Leadership is a personal and vulnerable experience

It took me exactly a week to find the courage to review the stack of Love & Autism conference forms. I knew it would be emotional, even gut-wrenching at times.

For me, reading conference reviews is about as personal as sending a satisfaction survey after my wedding. There are parts of me that doesn’t feel it’s necessary, but unlike a wedding, I intend to have a conference yearly. I must know what people think about, what they experienced, and what we could shift.

It’s an incredibly vulnerable experience.

Yet, this sort of thing, reading reviews, is a beautiful moment; both a struggle and strength.

Fortunately for me, right after Love & Autism, I went to Courage Camp, Dr. Brene Brown’s 4 day conference for Daring Way (TM) facilitators. I was so emotionally spent that this conference, which is more retreat than boring lectures, was perfectly timed. I love how the universe looks out for me.

When I returned, I read the reviews. I was so emotionally primed to read these reviews with purpose for our mission and less like a voyeur looking for validation. But, my first way through I found that I was doing that seeking thing. I was thrusting out, disregarding and even villainizing negative feedback. All the while painting myself as the hero to every 5 out of 5 score.

Did I just not get my Brene Brown fill up? We are not villain or heroes in our own stories; we are the owners. I had to put them down and give myself the gift of time before I picked them up again.

So just recently, right before November turned to December, I revisited these reviews. It was time. I felt ready to read these reviews with a “Strong back and Open Heart” ….another Brown-ism.

I also didn’t want to make the mistake of jumping into problem-solver the moment a problem was indicated. I can do this and it cuts off the emotional process of leadership. This is where I get bold.

I have just now owned that I am the leader of this event. This may sound funny or even insignificant to you, but I find leadership daunting so I reject the word. As an example, my first website I put myself forth in alphabetical order with my fellow clinicians and listed myself as LMFT.

I get uncomfortable with leadership.

In short; my internal narrative tells me “How dare you think you can lead anything, you can hardly lead your own life?” and “If you say you are a leader, then you are a pretty crappy one.” Putting this to paper always helps me recognize how silly these internal narratives are, but for most of us our internal narrative keeps us small. We can be so cruel to our own selves.

The challenge isn’t just my internal narrative. In truth, I’m always afraid I will fail Love & Autism, and to me Love & Autism has become one of the greatest loves of my life.

So, this year I am owning my responsibilities of leadership of Love & Autism.

Back to the reviews. I need to dive into them while keeping my armor on. I need to lead courageous, not reactively.

Dr. Brene Brown, author of Dare to Lead, asks us to lead bravely, with skill, courage and heart. Love & Autism IS a piece of my heart, but it also requires me to learn leadership skills to see US into the future.

So, I dove in to the reviews… with an open heart.

Most of these things will sound so darn cliche, but they are things that I am needing in my own life. Sometimes writing gives me clarity, direction and commitment. So, I’ll write it as a way to continue practicing where I put my heart.

Putting leadership into practice

1. Review your own feelings before diving in to others.


I, like maybe other people, can harness my self worth through the words of others. Honestly, who doesn’t like to know that we are appreciated and loved. The hard work is to cultivate real connections and not garner self-worth from those that don’t get a VIP seat in your arena. I needed to sink into my own thoughts and emotions before sinking into others. I needed to not rush discovery, rush answers, or disengage from discontent.

2. Respond to SHIFT not Sh*T.


Shift is necessary for growth. Shift is allowing others to influence my growth process; allowing trusted voices in to contribute not just what I want to hear, but what helps me live my values. In order to grow, I must listen to those that care about me, those that know my heart and those that are willing to show up for me when I fall. In conference reviews, I can see these people even when I don’t exactly know their names or faces. They have held my heart while guiding Love & Autism. If you are reading this and you know you are one of these people; please know that I am forever grateful to you.

3. Practice Self-Trust


This may be the hardest one on the list…because if I fully trust myself then who do I go to blame when I fail. Well…here you have it..the internal narrative of failure comes up. But, self- trust is a must. I am a work in progress in this regard but I review BB’s (sometimes I call her that in my head) acronym on trust and self-trust to support my shift. Each part of B-R-A-V-I-N-G offers new insight into how we can build trust. It feels so good when I trust myself.

4. Create REAL Connections


This one is easy, because having our tribe around us, regardless of how big or small, is one of the best feelings in the world. This is not a go-it-alone journey. We are better when we are together. We are better when we are kind. We are better when we let the people that aren’t our people go. We are better when we lean in to the support we have. I have done just that, after this conference season. It feels great to look around at this community of real connections that we have built together. You are my people.

5. Lead from a place of purpose


When I am living by my values, we are in alignment. We feel whole and loved and worthy of the gifts of this life. When we are out of alignment, we do all our stuff—the numbing, the criticizing, the over-functioning…just naming mine.

When we know our purpose and lead from that purpose; we have the clarity in priority that we need to do the hard work it takes to do great things.

Now I will own the word “leader” and walk in the big shoes that this social movement has created for me, with me, and alongside of me. I will take big risks for this thing called Love & Autism and I will do it alongside of you.

Let’s Love & Autism Together.

Jenny Palmiotto, Psy. D., LMFT
Founder of Love & Autism

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