For many, January 1st becomes a moment of reflection – “New Year, New Me.” But I’ve always valued the transition from summer into fall as a key moment of reflection and a real opportunity to challenge the leadership routines I had prior to the disruption of summer.
The beautiful thing is that the consistency and routine in our personal lives are coming as students head back into the daily routines of school. Spending some time to think about how you want to bring order to the chaos in this natural point of transition can be beneficial to you and your leadership. Long story short: why wait until the new year? You can start that journey now and decide what key changes you want to make to your leadership.
Through the years of honoring these moments of transition, I’ve come to some key lessons about leadership that inform the way I show up for myself and my team.
Lesson #1: Understand your archetypes and then challenge them
I am the son of 2 retired firefighters. One weekend in college, I came back home to visit and my father, a chief officer at the time, was on duty. I drove by the station to visit. As we were sitting in his office, the radio squawked, and the dispatcher delivered the message that there was a report of a structure fire with possible victims trapped inside. He left his office, yelled a few things across the station, and was gone along with the rest of the crews in seconds. I hung around for a bit and listened to him take command over the radio and vividly remember hearing all that information come in and hearing his orders go out. To me, it sounded like chaos but what I noticed was that nobody questioned what was being said or how it was being said. At that moment, I developed one of my first archetypes of leadership. What I saw was a leader taking charge of people’s lives and what I interpreted was how leadership looks – regardless of context.
Many years later, I tried to be that leader. A direct report shared with me that they felt uncomfortable providing a peer review for a colleague, and my response was simply, “Well, you’re gonna do it,” thinking, Hey, I’m the leader. You do what I tell you. You can imagine how well that went over…
We develop archetypes through these snapshots of lived experiences, and very rarely do those snapshots display the full depth of one’s leadership. The things we see, hear, and feel others do throughout our professional journey play an integral role in our own leadership. If you want to have a confident and fully formed leadership approach, you need to examine where your archetypes come from, question the context in which you experienced them, and challenge the very foundation on which it is built.
I heard my father lead in a moment of life and death in one short moment in my life. My father did that day in and day out for 30 years. The leader he was at that moment was who he needed to be to get everybody home alive. I allowed what I experienced to be used outside of the context in which I experienced it and I, and those around me, were negatively impacted by that. We’ll never rid ourselves of our archetypes, but we can become more conscious of what they are, where they come from, and how they impact the ways we lead.
Challenge yourself to think critically about why you are leading the way you are leading.
Lesson #2: You are not alone
The old adage is that leadership is lonely. But it’s only lonely because we allow it to be. I’ve rewritten my internal dialogue about leadership being lonely. It can be hard. It can be frustrating. It can be downright angering. But I never allow myself to call it lonely.
I have been fortunate enough in my career to be involved in several leadership development programs that have gifted me the time and space to process my leadership challenges and learn from others. Every single time I’ve joined these programs, I am shocked at the number of leaders who are processing and struggling with the same exact challenges as me.
Want to be a better leader? Stop pretending like you’re alone. Leverage others, talk about your experiences and challenges, and be open to the notion that your context is not so unique.
Lesson #3: Your words matter. Use them wisely.
Very early in my career, a manager told me that I could execute anything effectively, but I just “didn’t have the ability to plan.” I worked on it, and evaluation after evaluation, I was told that I just didn’t have the ability to plan. So I stopped. What was the point in working on developing a skill if I was consistently being told that I just didn’t have the ability?
It wasn’t until years and several managers later that I came to understand that my methods of planning just looked different and that I was effective at creating project plans that drove outcomes. That realization came simply because a new manager consistently praised me for my plans. Imagine what skill I would have if I didn’t skirt around planning for years.
In positions of leadership, the words we choose to use with direct reports can either support or inhibit their career. Choose your words wisely. They matter.
Lesson #4: Say sorry
Seriously. Those words can create a better outcome for nearly anything. What is it about leadership that also makes us feel like we can never be wrong – or even worse, admit to being wrong?
In my journey, I’ve “stepped in it” a lot more times than I would care to admit. But 100% of the time I have admitted it and apologized, I have come out a better, stronger, and more trusted leader than before. Conversely, 100% of the times I have been too arrogant, embarrassed, or egotistical to apologize, I have created a rift that the relationship was never able to fully recover from.
Too many leaders think that being “right” is a core competency of leadership. Show me a leader who has been “right” with 100% of their decisions and actions, and I will show you a leader who doesn’t have the core competencies necessary to effectively lead others in any context.
Lesson #5: People will leave their roles because of your leadership
This is inevitable, and they will leave their roles whether you want them to or not. They will either leave because they don’t want to work with you anymore, because they were promoted, or because they’ve outgrown their role and there isn’t a new opportunity available to them.
When people leave your leadership, gift them with the same excitement and enthusiasm about their next steps as when you welcomed them onto your team. People making choices to advance their career is exciting.
One of the outcomes above is your fault. Two are your victory. Your actions will decide which resignation you accept.
Every year, fall replaces the cooler weather and routines that summer stole — and this year, I long for that. Even more so, I long for the moments of reflection this will bring, and I’m excited to see what new routines, leadership approaches, and growth this year will bring for my team and me.
I hope that you can also take this moment of transition to bring routine to chaos, challenge your leadership, and come out on the other end as a stronger, better leader for yourself and those around you.