[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Susan Washburn, Program Leader and Leadership Coach at MOR Associates. Susan may be reached at email@example.com.]
Recently, I pushed the rewind button on my Leadership Journey. Looking back at the lessons we have learned is one of the most powerful activities in the MOR Leaders Program. My journey is a bit longer than most of our participants, so a look back required a bit more time than a workshop allows. I spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on what I have learned about leadership. I have worked in corporations, the military, government, public service, nonprofits, consultancies, training, parenting and more. And after a long list of lessons learned from both positive and negative experiences – a theme emerged – the three basic ingredients of leadership from my perspective: self-awareness, curiosity, and courage.
Self-awareness - your strengths, your personality, your communication style, your birth order, your culture, your hopes, your fears and so much more. You just can’t know enough about you. Just as we know from the Emotional Intelligence framework, it starts with you. You must know yourself before you can begin to understand others and you need to begin to understand others before you can form the most effective relationships. I recall getting a new senior level position and preparing my “This is who I am and how you should work with me” speech. Ha! How foolish was I? The only person that needed to know that was ME! Then it was my job to understand how to enable my staff to do their best work. Knowing my style allowed me to adjust my style. People want to do their best work – it’s a leader’s job to enable
Curiosity – if you think you know it all, you are doomed. The growth mindset and an active interest in discovery and learning are key components of effective leadership. I first became interested in neuroscience when I hoped to understand the root causes of Alzheimer’s disease. My father passed with Alzheimer’s and one of my sisters is currently living with this devastating brain disease. I started with curiosity, and it quickly evolved into understanding how our brains work and how leaders can harness the power of their brains. You simply can’t know it all. Each situation provides an opportunity to learn. We are gifted with neuroplasticity to constantly learn, develop new practices, create new thoughts and new solutions. Even looking at those negative experiences documented on my leadership journey reminded me that those were opportunities to learn, and the reason they stand out is because I did learn. Maybe the hard way, but the lesson was an opportunity, and I am reminded to face challenge with curiosity and a willingness to change my mind.
Courage – Leadership is risky. I often tell people if it’s easy, it might not be leadership. Stepping forward in an effort to help others takes courage. Difficult conversations – a key mandate for every leader - take courage. Effective leaders do a risk assessment – acknowledge the risk and then take it. THAT takes courage. Courage isn’t the lack of fear, it is the willingness to face it. Leadership is ripe with scary things! From feedback to failure and beyond. One of my personal leadership lessons comes from a Marine General that I worked for. When I complained about how I was being treated by uniformed officers he told me that “when you are out in front, you get shot more often.” His point was that it assumes risk and takes courage to step out and take a chance – to try to make things better. Glennon Doyle coined the phrase, “We can do hard things” – a wonderful leadership mantra. Cowards don’t lead.
I encourage you to reflect on your journey, what are your basics?
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