As I prepare to transition out of this role of Interim Executive Director at the family homeless shelter where I work, I am excited by the possibilities and the mystery of being ‘me’ in a space that is undefined, fluid, open. It’s a space where I carry:
No formal title.
No 9 to 5 schedule.
No expectation of having to turn up anywhere but where I choose.
Today is my last day in this role. I’ve learned and grown a great deal over the past 8 months, both personally and as a leader. I have been blessed and gifted with this opportunity to stretch and grow. Some of my learnings on leadership are:
1. Build a team you trust.
Leadership is not a walk in the park, It’s a constant race to get it all done. Inevitably, there’s never enough time in a day to get it all done and that’s okay. Being able to prioritize is vital. Having a team you can count on, and that you trust, is essential.
2. There is no such thing as ‘perfection’.
The need for perfection kills creativity, innovation and passion, in yourself and your team.
Expectations of being or getting it ‘perfect’ are self-imposed limitations you set on yourself to avoid turning up authentically in every situation. They are founded in insecurities and act as a smokescreen that interferes with your capacity to assess, evaluate and determine next best steps without fearing you’re going to get it wrong. Sometimes, you will get it wrong. It’s okay, as long as you create an environment where people do not fear making your mistakes. And when you do, it’s vital you own your mis-steps and create opportunities for those around you to grow through them with you.
3. People will give you a chance if you consistently speak the truth and treat them with respect.
People want to believe in their leaders. They want to trust them. Being consistent in who you are and how you are is essential to build an environment founded on trust. A space where people feel they can believe what you are saying and doing because they trust that you are always coming from a place of authenticity.
We all have a natural ‘sceptic’ within us. We all have stories of times where people betrayed our trust. For a team to truly trust their leader they must see that no matter the circumstance, no matter how challenging the times, the leader does not sway from their values and principles. They do not compromise on the truth and will inevitablly choose to ‘do the right thing’ — which means, if you are known as someone who is constantly getting angry, flying off the handle, making rash decisions, being unpredictable, you are constantly undermining trust.
4. Trusting and believing in yourself is vital.
It’s human to have moments of self-doubt but it’s not effective nor reassuring for staff to see you constantly doubting yourself and your capacity to lead. In a study of what makes good leaders, it was determined that a willingness to ‘be vulnerable’ is essential. However, that vulnerability is about your shared human condition, not your weaknesses as a leader.
Self-doubt undermines trust. You may not always get every decision right from the get-go, but you can get addressing mistakes with honesty and forthrightness right every time when you trust yourself enough to turn up, pay attention, speak the truth and stay unattached to the outcome.
5. Learn first. Do second.
It’s easy to convince yourself you need to know it all, right from the beginning. That’s just not realistic nor possible.
It’s vital to learn first, do second. Too often we get it backwards. We do and then learn from our mistakes. While mistakes are inevitable, avoiding some is possible when you take the time to ask lots of questions, listen deeply and strive to understand situations from all perspectives. It’s vital to ask questions, lots of them, before making any judgements, decisions or course changes.
6. Communication is key.
How you communicate is as important as what you communicate.
There are many paths that lead to achieving what you set out to do. Knowing that your decision is ‘the right one’ is different than believing it’s ‘the only one’. Providing people enough information to understand the thinking behind the decision goes a long way to helping them cope with the change that every decision brings. Even a decision to maintain ‘status quo’ comes with change, particularly when the decision is based on investigating the options before making the status quo decision.
7. Create space for greatness to appear.
Being a leader isn’t about being great at everything you do, it’s about creating space for greatness to appear in everyone around you so that great things can happen. It means sharing the glow of achievement with those who did the work because when they shine, you shine too.
And finally, my key learning over these past few weeks of transition is: It’s okay to let go. Because, knowing when it’s time to let go is as important as holding on. For me, it’s time to stop holding on to what I was doing to create space for what I can do when I let go of needing to hold on.