During the interview process, I was asked how I hoped to describe my leadership style at the end of the Fellowship. I responded “confidently vulnerable.” I did not completely know how I would accomplish that, but I knew that it combined an area of opportunity for me around confidence and a firm belief that strong leaders can be their authentic selves.
As I have invested in my leadership development over the past year, I have learned many key lessons.
1) To successfully lead others, I have to do my own internal work — For so long, I thought that to be a better leader, I needed to learn to be more strategic, to be able to better share my vision, or be more comfortable with risk. While those are absolutely outcomes of good leadership, I had missed how important it was for me to stop thinking about all of the “things” I was supposed to do or not do, and instead ask myself if I was leading from a grounded place. When I lead from a grounded place, I can hear my inner wisdom and follow my intuition. When I lead from a grounded place, I can receive difficult feedback that will push me to improve myself and our organization. And when I lead from a grounded place, I can invite my team to do the same, which leads to a healthier overall organization.
2) I held myself to a standard that wasn’t needed — A simple example of this lesson learned was in a CEO roundtable session when I asked a group of executives how they keep up with their inboxes, expecting some great productivity hacks beyond what I already used. Instead I was asked why I felt like I had to respond to every email I received, and specifically why I felt like I needed to do so within a 48 hour period. Granted, I still believe respectful communication is key, but the question itself invited me to sit and wonder where my ideas of what I was supposed to do were coming from.
This standard went way beyond email obviously and went into a long list of ways I was supposed to lead, to speak, etc. I expected performance and perfection from myself in ways I would not expect from anyone else, which invited me to realize it was time to revisit and let go of some of those standards.
3) Letting go of expectations (not just having low or no expectations) is the key to allow anything to be possible — I love to plan. I love to make lists. I love to analyze. Frequently this leads me to have too high of expectations, which is why over the years I learned to lower them to avoid being disappointed. The challenge to this approach is that sometimes it can keep from really accomplishing what is possible. When people would say “dream bigger” it was really difficult for me to understand what that meant. I now remember that when I get set on a specific hope for an outcome, that by instead being open to what is to come and not being stuck with one idea of success looks like, often the outcome can be even greater.
4) Investing in leadership development takes a lot of energy — When I previously thought about leadership development, I always thought of a passive approach which included reading and conferences. As I started this journey, I underestimated how active this process really is. It requires creating space to truly listen, which can sometimes also require letting go of everything you thought you knew. It involves absorbing tough feedback and then drafting action plans to keep failing forward, knowing that behaviors cannot change overnight. This work also needs energy to actively choose that moving forward is better than remaining comfortable, no matter how tempting that sometimes sounds.
All of these lessons have allowed me to look back on this last year of my Fellowship and see how much I have strengthened my leaderships skills, and how much work I still have to do to achieve my goal of being “vulnerably confident.” I can see that it’s easier for me to make difficult decisions, that I’m much better at making time to disconnect from the forever to-do list at work, and that I’m more open in sharing how life is really going with my connections.
I am excited for what is to come in this next year of my Fellowship. This milestone has been a good reminder of how quickly time zooms past, and why it is therefore so important to pause and celebrate progress, even when progress feels hard to measure.