Turning Self-Doubt into Authentic Power, with Dané Johnson
“Overcoming the self doubt and the feeling less-than, that was not imposed on me by anybody but myself, that has really allowed me to move into a place of being in my own power, both personally and professionally.” – Dané Johnson
Find out more about Dané’s personal and professional growth on episode 11 of the Authenticity is Contagious Podcast.
Founder of Authentic Leadership Advisors and Authentic Leadership Advisors Academy, Kathleen O’Grady is a visionary leadership coach and fearless leader. She supports driven individuals and organizations to achieve the impossible. Her ability to act as a catalyst for people to discover, rediscover, and embrace their unique genius is what makes Kathleen one of the most sought-after global executive coaches. She is a two-times past president of the International Coaching Federation Raleigh Chapter, and her work is featured in web articles by the NYTimes.com, Huffingtonpost.com, Forbes.com, and eFinancialCareers.com.
Her real-world stories, practical tools, and actionable insights help clients step out of their comfort zone to create authentic meaning and purpose in their life and work. By embracing change, Kathleen believes everyone can achieve something extraordinary.
Kathleen O’Grady: Today my guest on the Authenticity is Contagious Podcast is Dané Johnson coming to us from Des Moines, Iowa. Dané was a participant and graduate of the Authentic Leadership Advisors Academy, certified authentic leadership coaching program which was this past fall of 2019. And so as we kind of get started today, I mostly want you to feel free to share about your journey in a way that would benefit the listeners.
What was it that prompted you to want to go down this journey and join ALA Academy and move more into the direction of authentic leadership?
Dané Johnson: Well, I’ve been doing coaching for a couple of years, in the professional coaching realm working with leadership, mostly middle management level, a little bit of executive, doing both individual and group coaching. Working from knowledge that I gained in my MBA, which was a leadership focus MBA.
And also I had taught adjunct, at the university, we’re in the city where I was living. I taught a course on interpersonal effectiveness in organizations that had a lot to do with emotional intelligence, communication skills, team dynamics, those sorts of topics. And so, using that knowledge I started my coaching career, and had decided last year at the beginning of 2019 that I wanted to pursue certification, specifically ICF certification because I know it is the most recognized. And I began exploring various coach training opportunities, which there are so many. It was very overwhelming. And I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to what I wanted from the experience beyond the certification. I luckily had, a good friend and colleague whose name is Lou, who was in ALA Academy at the time, and she had wonderful things to say about the program. And she also shared with me all of her previous research on the programs that she looked at. So I looked at all of the programs she looked at. I looked at others that I found online, and ultimately I realized this was, you know, beyond certification, this was really an opportunity to pursue, a transformational growth opportunity for myself. I’m a self-development junkie. I have a million books. I listen to podcasts, I do a lot of reading but I hadn’t had a really formal development experience since my MBA, which is, at the time, it had been about five years.
And so I decided, you know, this is something I want to pursue in the way of, not just for certification, but for myself. And it was really conversations with you, Kathleen that secured my competence and what the program would offer, and both getting me the ICF certification that I wanted, but then really offering the transformational experience that I was looking for.
And quite honestly, it exceeded my expectations. The three weekends with, with the Nash cohort and, and you and your team. So that’s how I landed at ALA Academy.
Kathleen O’Grady: Wow. So what I’d love to hear more about is who were you when you stepped into the program that perhaps you are no longer today?
Dané Johnson: Hmm. I was definitely in a less secure space spiritually. For about three years, I have been on a path where I’ve been looking at more spiritual growth, exploring different ideologies and practicing meditation and working with energy practices and I didn’t anticipate that ALA Academy was going to incorporate so many of the things that I had been exploring in the spiritual realm.
And by spiritual, I mean, I don’t mean anything relative to religion per se, but more of, you know, experiencing one’s higher self and one’s higher capacities. A better sense of self and all that exists within you, and beyond, and your connection to others. And so I stepped into ALA Academy, I think less secure in my beliefs around that, and through the reading and the conversations that happened in the room and the program, I feel like, yeah, this, this is real. These are practices that are helping me become, who I’m supposed to be, and I’m more confident in trusting my instinct and following that as opposed to staying in my head all the time and working from a place of analysis and practicality and, and all the things we’re taught to work from all of our lives, but that don’t always get us to the place of fulfillment that you can reach when you tap into your essential self and your authentic self.
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. Well said. And I wonder, would you say there was any specific turning point for you throughout your experience of the training and the reading that just kind of solidified it for you?
Dané Johnson: Well, I have to say the, the Joe Dispenza book, Breaking the Habit of Becoming Yourself was pretty eye opening for me along with the Lissa Rankin book, Anatomy of a Calling.
What would happen when we discuss those things and the way everybody opened up and shared so easily in the room, I think that to me was evidence of the energy that, the power of the energy that you could bring into the lives of others to connect with each other. So I think it was, yeah, it was those two books definitely stand out in my mind and that heart weekend, the very initial weekend, it just, yeah, it exceeded my expectations for sure.
Kathleen O’Grady: Okay. So making this episode not too much about Authentic Leadership Advisors Academy, but more about Dané, I’d love for you to tell us, what are the ways in which you’re operating as an authentic leader right now?
Dané Johnson: 2019 was a really formative year, I think, especially the second half of 2019 in getting to a place where I’m paying more attention to my instincts and my authentic self, and that’s brought a lot of liberation and freedom.
I feel much more confident in just being who I am and showing up that way and with the people I work with as opposed to thinking that I have to speak a certain way or look a certain way or be too concerned with, you know, the language of an email or whatever it is. In the work that I do coaching with clients, doing facilitation and working with… I do, culture consulting with, a fantastic company where I get to work with people, all over the world with all over, with different types of experience. And I just am much more comfortable showing up as myself and doing what I feel is right as opposed to overanalyzing things. And that’s actually proven to be really powerful. I’ve seen a lot of success in the company that I’m doing consulting with. We work with, you know, one client in particular is a very big corporate client and there’s a lot of politics and bureaucracy and we work with people in different departments who have different agendas, and it served me really well to be attuned to that and not catered to agendas, but helping everybody come together and understand what are people’s perspectives and what is going on below the surface and how do we surface that in a way that is productive, knowing that we all have good intent but that we need to be aligned in how our moving forward.
So I’ve gotten great feedback from the company that I’m contracting with as well as from the client, and it feels really good and really empowering to know that that’s something that has become kind of a natural way of being for me. I don’t even have to think too much about it. I just kind of know, well, this is what needs to happen next, or this is the conversation that needs to take place, or this is how we need to lay the foundation going into a particular meeting, whatever it may be.
Kathleen O’Grady: That’s great. And so you mentioned 2019 was a formative year for you, and if you take into account not just your professional identity story, but the whole identity story of how you operate both personally and professionally, what would you say if you had to pick one or two words. What would you say was the part of you that you overcame in that year?
Dané Johnson: I think I overcame the self doubt, that’s always followed me around. The sense of being less than most of the time. And I was talking to a really good friend and mentor, at the beginning of 2020, and I told her. Whatever happened in the last six months, something’s definitely shifted. And the word that comes to mind, which is not something that I would normally consider, but the word that comes to mind is power.
Not even that I’m empowered, but I am that I’m in my power. Not in a way that is authoritative or, you know, wielding power or anything, but that I just can stand and be in the power that I have to be a positive force in the world and to live my life in a way that brings me fulfillment and joy and that I deserve that.
And so overcoming the self doubt and the feeling less than, that was not imposed on me, by anybody but myself, that has really allowed me to move into a place of being in my own power, both personally and professionally.
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. And I think that this, the word power has only gotten a negative connotation, as a result of people abusing it, but true authentic power, as described in the Seed of the Soul by Gary Zuckoff, which was one of the books you read, is really what we’re here for is to exercise that authentic power in whatever way we’ve been designed to do. And it’s clear that your passion is around creating cultures of authenticity and authentic leadership. And so I wonder, I’ve been asking this question of most of my guests, how would you define authenticity?
Dané Johnson: I think authenticity has to do with choosing your actions and words from a place that feels like you, that is, outside of your head, so to speak. Not acting in ways that you think you should because it’s what you’ve been groomed to do or what you see other people doing. But acting from a place that feels like this is really me. This is how I want to show up And authenticity it’s become a little bit of an overused word in the last couple of years but I think when you act that way. You know, in my mind and in my heart when I feel I’m being authentic, I know it because there’s a lightness about it.
There’s a freedom about it. I’m not questioning it. I’m not analyzing it. I just am being, and that is how I know when I’m being authentic. I think that being authentic, your authentic self evolves over time, just as every other part of you evolves over time. It could be that 20 years ago you were acting in an authentic way that was authentically you at that time. And now you don’t act in that certain way because you have evolved and so your authentic self has evolved. So it’s not that you have to be one certain way and you’re always that way. You evolve over time with age and experience, but when you’re acting authentically, it’s a sense of freedom. You feel a sense of freedom.
Kathleen O’Grady: And almost to add to that a sense of self love.
Dané Johnson: Yes. Self-love and I think self-respect too, self-worth, I guess is what I would say.
Kathleen O’Grady: And that goes back to standing in your own authentic power. And I also, I remember through my own journey of choosing the version of myself that I wanted to be from one moment to the next, as you mentioned so accurately. It’s an ongoing journey. It’s not a destination, that we, that we find. I remember working in different positions within large organizations before I went out and started my own business and I remember feeling very restricted to come from a place of, as Brene Brown would say, wholeheartedness. I wanted to be very loving and caring in the way that I approached individuals and in the way I approached projects. But what I was met with was oftentimes, but not always, just very dry, stern, self protecting, cut and dry ways of interacting.
And so I remember when I got really, really close to leaving my last full time job. I said, you know, one of these days I want to be able to sign all of my emails “with love, Kathleen” without it being weird. And to this day, I do choose to do that because that is who I am. And the idea of writing “Regards” or any of the other more formal ways of communicating just doesn’t work for me.
It just doesn’t feel like me. So I think that’s a really, it’s a good example of how if it feels good, it’s authentic. If it doesn’t feel good, it’s not authentic. Although I’ll make a caveat to that, that sometimes choosing a new version of yourself intentionally in order to grow as a leader or to grow as a person will be uncomfortable until it becomes a part of you.
So there’s two different kinds of discomfort. Would you agree to that?
Dané Johnson: Right. Yes, definitely.
Kathleen O’Grady: And so when the work that you do with your groups and teams, what do you see as being their greatest challenge in stepping more fully into authentic leadership?
Dané Johnson: The biggest challenge that I see, especially in organizations that are of a larger size, is individuals acting from a place of fear and self protection. Politics are at play as you get into organizations of all types, but especially in larger organizations, and you get into the levels of management and middle management and upper management and it’s acting from that place of scarcity that you have to, you know, if someone else wins, then you lose.
And it’s my goal to help people see that it’s not a zero sum game. When you can help someone else win you win too. We’re all on the same team and if you know, if we’re open about those and practice a little bit of vulnerability and have clear communications and open, honest communication, then you can get to a place where you know, all parties win.
So I think that’s one of the biggest problems that I see in working with organizations is just the self protection that people default to.
Kathleen O’Grady: Absolutely. And if I remember, I don’t know if this is going to resonate with all listeners depending on their generation, but there’s been so many different shows that were popularized over the years.
For example, Survivor Island and the way in which these teams were pitted against each other for survival. And I think that that, in many ways has become a habit within organizations is to say, well, if I can’t have it, no one else can. And it’s hard work what we’re doing trying to overcome those zero sum games and it has to be mine or nobody can have it kind of thing. It happens everywhere.
So what do you have to say to the listeners who might be where you were before you started down this journey?
Dané Johnson: One thing that I realized, and I really take comfort in, is you need to do the exploration and the work of self discovery. But really a lot of this just comes with age and experience. I’m going to turn 40 this year. And I feel really good about that. And I look back at what my 30 year old self was, or even 35 year old self and I was doing really well and I was doing the things that I needed to be doing, but I just wasn’t at a place yet where I, was as comfortable with myself as I am now and that was okay, that was part of the journey. And so now I know there are times where I’m, you know, I still struggle with self doubt and self worth and questioning things. And I still have days where I feel like I might, I want to crawl out of my skin for whatever reason, but I know now that that’s going to pass. And that’s all just part of the process and I will continue to become, more enlightened and self-aware with every day that goes by and all the experiences and having the experience of lacking self-worth and of feeling less than that has helped me, those are important experiences to have had in order for me to help others overcome that and it’s made me a more compassionate person. I just love the idea of being able to trust that, you know, with every experience, with every day that goes by, I’m becoming more and more of who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do in this world. And sometimes that’s all you can do is leave it up to time and be open to the experiences that come with it and learn to sit with the ones that are uncomfortable, enjoy the ones that are joyful, and know that it’s all a part of the ebb and flow that is life.
Kathleen O’Grady: I would agree 100% and it reminds me of an episode of I think it was, How I Met your Mother, which is an older show, but still a good one. And there are some times where we make mistakes by accident, but then sometimes there are times when we have to make mistakes on purpose because we know that if we don’t really have that experience, we’ll never be able to know for sure whether or not it was actually a mistake.
And I feel like another major aspect of authentic leadership is the willingness to choose to experience mistakes because you know that they’re going to help you become a more solid and grounded person.
Dané Johnson: And being compassionate with yourself when you make those mistakes which is not easy.
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. So before we wrap this up today, I’m wondering, do you have any specific story that you want to share to illustrate the power of authenticity that was personal to you?
Dané Johnson: Hmm. I remember specifically on day two of heart weekend, I even remember where I was sitting and who was on my left and who was on my right and we had done a lot of sharing the first day, and I’d finished the first day feeling like that was great. I did a ton of sharing.
This is, you know, this is great. I like these people. I felt like I had performed well, so to speak. And halfway, not even halfway through day two. I don’t remember what specifically triggered it, but in the midst of everyone else’s sharing of themselves, it hit me that, you know, the first day I was being vulnerable in a safe sort of way. I wasn’t actually letting people know what was going on and what was going on is, at that time I was in a really difficult place with my brother who has significant addiction issues. And, on that specific day, I didn’t even know, you know, where he was. It was a really scary time and I had just kind of been shoving that down and putting that away and not being open with the situation of what I was feeling more, more importantly, what I was feeling, what was happening inside me with the situation. And I hadn’t let myself cry. I’d gotten very good at, you know, letting tears come to my eyes, but then pushing the wave of emotion back down and maintaining composure.
And it just hit me that that was not going, continuing in that way, it was not going to get me the experience that I needed to have at ALA Academy. And so I did open up and I shared, and I, and I cried and I think we took a break after that and I went into the hallway and I cried some more. I cried harder than I’d cried in a long time. And it was really uncomfortable. But it was so cleansing and I went back in and sat down in that same chair, a lighter, more open version of myself. And that was really key to creating the rest of the transformation and being in the rest of experience with my cohort, for those rest of the training days and beyond.
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. That took so much courage for you to share. Not just then, but again now. So thank you Dané and I will, I will say that it really requires a lot of trust and safety for us to open up about what’s really underneath that we’re in some ways afraid or even embarrassed to express. And so what I try to remind myself and everybody that I have the luxury of influencing through my coaching and through teaching is everybody’s got something.
Everybody’s carrying something and we’re all very good at hiding it, but once we are able to release it and normalize it, what ends up happening in this brings in the contagious aspect is that if I remember correctly, by virtue of you opening up about that story, there was a domino effect of other people in the class, sharing other very, very, very raw and vulnerable stories.
And so it takes one person’s courage to invite other people’s courage to show their vulnerable self. And so, I’m grateful to you for who you are, who you were in the class, who you are now. And, I’m excited to welcome you to the 40’s club. I turned 40 last may and, who knows, we’ll see what ha, what we’re able to create by the time we turn 50.
Dané Johnson: I’m excited to see it.
Kathleen O’Grady: Okay. Well, once again, thank you for all that you shared with me and with the listeners today. And I, I’m very, very proud of you.
Dané Johnson: Thank you.