows you to look objectively at each voice and see which ones you pair with best, as well as which voices you may have conflict. The voices that you typically have the most trouble pairing with are called Nemesis Voices. By learning more about each type of leadership voice, you can understand what each voice needs to feel empowered, what types of behavior to observe and how to work effectively with each type. Not only is this beneficial from a leadership standpoint, it can be extremely beneficial in intimate, friendship and casual relationships.

The program suggests that there’s 5 different types of leadership voices: (1) The Pioneer, (2) The Connector, (3) The Guardian, (4) The Creative, and (5) The Nurturer. Wanna take a stab at what I am? If you even remotely know me, I’m guessing you picked #5 – The Nurturer. Bingo.

The next few paragraphs or so are almost directly from the leadership voice Accelerator workbook so don’t paint me as some profound writer just yet.

So what exactly does a Nurturer leadership voice sound like? Well firstly, it’s the quietest of the leadership voices. Nurturers intuitively feel how an organization and people will react to a new idea. They defend values and people will always come before profit. They function as the relational oil inside teams and organizations. They genuinely delight in celebrating the achievements of others, are natural team players and they rarely value the contribution they make. People, relational harmony and values are the things that matter the most to Nurturers. Nurturers can be empowered by letting them speak first, affirming their competence and the genuine value of their contribution.

Understanding the Nemesis Voices is just as, if not more important than understanding your own leadership voice. The Nemesis Voice of a Nurturer is the Creative and the Pioneer. Creatives are the second quietest leadership voices. They are the conceptual architects and love to think outside of the box. They typically function as “early warning rad systems” for teams and often see opportunities and dangers long before anyone else. They’re never satisfied with the status quo and inherently believe things can always be better. They exhibit strong social conscience and easier for personal and organizational integrity. They often struggle with the fact that “people never seem to fully understand my ideas.” Being internal perfectionists, they often fail to celebrate the 90% that’s been achieved and instead remain focused on the 10% that hasn’t. Creatives can struggle to communicate effectively and have idealist perfectionist tendencies. Creatives can be empowered by not judging them on what they say first, but help them communicate their ideas and let them know it’s ok to be wrong sometimes. The other Nemesis Voice of a Nurturer is the Pioneer. Pioneers approach life with an “anything is possible” attitude and visioning/shaping a scalable future is always the highest priority. Winning is a massive driver for them and they hate to give up. Their military type thinking makes them incredibly effective at aligning people, systems and resources. They are powerful communicators, using logic and rationality to provide an attractive and compelling vision of the future. The immature Pioneer can often appear very arrogant with a “me focused” almost narcissistic agenda. They quickly dismiss any contributions of those they don’t believe to be competent or experienced. Pioneers can lack sensitivity, be unwilling to listen and be perceived as arrogant. Pioneers don’t need much empowerment but can be empowered by affirming their competence.

I remember walking out of the first Accelerator with a renewed self confidence and feeling liberated as leader. It helped me realize what I need from other people in order to be successful as a leader. For a Nurturer, there’s a need to feel valued and appreciated. They need people to invest and believe in them even when they don’t feel like they’re good enough. They need people to spend quality time with them, get to know them on a deeper level and join them in caring for others even when it’s not perceived as important.

The Accelerator also gave leadership insights for a Nurturer. One example was that people choose you (Nurturers) to lead because they believe in you and it’s important to act accordingly knowing that you belong. Another is that people see you as a highly skilled professional so it’s about damn time to start believing it yourself. These are 2 things that have often been an internal struggle for me. Because I have never had a set career path, I’ve never really thought of myself as a professional. Now that I have direction and pursuing a career in the counseling world, I’m starting to view my training and education as more of an asset and view myself on a more professional level.

Even after 3 years of leading hikers for the Alabama Make A Wish Trailblaze Challenge, I still catch myself feeling inadequate in many ways. It’s really taken me until this year to truly believe and realize maybe I’m not as inadequate as I make myself believe at times. The Accelerator has also given me the insight that people trust my judgement and genuinely want to hear my opinion and this can be a springboard for influence in a way that I can speak the truth kindly.

It’s also given me insight on ways that I use my Nurturer ways in negative ways. For example, removing or not giving as much of my love, support and encouragement within an existing relationship is a way that I utilize my leadership voice to distance myself or show disapproval. After becoming aware of this, I’ve had a chance to look objectively at my own existing relationships and I can see where at times, this has taken place. The same goes for new relationships or people that I don’t necessarily like as well as others. Everyone I meet is going to get a baseline of myself in one shape or form. Even when I’ve been wronged, I still find myself showing respect and courtesy. I honestly feel that every single human I cross paths with will be treated fairly and with common courtesy. Regardless, everyone will get a baseline support, encouragement, love and trust from me. Obviously people I care for more will get higher doses and people I care for less will get just the baseline but I think the most important feature of this knowledge is the awareness that comes with it. Now that I know this is how I tend to distance myself, I’ve found myself becoming aware when it’s happening and can take a self-assessment of the “why” I’m doing it. This insight has honestly helped me to love people better and this awareness has given me the opportunity to catch myself red handed in the act, re-asses and show a bit more grace in certain situations.

I’m extremely thankful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the Lululemon family as an Ambassador and looking forward to continuing to be a part of the family in a different role. The people I’ve met and the growth that has resulted from this opportunity will always stay with me. When I think of closing the door on this chapter of my life, I won’t look at the door with regret. I’ll look at the door as an end of a pathway that enhanced my life and set me up to reach out for the next doorknob.

pic: James Acomb

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