What kind of leader do you hope to be? I know some of you who are reading this are thinking, “I don’t want to manage people. Why does everyone assume all people have career goals to become leaders?” That might be true for you, you don’t want to be in a job where you formally supervise other employees. I have known I wanted to lead people since I was a tot but that’s not everyone. That, is not the problem with that mentality. The problem with the “I don’t want to lead” mentality is that you already are leading but may be actively working against it. So for those who couldn’t answer the first time, in the context of your kids, your church, your friends, your social clubs, your pets, or all those who follow your pages on social networking platforms, I’ll ask again. What kind of leader do you hope to be?
I have had some really great leaders over the years and I’ve also come across some pretty mediocre to terrible ones. There have been leaders who have inspired and motivated me to do work I didn’t know I was capable of. For example the man who casually asked me to write a first draft of the expectations that would govern how 90% of the work in our department would be completed. I had no business taking on that sort of task at that point in my career and when I told him I didn’t know how he said, I know, we’ll do it anyway. There have been leaders who used some unconventional methods to get me to lead. This includes a man who allowed me to create games when my dreaded math homework was done. One such game included using a ping-pong paddle to hit an oversized chess piece off of his head at a target that another student danced around in. Not only did that get me to get everything done and foster my odd creative spirit but together we motivated other students toward a reward for completing work. I have worked with leaders who challenged my thinking and that of others. For instance the woman who expertly explained ’employment at will’ to a group of employees who were complaining about their jobs. This helped to change my mindset about work in general, I’m choosing to be here. Out of anywhere in the world and anything I could be doing, today I chose this so I will act as though I chose it on purpose. (Taking control and owning your decisions gives a lot of freedom.) There have been leaders who demonstrated quiet confidence and modeled for me what it looks like to be comfortable in your own skin. For example the woman who while explaining her priorities noted a couple things that didn’t fit on the plate. After I gushed out excuses for her she responded with, Thanks for saying that but you don’t need to. I’m still doing it whether people think it’s ok or not.
I said there were not great leaders in my past too right? There have been leaders who made me feel like I should remain quiet and small if I’m in the minority. For instance the man who pushed his political agenda on all who came within 10 feet of him and would dismiss you from conversations if you disagreed with him. There have been leaders who were unaware of their followers truly following their lead. This includes the woman who was surprised at the idea that those reporting up through her would do as she does, not just what she says. This could be as big as following protocols set up by the organization and as small as being active and involved in the fun things too. There have been leaders who prized age and appearance over demonstrated work and determination. For example the man who tried to talk someone out of hiring me because I was too young and too pretty to do well, regardless of what my resume, interview, and references said. There have been leaders who have just made me uncomfortable and I struggle to put my finger on what my mistrust is a result of.
It is from understanding what stood out to me, the good and the bad, that I can tell what sort of leader I want to be. I want to be a leader who motivates people beyond their perceived limitations. I want to creatively cultivate more leaders. I want to change mindsets and shift paradigms. I want to model my values with the confidence to stand firm in my decisions. I want to help others, especially those who are marginalized, to find their voice. I want to avoid jumping to conclusions and instead look objectively at the quality of work because things aren’t always as they appear. I want to have thick enough skin to be aware that I do, and will continue to, have blind spots but seek out wise counsel to help hold up a mirror.
This understanding came from reflection of a few of the leaders in my life. Only one of the leaders mentioned above was a direct report relationship. Other leaders I’ve learned from in the past were teachers, some were friends, a few executives, others members of the church I attend, and some of the best were ‘just’ moms. I learned this from a variety of roles and I can apply it to all of the roles that I play. If I want to creatively cultivate leaders I want to do that for those in my team but also for the three little men I’m leading at home. If I want to change mindsets and shift paradigms, I want to do that within the walls of my company but also within the governing bodies. If I want to be objective and pragmatic I want to do that in my decision making in the office and in the building of my home. If I want to reduce my blind spots I want to do it in all areas that I’m called to and that means applying what I learn to all areas.
If you started off rolling your eyes at my original question, I would implore you to reread that initial paragraph. Consider what type of leader you want to be. Once you are past the not everyone is a leader mentality and recognize that everyone is leading in some form, you can think of those who have lead you in the past. Whether it was formally in work, through an organization, or just because you took to heart their words and actions. What stood out to you? Think of the good and the bad to develop your own list. You’ll likely find areas you already lean into, like if your parents instilled a hard work ethic you’ll likely continue it and expect it of others. Perhaps you’ll find some areas of life where you’ve got some incongruence. For example, maybe you believe strongly in inclusion of others but can see areas in your work or social groups where you’ve put up some unnecessary walls. Having a better understanding of the values you hold allows you to be consistent and cognizant of them when making decisions. This enables you to lead well, even for those you don’t realize you’re leading.
Things I’m reminding myself of
If you’re flying blind you don’t know which direction you’re going in. A couple years ago I would have said that understanding your personal values is a little out there, similar to creating goals. I thought of it as being something that people who wanted to look like they had it together did. Similarly to my understanding of goal setting, my opinion on this has evolved. If you don’t have a compass to remind you of where your true north is you’ll struggle to make it anywhere.
Evolution of these values or principles means that you’re growing, not “wishywashy”. This sort of piggy backs off of the first. If you can evolve to the point that you create goals and understand your values, you can grow and evolve to the point that they change over time. If I get to the point that I’m not evolving in my thinking I’ve become stagnant and am missing a very large blind spot, pursuant to my earlier point about relying on people to point them out, someone please find me and bring said mirror.