25 May 2011

Learning before Leading

These last few months have been amazing and busy for me. In February I started a new job. Finally that perfect place in community development I'd been searching and preparing for for so long. But with anything new comes the inevitable feelings of stepping outside some boundaries. A new office, new coworkers, a new routine. Exciting and scary all at the same time.

So, the question I've been asking myself lately is "can you lead while you are learning?". Or perhaps the better way to ask it is "how can you lead even while you are learning?". Although I'm stretching and growing in new ways every day there are people looking to me to make effective decisions. Some days I feel like I've got way more questions than answers and I'm not sure I'll ever learn all there is to learn.

Here are some things that ring true for me right now:

1) Even leaders don't always have the answers.
2) If you don't know, admit it. People can smell B.S. a mile away. Then go find the answer!
3) Leaders never fear allowing others to have the spotlight. It builds the team.
4) Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

I'm really grateful to be working with a group of people that lead in a thousand outstanding ways. Staff and volunteers alike amaze me with their passion and dedication. I've somehow managed to land in the middle of a great team of mentors, coaches and cheerleaders.

So, I'm soaking up this period of intense learning and growing. Watching people interact, leading and following, is a bit of a hobby of mine and I'm getting lots of great case studies! So, yes, there are effective ways to lead while you are learning. And sometimes allowing yourself to observe and learn is the best way to grow as a leader.

29 March 2011

The Universe in a Grain of Sand

I LOVE Cirque du Soleil!! Their touring production "Ovo!" has been here in Houston recently and, of course, I couldn't miss it. Ovo is Portuguese for "egg".  All the players are different kinds of insects: a fly, ladybug, grasshoppers, ant, spiders, beetles and so on. It's exuberant, colorful and completely fantastic! And a creative leadership lesson is contained within as well.

While watching the antics of these insects unfold in front of me I was reminded that sometimes we need to look at things with a completely new perspective. Like the insects in our natural world that we pay little attention to, unless they are someplace we don't want them to be, there are worlds out there that we have little or no awareness of. Why not be inspired by the grace and skill of a spider weaving its web or by the strength and beauty of a grasshopper?

I was reminded that we each have our place. We each have our work to do and our energy to contribute to the greater good. And we each have the opportunity to contribute with joy and enthusiasm and love. Some of us will do it in colorful and splashy ways (like a butterfly) and some of us will do so in a more subdued and subtle way (like a walking stick), but all our gifts are needed. A sense of wonder while watching ants brings some good perspective to our daily lives and work.

I was also reminded that there is so much out there that we don't even notice, let alone understand. Life is a grand, infinite mystery! I think the beginning of true wisdom is the awareness of how much we don't know and watching this beautiful, fantastical depiction of the creepy crawly life was a great reminder that there is always more to experience and play with.

So go get creative and lay an egg!

12 March 2011

When You Give You Lead

I recently heard the phrase "when you give you lead" and it resonated with me so deeply I've not been able to get it out of my head for weeks. The phrase was spoken by Publisher of the Houston Defender Sonceria "Sonny" Messiah-Jiles, a trailblazer in the business of African-American newspapers. She has certainly been an example of leading by giving and I've been thinking about how to put that into action in my own life.

The first layer of this for me is that giving is positive and proactive. True leadership is also positive and proactive. By giving to what matters to you, to what you are passionate about you are leading yourself and the energy of your money, time and talents in that direction. Quite often by setting this example of leadership by giving you will find others attracted to lead by giving in the same direction. Soon a real impact is being made.

The next layer is about being really conscious of where I elect to give. I recently left the for-profit business world and have gone to work for a non-profit. Over the last few years many people have asked me if I was interested in doing this and I always knew that I would have to be passionate about the mission before I could consider it. I'm very grateful that my passion and this opportunity crossed paths at the right time. I am now more thoughtful about every place I put my time and my money because I know the deep and broad impact that a committed donor and volunteer can have on an organization.

Finally the act of giving should be a joyful act without expectation of a certain reward or outcome. And leadership is the same. When we are called to lead the most joyful way to do so it to let go of our idea of how we will be rewarded or compensated for the energy we devote. When we apply our gifts with the right intention we are always repaid beyond our deepest imagining.

So I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Messiah-Jiles. Yes! Giving is leading. And conscious, thoughtful giving is an important part of ethical leadership. Tell me how giving gives you joy and is an act of leadership!

13 February 2011

Leadership L.O.V.E.

Happy (almost) Valentine's Day! I'm not usually a big fan of "Hallmark Holidays" and Valentine's Day has become one of the biggest, in my opinion. I love flowers, chocolate and jewelery as much as any female but find it disheartening that our husbands and lovers feel pressured to make a gesture of affection simply because of an arbitrary date on the calendar. Give me one spontaneous bouquet or a lifetime of selfless love over a box of chocolates on February 14th any time!

But the holiday has spurred my thinking around how love factors into effective and genuine leadership. If we remember that love is not always of the romantic variety but is a universal emotion that expresses a concern and respect for our fellow humans and the creatures we share this planet with then we can easily make the leap to studying how love impacts leadership. I would even risk saying that the best leaders are those who work from a place of loving intention with the highest good of all in their hearts.

So, for fun, here is how I see leadership love in action:

L is for loyalty. A truly loving leader is loyal to those who she leads. She considers what is best for them and acts accordingly. A leader that is loyal will inspire loyalty in return.

O is for ownership. Anyone who is not 100% vested in a company or cause cannot lead from a place of love. Does that mean the leader doesn't see room for improvements or changes? Absolutely not! But a true leader "owns" what they lead. It is part of their DNA and they wouldn't have it any other way.

V is for volunteer. A volunteer is a person who offers themselves for service without obligation to do so. This speaks to real leadership love which is servant leadership. A servant leader knows that you must serve those you lead, walk the walk, and be willing to be down in the trenches from time to time. That is love in action.

E is for enthusiasm. From the Greek "to be filled with God", enthusiasm is the result of letting joy flow through you into the work you do. A leader that is passionate and enthusiastic allows the unbelievable and unattainable to be both believable and attainable. "Miracles" happen in groups led by the enthusiastic leader.

So there really isn't a big leap from love to leadership. I think the two fit neatly together and that love should be truly an indispensable tool for a leader. What do you think?

29 December 2010

3 Big Words for 2011

The year is quietly winding down. When you can compartmentalize the holiday celebrations a bit and set aside some time for contemplation a lot can open up and reveal itself. I've had the gift of some days spent working and thinking, often with my hands around a cup of hot tea. The ending of one year and the beginning of another is always a good time for some introspection.

2010 was a year of great change for me and it all unfolded quite easily and effortlessly (in retrospect). I suppose it was appropriate that I also marked 50 years on the planet. That is a milestone that I haven't completely wrapped my mind around yet. When I look back on my 40's I marvel at the road I've traveled and where I've ended up. It feels quite miraculous!

So, I've been thinking today of setting the intention to be guided by three big words in 2011. These words describe values that are of prime importance to me and I believe if I evaluate what is presented to me with these words in mind it will be a fabulous year.

My Three Big Words for 2011:
1) Connection
2) Impact
3) Growth

These words will serve to guide me both personally and professionally. I can measure each possibility by asking myself if it provides one, two or all of those things. Certainly those opportunities that provide all three will be at the top of my "yes" list! I can also ask myself if it is providing those values just for me or if other people will benefit.... even better!

What are your Three Big Words for the new year?

05 December 2010

How to "Follow Your Bliss" in a Thousand Really Hard Steps

A big part of effective leadership is feeling like you belong where you lead. Sometimes things in our lives change and we no longer feel like we quite fit in to a career, a community or a lifestyle anymore. Usually this happens when we've grown in some way and our outer circumstances are no longer reflecting how we see ourselves on the inside. This has recently been the case for me. After several decades on the career path I chose while in college I've made a significant change. I've moved from the advertising and marketing world to the community development and non-profit arena. For many years I truly loved the "ad biz" and thrived on fast deadlines, late night press checks, the creative competition and collaboration and all that the business entailed. But lately I knew my passion for it was fading.

About seven years ago I was accepted into a community leadership program. I hoped that I would learn a lot and looked forward to growing my leadership skills and meeting new people. I expected that it would expand my network and lead to new business opportunities for my firm. I had no idea it would set my feet on a completely new path that would eventually lead me where I am today.

All the sudden I realized I had interest in things I had never really considered like economic and community development, public policy issues, stakeholder development and such. I found ways to dip my toes into this new pool: joining a economic development committee at my local chamber, joining the chamber's board of directors and then others, agreeing to chair a major non-profit fundraiser. The idea of a new career wasn't even a possibility in those early days. I was just following my passion but I had no idea where it was all taking me.

I sought out mentors eventually and one convinced me to take a week long course in community development. Some very dear colleagues on my chamber board chipped in and provided a scholarship for me to go. At the end of that week I felt like I had found a new home.

The story of how this interest developed into a passion and then developed into a new job is one for another blog post and one I will tell because changing careers, I've learned, isn't for the faint of heart. But for now what I've learned is that you have to listen to the voice, or feeling, inside you that is leading you to something new. There isn't a single final destination but rather signposts along the way to let you know to keep walking that direction even when you can't articulate to anyone yet why you are doing what you are doing. Most of the signs aren't even big, more like postage stamps or post-it notes! But, if you truly love it you'll notice the signs, even the smallest. Yeah, this is what it means when someone says "follow your bliss"! Even when it feels confusing, awkward, unnatural, impossible, or crazy it still feels right.

12 November 2010

Do you REALLY talk the talk?

As we grow into our leadership roles we often learn, mostly from the school of hard knocks, that what we say and how we say it are both important. How often can bad execution, poor teamwork and missed opportunities be traced back to poor or imprecise use of language? Probably more than we'd like to admit.

No doubt leadership is a combination of "talking the talk" and "walking the walk" and one should be in integrity with the other. We may take a great deal of care in the words we use in a presentation, speech or meeting with the media but how often do we look carefully at the words we are using in every day conversation with our teams? Are you using words that empower or words that dismiss? Are your words closing off choice for others when that isn't what you intend to do?

Two words that are so commonly used in our culture that we rarely think of the impact they have are "want" and "need". Wanting and needing are words describing a lack of something and are not necessarily a powerful way to create what you are wanting and needing! I've gravitated towards the word "prefer" when I am communicating to others what I'd like to see happen. Prefer does leave room for the person you are speaking with to voice a different preference so if a stronger stance is what you are going for just say "Please do (fill in the blank) for me." Even better....specify when you would like this task to be accomplished by. This is clear and unambiguous.

Telling someone what you prefer is much more empowering than want or need and is less likely to put others in a defensive stance if they feel they can not or will not meet your needs. I've also found the requests "would you consider?" or "are you open to?" to be much more likely to lead to an affirmative answer because they are much less threatening ways to ask for something you prefer. They also make it much easier for someone to graciously say "not at this time" which is better than "no" or a "yes" when they really wanted to say "no".

The way we communicate our thoughts and desires can directly lead to better outcomes and better experiences for ourselves and all those around us. Just an awareness of how you use language in your leadership roles can open you up to insights and growth.

About Me

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Houston, TX, United States
I've led a lot and followed plenty of times, too. All these experiences have given me some interesting perspective into what makes someone a leader worth following. And what constitutes ethical leadership? We usually can smell it when's it not, so let's find the examples in the world of people leading in an ethical and authentic way! My passion is community leadership but I think the lessons of leadership transcend place and specifics. I'd love to hear what you think about leadership!