I have been trying to figure out what it means to be an effective leader, since I ran for student council president in sixth grade. I’m still trying to figure it out. I was meeting with an advisor on my doctoral thesis and he asked me to define leadership. I tried to come up with an intelligent response in 10 seconds. I said something about being self differentiated, a collaborator, and working toward a common goal. But the question got me thinking of what I have learned over the years about leadership and the perpetual foot entering the mouth. Here is what I have learned:
1. It’s Not About You. Leadership and ego are siblings with a love/hate relationship. Because the fact is, you have to have an ego in order to be effective. You need a level of confidence, charisma, and character to put yourself out there. But, man be careful, because it is not about you. Being a leader does not make you more important than those who are not leaders. You are not a savior. You do not have all the answers. Your voice matters, but it is not the only voice that matters. You are awesome, but you’re not that awesome.
2. It’s Not About Them. Leadership is not about making everyone happy. I’m not sure that came through. Leadership is not about making everyone happy. Being an effective leader means accepting that there will always be those who are not happy. Pleasing everyone for the sake of the status quo, means nothing changes and you are a lame duck and a lame leader. Conflict is normal, healthy and healing. Be not afraid.
3. Emotions Matter…and They Don’t Matter. People are emotional creatures. We respond to our fight or flight impulses. We all have different triggers that make us emotional and it’s hard navigating the field mines of emotions to get work done. But people are not computers, they are emotional creatures. We all need validation, a feeling of self-worth and to be heard. But be careful. You are not a therapist. Emotions matter, but they cannot supersede critical thinking, constructive criticism and crucial conversations.
4. Change is Hard and Change is Constant. Change. What a pain in the butt. It makes us anxious and self-critical. What’s wrong with the way we have always done it? It worked for us for the past 20 years just fine. Always doing things the way we always have done them is comforting. Patterns, traditions, and routines are important, but they can become sacred. Leadership is like standing on the beach, watching the waves come in and discerning how the tide will change, for it surely will. Accept and adapt to change as you would accept the changing tide, remembering it’s still the same ocean.
5. Expect Criticism. Yes. You screwed up. You are not perfect. You misspoke, You over reacted. You under reacted. You wore two different color socks. You were not prepared. You dropped the ball. Get over it. Own it. Lean into Grace. Do better next time.
6. The Balcony always Helps. It’s all about perspective, baby. I have a mentor that is always asking me about the health of the forest. It is easy and tempting to caught up in the trees and all of the technical challenges we face every day, but the real question is, how is the health of the overall forest? Be aware of those adaptive challenges and keep your eye on the big picture.
7. You are only one person. We are all human beings with a limited amount of time and expendable energy. The most effective leader is a healthy one. Model and practice self-care. Encourage those with whom you work to do the same. You are better leader when you are above ground.
8. Know your Resources and your Limitations. Be aware of the gifts and strengths of yourself and your organization. Do you know the assets, strengths, skills, and opportunities that come from yourself, your people and your community? Build off of your strengths and those around you. You have more resources and strengths than you realize
9. Find the Humor. Dude, lighten up. The work we do is important, life changing even. We wouldn’t do it life we didn’t think it was crucial, but we need to learn not to take ourselves so seriously. A little levity, a little humor, and a little laughter is good for the body, mind, and soul.
10. Keep Learning. You will never know all there is to know about leadership and you will never have perfected the skill set. You will always have room to grow. So keep learning. Keep reading. Keep consulting. Find coaches, mentors, colleagues and friends who have been where you are, and will help you get where you need to be. They will help you find a way through. Thank God for those who share their expertise and battle wounds. Listen to those mentors. They know.
My final word: a mentor friend of mine would always say, “Power to you!” when I would call with a dilemma or challenge. It was to remind me that I had a power within that was not my own. “Power to you!” You are not alone in this. There is a power that will lift you up and lighten your load. Rely on that power. It’s there for you. It loves you and knows you by name. “Power to you!”