What The Bearded Lady Can Teach You About Courageous Leadership

Ambitious Resilience, Change & Reinvention, Human First Leadership

There’s one reason I stayed quiet for so long. Fear.
Even when I stood up to share my story I was afraid. Not of individuals. Of the system. 
After I appeared on The Apprentice, a head took me on one side after I’d delivered literacy training in a school. ‘I can see you clearly know your stuff but I didn’t want you setting foot in my school because you’d been on a reality TV show.’
I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
Now I was risking it all. If a TV show made me unpalatable, what would the professional response be to me sharing my story? I’ve always been open personally and had mostly positive responses but I’ve also lost ‘friends’. One university educated and professional woman who I’d been friends with for a while was quite open about ending our friendship because she ‘couldn’t be sure I wasn’t secretly grooming her children’. There’s no way around it. That really hurts.
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
I’d covered up who I was professional in an attempt to blend in. I couldn’t hide the fact that I was often the only brown face in the room. Or the world apart difference growing up on the streets and in foster care was from the middle class background of my peers. I’d be crazy to drop into the pot the fact that I was sexually abused as a child.
Even worse than the professional response, what if, after years of being free from the reach of social services, they once again became involved in my life? What if they assumed I was a danger to my own kids? What if they decided the truth I spoke was lies yet again?
Irrational fears, maybe, but despite therapy and working through the fact it wasn’t my fault I still lived under a repressive regime of guilt and shame. The story I’d told myself for years was that I should hide my past from my profession. It was a dark part of me that should be kept hidden.
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
Yet, there was a quiet voice in the storm that was my mind. A slither of hope. A belief that being honest and celebrating the five teachers that saved my life was the right thing to do for the right reason – to focus exhausted teachers on the real difference they make. In short, the potential pain was worth the real risk.
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
That same tiny flame of hope that my five teachers kept alive, was the very thing that encouraged me to speak out. Decades later, their tiny actions of consistent human connection broke through the noise and drove me to success.
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
So I stood. And I spoke. Courage is being scared and doing it anyway. I burst through 10% braver knowing my message was too important and that nothing would change until my desire to make a difference was bigger and stronger and more powerful than my fear of failure. 
We are bursting through the barricades and
Reaching for the sun 
When it comes leadership, everybody wants authenticity but no one is interested in being vulnerable. That’s plain bonkers because the power is in the vulnerability. You don’t go round saying ‘I’m authentic’, it’s the quickest way to get people to doubt you. It’s as encouraging as saying “I don’t tell lies anymore.’ Authenticity is something there people recognise in you because of your willingness to show your human side. 
We are warriors
That’s what we’ve become
The very thing that I’d spent so much energy covering up and hiding is the reason I am a leader now. I’m not writing a book I’m living this shit! It’s not that I never doubt my self, I do and then I stay neutral and get curious. I aim for epic failure, doing the opposite of playing it safe in case I get it wrong. I know I can fail, reframe, pivot and go again so failure is the quickest route to success.
We are glorious
Most importantly I know and live my WHY. I stand in my own integrity and focus less about what others think and more about what I can do. I align myself with those individuals and organisations that share my values and go all out for those who are seeking to make a change but are afraid.
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
All this, not as therapy but as redemption. I couldn’t save my little brother but I can invite you to do what my five heroes did for me. Connect, engage and do what you came into the profession to do in the first place. 
Make a difference.



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