Women tell Women

How to be a leader when you don’t feel like one?

— Amanda Gunawan

I once read somewhere that as a leader, it’s important to always have a sense of direction – that going the wrong way is better than not knowing where to go. In some ways, I’ve found this to be quite true. I’m the type of person that needs to have a sense of where my end goal is. As long as I have an idea where Z is, I can keep going. Some people need to see B, C, D, and the steps in between but all I need to see is Z. In the moments when the view of my Z point is blurry, I become unable to captain the ship and am no longer sure of my direction. And it is in those moments when I feel the most inadequate as a leader. Alas we are only human, and a little self-doubt is a healthy aspect of being a leader. It is about finding a good and sustainable system of dealing with this when it happens. The only way is through. It’s remembering that your needs always come first. When you get to the root of that self-doubt and take the time you need to cope with this, you will only come out a better, more equipped leader.

Have a set of coping mechanisms – different methods for different situations. For example, when it’s the quintessential existential not-feeling-a-sense-of-purpose breakdown, I would spend days just burying myself in creative endeavors. I would actively avoid mundane, administrative day-to-days to recharge. I start every morning vision-boarding for precisely this reason as well. Vision boarding is basically mapping out short and long-term goals. The idea is simple, if you can’t tell yourself why you’re doing this, then forget about explaining it to anyone else. If all else fails and I find that I am unable to lead, which equates to having a clear sense of direction and confidently making decisions, it’s better to be honest with my team than to hide it. Trust that you’ve led a group of competent people who can catch the ball for if and when you’ve dropped it.

Amanda Gunawan –

Amanda Gunawan grew up in Singapore and moved to Los Angeles nine years ago. She is the founding principal of OWIU Design – an architecture firm focused on thoughtful design. In 2020, she co-founded Inflexion Builds – a full-service construction company, that works together with OWIU Design completing projects from design to build.