January 20, 2012 Leave a comment

The following is a letter by Akaya Windwood, President of the Rockwood Leadership Institute and member of the IISC Board of Directors.

As you can see from my new photo, I’ve decided to stop dyeing my hair. I am now officially a gray-haired woman. When I turned 55 last year, I made a deeper commitment to authenticity, and that included looking in the actual mirror (and not just the mirror of my conscience).

I have to say that it’s been a bit of a ride. There were many external shifts – I no longer get looked at in “that way” on the street, I’ve had younger folks give me a seat on public transit, I’m taken seriously in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Two months before cutting my locks I was carded while buying a bottle of wine, two days after cutting them I was offered a senior discount.

There have been many internal shifts as well. I now feel free to claim all children as my grandkids, and talk to every baby and young person I meet (sometimes to the chagrin of my sweetie Kim). While I may think twice before making a decision, I’ve stopped second guessing myself, and have confidence that my decisions are well considered. Paradoxically, I’m much more willing to be “wrong” and to be influenced by those around me.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that cutting off one’s hair and letting it gray is the only path to authenticity. I do, however, highly recommend it for those who are able. I’m finding that my leadership has improved because I’m much less concerned with my image (self or otherwise) and therefore am more flexible. I don’t give a rat’s patootie if someone thinks I’m silly, and as a result I’ve begun to play a lot more. Literally.

And leading has become a lot more fun and satisfying.

At the time, it felt like taking a big risk, but the rewards have been great. So here are some questions for you:

  • What would be your next big and bold step toward authenticity? Not just a baby step, but an in-your-face, Grandmother-type of step?
  • What might you gain if you were to take that step — personally and in your leadership?
  • What fears come up as you consider this?

I figure the world cannot have too many bold, creative, fun, joy-filled authentic leaders. Let’s all sign up for that.

As I’ve said many times before, we cannot do anything alone. If we’re going to risk being deeply authentic, we need to be in partnership, and that means we’ll need to know about each other. To that end, I want to invite you to tell us when you’ve done something terrific – don’t hide behind modesty – send us an email, tell us what you’re up to. You may have noticed that we’ve begun announcing alumni in the news – we try and keep up with what you all are doing – and it will be much easier if you help and let us know. If you don’t feel comfortable tooting your own authentic horn, toot some other alum’s!

I’m so proud of what our Rockwood community is doing – we are affecting change all over the planet. Let’s celebrate ourselves and each other as we create new and exciting ways to authentically lead.

So cut your hair, go back to school, end a toxic relationship, skinny dip, paint your car bright purple – I don’t care. Take a risk – let’s make 2012 the year of Authentic Leadership. We’ll learn a lot, and it’s sure to be an interesting ride!

From my heart to yours,


No Comments

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    First I want to say, you go girl!!
    Then I want to thank you for the invitation to join you. It’s a big year of change at IISC and I’ve been pondering what kind of leadership I can and want to step into. You’re reminding me that there is no time like the present to start experimenting!

  • Jen Willsea says:

    Love it!! Thanks, Akaya, for the invitation to play, be bold, and be authentic. Two things that I’m doing in my 30s along these lines (and am grateful for your encouragement to do them with even more risks and joy) are:

    1. Stepping into my feminist, musician, performer self. I played classical piano for many years, but now I’m learning to play the accordion, experimenting with writing music with some of my best friends and getting on stage and performing it. I’m finding this takes a lot of courage and self-coaching, and the rewards are so refreshing and empowering!

    2. Experimenting with new and creative ways to lean into the work of racial justice and liberation with my colleagues at IISC. I (and we) are not so sure that some of the old ways of doing this work are serving us. I am grateful for the opportunity to lean into the unknown and into our collective wisdom to find our way into some new and generative ways of working for racial justice!

  • Linda says:

    LOVE IT! I’m right with you. Priorities are shifting and I’m most interested, right now, in authenticity!

  • chad says:

    a few, biggies are:
    1) saying no, clearly.
    2) embarking on the financial play that is called quickbooks.
    3) making direct requests.

    h/t elder Windwood.

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