Taming the voice in your head: Leanne Pilkington

In her long real estate career, Laing+Simmons Chief Executive Officer Leanne Pilkington has had to overcome many hurdles. Here, she explains how to change the voice in your head to something way more positive.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast called The Voice In My Head Is An Asshole.

The title alone gave me a good laugh, but the topic gave me reason to think.

We all have a voice in our head, and while I wouldn’t say mine deserves that strong a label, it certainly hasn’t been particularly supportive of my abilities over the years.

I had always thought an inner voice that focused on the negative was more a female trait, but that’s not the case.

There’s research to show negative self-talk happens to all of us.

It can also manifest in more serious ways, and the events of the past year have contributed to the prevalence of mental health issues many in the community are experiencing.

The challenge is to change the narrative of our inner voice from, “I can’t” to “I can”.

The first time I remember the voice in my head being really loud was not long after my very short-lived career switch from real estate to recruitment.

I had been a recruiter for less than a month when the manager of the office left. 

The business was part of a large national recruitment group, and it was suggested that I take on the responsibility of managing the branch. 

It wasn’t exactly a freak-out. Rather, I just flat out rejected the notion that I would be capable of doing it.

“Are you kidding?” the voice asked. “You have been here all of five minutes. You can’t do that,” it was adamant.

It happened again when the former owner of Laing+Simmons and my boss at the time, Tony Anderson, stopped by my office before leaving for a two-week holiday.

“You are much better at this franchising stuff than me,” he said. “So I’m going back to selling commercial real estate, and you are going to become general manager.” 

And that was that. A major promotion, a huge opportunity, out of the blue.

Surely an overwhelmingly positive outcome?

Of course it was, and I knew it, but the voice had a different interpretation.

I never saw myself as a leader but rather a great number two.

I never thought anyone else would see me as a leader either.

I was genuinely concerned that the franchisees would be disappointed when they heard that, instead of appointing someone perhaps more qualified, Tony had chosen me.

I wondered, did the voice in my head have a point? I had to find out.

I called all the franchisees to gauge their reaction.

Everyone was positive about my appointment.

Frankly, this confused me. The voice was not convinced.

So, after ringing them all, I went back to a few franchisees that I knew the best and asked why they were happy about my appointment, and they all gave a version of the same answer.

“We know you love Laing+Simmons, we know you care about us, and we know you care about our business.”  

It was an important lesson. People want to know their leaders care.

Fast forward a few years to when I was asked to consider nominating for the Real Estate Institute of NSW board.

I wondered why anyone would be interested in my views.

The voice was at work again, wanting me to doubt myself.

Just as it was when I was asked to run for president.

“Oh my goodness! Are you kidding me?” it said.

“There is no way I can do what all of those blokes before had done.” 

I found stepping into the shoes of John Cunningham, who is an industry legend, quite intimidating.

But what I discovered is that it’s OK to do things differently.

I am a different president to those before me (albeit a lot more colourful), and that is neither better nor worse. 

It’s simply me being authentic to myself and my values.

Many internal conversations have played out for me to arrive at a place where I’m comfortable with this realisation.

We all have these conversations with ourselves from time to time.

It’s easier said than done to say to ourselves, “be confident”, but if we can at least be self-aware enough to know that the voice in our head is not always helpful and not always right, it’s a start. 

When I am asked what I would tell my younger self, the answer is always the same:

“You are capable of way more than you ever imagined.”

And I have been lucky.

The reality for me is that I have been fortunate enough to have people around me that have believed in me significantly more than I have believed in myself. 

These are smart people with good intentions.

They are people the voice in my head should listen to.

So I decided that if I value the people around me, then I need to value their opinion and stop talking myself down.

If they think I am capable of leading our brand and of leading our industry body, then I owe it to them, and myself, to give it a damn good crack.

Taming the voice in our head is not easy. It’s always a work in progress. Personally, at times, it even requires me to have a conversation with myself, out loud, and usually in the third person.

I have to tell myself, “Get over yourself and just get on with it”. 

It helps me bust out of procrastination because the alternative is inertia.

The longer we stare at a problem, with the voice in our head telling us we can’t solve it, the bigger the issue becomes. 

That’s when we need a circuit-breaker.

It just takes that 30 seconds of courage to ignore the voice in your head that says you can’t, and to jump in and have a go.

We can blow things out of proportion in our heads.

But it’s amazing how we can make the voice shut up once we realise it’s only a voice, that we’re in control of our actions, and what we want to achieve, we can achieve.

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Leanne Pilkington

Leanne Pilkington is Chief Executive Officer and Director of Laing+Simmons.