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The Difference Between Taking Up Space and Showing Up

take up space Sep 28, 2023

(First appeared in WRAL TechWire.)

Be honest with me… when you read the title, where did you think I was going with this? Were you expecting me to glorify the leaders who “show up and show out”? Or maybe you thought, “Ahhh... she’s going to try and convince me to bring my ‘A-game’ everywhere I go..."

Surprise! Today we’re going to explore why it’s okay to simply take up space… or even sit in the back.

The Difference

You see, every time you enter a room, you have two options. You can show up as the fire starter who brings the warmth, carries the mood and leads the conversation? Or… you can intentionally and quietly take up space to observe, learn and conserve energy. The very nature of this posture allows others to take the reins and shine.

The Conditions

Social norms and conventional leadership often signal that ‘taking up space’ is selfish, unproductive and a waste of time. And as leaders we can feel obligated to strike the match and lead the way wherever we go. But really, there are times when taking a softer and quieter approach is optimal—for your sake, and for the sake of those around you.

Here’s an example. Earlier this week, I was invited to attend an event that included the chance to address the audience. I declined the speaking opportunity because I simply wanted to ‘attend and blend.’ I was looking forward to simply experiencing the content without the distraction of having to be ‘on’ for others. It was a choice. And the way I see it, taking advantage of my right to observe and learn as a leader — maximizes my growth potential, minimizes my emotional expenditure and reduces the impact of performance culture on my day-to-day.

 The Questions

So when should you ‘show up and show out’ or just slow down and take up space? Well, we make better decisions when we ask better questions. So before you walk into your weekly team meeting or attend an after hours event. Stop and ask…

  • “Does this room need my voice or my reflection right now?”
  • “Am I able to pour out my energy and give to others or do I need poured into?”
  • “Who needs to be served in this moment and how can I support that outcome?”

 Both Bring Value

Listen, I applaud fire starters. There’s no question that now more than ever we need bold and engaging leadership. But I’m equally inspired by those that can lead from behind when necessary. Leadership takes all forms — you’ll find it in the front of the room and in the back.

That said, I see you, friend. Feel free to break from convention and take up all the space you need.

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