[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Marcia Dority Baker, Leadership Coach at MOR Associates. Marcia may be reached at email@example.com.]
“I describe my career path as a zigzag, not a career ladder.” Denise Morrison
I recently gave my leadership journey during a MOR Leaders program workshop. As a facilitator I was on the hook to keep it under five minutes to demonstrate it could be done! I took on the challenge to really reflect on my leadership lessons. Some lessons I had listed in the workbook exercise seemed more like complaints whereas other journey stops were accomplishments I may have wanted to brag about. I drafted five or six “biggies,” the lessons that are also shiny packages that look good on the outside. I then added five or six unglamorous leadership lessons; the ones that helped me grow but hurt, the “thanks but no thanks” items that were a blessing in disguise.
If it’s been awhile since you reflected on your leadership journey - I challenge you to take some time this week to pause and list out several lessons from the past 5-7 years. This includes identifying the event/experience/person that resonates with you and more importantly, the leadership lesson or value you learned from it. I don’t know about you, but I am not the same person I was a few years ago. Life has shifted for many of us, including the things that were once important along with what we spend time on. Our life experiences change us, creating lessons on how to be a better leader and a human. Think of your leadership timeline, what experiences were positive or negative for you? For me, I learned more from the experiences that were uncomfortable as they pushed me to pause and reflect on life in a deeper way.
Some of the best career and life advice I ever received was from Rick Fredericks, one of the great leadership coaches at MOR Associates. Several years ago, I shared a career challenge with him; I was struggling with climbing the ladder in a place that did not seem to have a space for me. His advice was as gentle as it was a lighting bolt moment, he suggested that not everyone has a career ladder. Many of us have a career lattice - instead of going straight up, it’s okay to pivot to the left or to the right as long as you're making forward progress.
With Rick’s advice echoing in my mind as I reworked my leadership lessons, I purposely removed the shiny lessons and added a few of the blessing in disguise lessons. What I offered in my leadership journey was four lessons that resonated with me as a person, as I strive to be the best coach and leader I can be today. My first lesson was from grad school where I learned the value of the quote attributed to Desmond Tutu; “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” My second lesson was learning to advocate for myself when I did not fit into the higher education environment where I was working. I quickly learned to ask questions that I did not know to ask, to find a niche to show value, and grow my skillset in spite of a lack of support. Both of these lessons reminded me of the power of our personal and professional networks, the people who support us at home and advocate for us in the workplace. Because I know the value-add they have in my life, I will be that person to those I can help be successful going forward. My third leadership lesson was, the mindset attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change” I wanted to see in the world outside of work. As a runner, it’s important for me to give back to my running community. This includes coaching runners, volunteering at races, and taking care of our trails. This third space outside of home and work brings me both satisfaction and joy which then influence my presence as a leader and coach. Frankly, it makes me a better person to go outside, run my trails, and invest in my community. My final lesson was the invaluable advice from Rick. One that I have grown to appreciate more as I reflect on my leadership journey. While I did not know what a career lattice was when I started out, it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be at this time.
Part of being a leader is the humility to admit what did not work. More importantly, being a leader is recognizing the people or the pivot that got you where you are today. That acknowledgement allows me to scan the horizon for the next leadership lesson.
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