When I started the Transformational Leadership Certification program at Georgetown University six months ago, we were asked to write these two sentences in large font:
I AM A GREAT LEADER. AND, IN THE DOMAIN OF LEADERSHIP I AM A BEGINNER.
Then we took the time to let that concept sink in. Is it possible to be a great leader AND to be a beginner in the domain of leadership? It is if you believe leadership is a framework to inspire and inform actions, and not a set of perfectly executed skills.
A year ago when I was in the midst of preparing for my final interview for the Bush Fellowship, Lars Leafblad who was then leading the Fellowship program for the Foundation, gave me some amazing advice that continues to support my journey toward becoming an even more transformational leader. I asked Lars if he could offer any perspectives or feedback to help me think about the interview. He said that the judges did not question my ability to produce results or to transform communities, and that many of them were extremely impressed by my skills. But, (because there’s always a but) the judges were struggling to identify how the fellowship would help me improve as a leader in my own right, aside from helping me drive results in my current roles.
That feedback promoted a real ah-ha moment for me. Throughout my career, I had focused on my accomplishments in the sense of outcomes achieved. And thus, I was focused on convincing the judges (and everyone else) to invest in and partner with me because I had and would continue to achieve great outcomes in the Twin Cities region.
While I have learned a lot as a result of trying to achieve outcomes in different cities and sectors, I have never had the opportunity to focus solely on my own growth and development as a leader. As I pondered Lars’ feedback, it allowed me to take off my blinders and limits, and explore what it would mean to invest in my leadership, with capacity and growth being the priority goal.
I began my fellowship journey with that in mind, and focused on the facets of transformational leadership that I could refine in order to shift my capacity for impact to a new level.
TO TRANSFORM ORGANIZATIONS AND COMMUNITIES,
START BY TRANSFORMING YOURSELF.
My experience in the Transformational Leadership program has included a series of reminders that transformational leadership isn’t about building better teams, or facilitating stronger meetings. It’s not about casting a stronger vision, or designing a more innovative strategic plan. Transformational leadership is about understanding that each and every interaction I have as a leader is impacted by the way I frame the interaction in my mind…my goals, motivations, fears, triggers are at constant play…unless I’m conscious of them and committed to remaining present, coherent, and authentic.
As I’ve practiced conscious, present, coherent and authentic leadership, four pivotal lessons have guided my journey:
- Our health is a critical key to leadership. While the headlines cover leaders who fall from grace due to major mistakes or issues of malfeasance, the reality is that leaders fall every day because they fail to take care of themselves. Gaps in mental, emotional, physical, financial, and social health have seriously detrimental impacts on our ability to lead and to lead for sustainability. I have learned the importance of truly assessing how well I’m living my values and fulfilling my vision. After articulating my personal vision, I hired a graphic designer to create a visual model that could inspire me and help me hold myself accountable to health every day.
- Learn when to play big and when to play small: I use thought leadership to inspire, inform and equip leaders who to transform a commitment to equality into strategic actions that produce equitable and thriving communities. This work means that I’m often the only woman and /or the only person of color in the room. While that’s not new, the stakes have never been higher. When I completed my Leadership Circle 360, some of my peers said that there were times when I had done the work to create a platform to drive change, but I let my fear cause me to shrink when I needed to play big. What a wake-up call. While there will always be nuances for me to observe in deciding what role the situation warrants, what I learned is that I have peers and trusted mentors who can help me ensure that I’m always taking advantage of the opportunity to play big when it serves the greater mission.
- Lead with authenticity: I aspire to lead with authenticity, consistently. But I’ve learned that even when I think I’m leading authentically, there are layers to peel back. A few months ago, my board members encouraged me to channel my most personal motivations and lived experience into our work toward increasing equitable opportunities for Northside residents. As I considered the principles of transformational leadership, I realized that while my skills and expertise could advance our agenda, I could create an unbeatable formula by marrying those assets with full personal authenticity and engagement.
- Acknowledge your greatest fears and doubts to yourself- everyone else already sees them anyway. Then take them on. My greatest fear isn’t trying and failing. My greatest fear is trying, and not experiencing wild success. I guess you could describe me as a ‘go big or go home’ kind of girl. My coach constantly encouraged me to go beyond my boundaries and to pursue the biggest goals on my dream list, if only to prove to myself that I could survive basic success, and even failure. Today I can say I tried. I failed. I survived.
I AM A GREAT LEADER. AND, IN THE DOMAIN OF LEADERSHIP
I AM A BEGINNER.
These two liberating realities create the best possible platform for me to grow as a transformational leader.