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Become a Stronger Leader by Embracing Your Contradictions
A few years ago, I commissioned a painting from a member of our community, Cristina Kramp. In the painting, a woman is basking in the light of the sun, her face tipped back and hand stretched heavenward. The way her clothes and hair are flowing, it almost seems like she’s dancing — but at the same time, her feet are grounded on the earth.
When you look closer, you can see all the little details that make the painting magical. The ground is made up of words that are foundational to my life, knit together into a supportive whole. The sun is actually a mandala, which is inscribed with mantras that are important to me. The wind is filled with things I love, like dragons and cats and unicorns.
Every time I see this painting, it reminds me of a lesson I’ve been struggling to learn for years: balance. (If you’re curious to see the painting, Cristina wrote a lovely blog post about her process of creating it on her website.)
Sometimes I feel like my life could be seen as a story of contradictions. I’m a highly sensitive person who is super empathetic. But I’m also logical and a trained academic. In some situations, I’m introverted and shy, but in other situations, there’s a more extroverted part of me that blossoms and shines.
I can slide fairly well into one side or the other. From day to day I can operate in logical, action-oriented mode or in heart-centered, chill mode. I can be Achiever Angela or Goddess Angela.
Charlie and I have been together for almost 25 years, and he still sometimes jokingly says “I still don’t know which Angela I’m going to see from day to day.”
All my life I’ve felt like I lived in two different worlds, and I’ve struggled with how to handle these contradictions. I could step into one or the other, but I didn’t know how to navigate that messy border territory in the middle — especially when it came to how I showed up as a leader.
As a leader, should I come in harder, or a bit softer? Should I lean into the masculine or the feminine? The intuitive or the logical? The empathetic listener or the authority figure? The heart or the head?
Part of my journey over the last few years has been realizing that maybe my contradictions don’t have to be black and white. Maybe my strength as a leader comes not from one side or another, but from threading those contradictions and finding balance instead.
One of the things people in our Academy have reflected back to me over time is that I’m known for coming in with the tough love. It’s a strength that comes not from the head or the heart, but from the messy, uncategorizable place where the two meet. And if I strive too much to operate in either logic mode or empathy mode alone, I don’t have access to that strength that comes from combining them.
Some of our most valuable strengths as leaders come from this place of balance, when we embrace all our complicated parts and begin to understand how our contradictions can link together in harmony, without dimming one side or the other.
In my life, and as a leader, I want to represent the necessity — and the possibility — of being able to be both.
You can speak up while holding space and listening. You can know when it’s time to step up to the front, or when to lead from the side of the room. You can be firm in your knowing while staying open to new perspectives.
You can be the leader you most need to be.
Be curious about your own contradictions. Explore the messy places where they meet. It’s uncomfortable work, but it’s necessary if you want to live a balanced, full-spectrum life where you can bring all your gifts to the table.