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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Importance of Leaders Not Leading

Last weekend, I spent time with a group of amazing women. They are friends.  They are colleagues. They are part of my tribe.  I do not have another group that lifts me up they way these people do. For a few years, we all worked together - all passionate about improving workplaces through Human Relations and wellness and leadership.  These women inspired me, challenged me, and brought me joy.

My role was to lead the team.  And by that, I mean I coached a group of people to be the best they can be.

I had supervised and managed people before this team, but this was probably the first REAL leadership position I had... or at least the one in which I truly learned what leadership was.

I reminded myself daily of my role - to lead, to inspire, to positively influence, to listen, to care, to provide the space to allow my team members to grow, to provide tools and boundaries and clarifications, to lift the team up, to honor individuality, to influence creativity.. the list goes on, and at the bottom of the list was to manage the $4 million budget, evaluate results, and write reports. Those tasks were important, but those tasks were management tasks.  Without being a leader, leading the team, cultivating a culture... the project would not have been as successful.

My role as leader was to create leaders.  I hired them for their minds... for their attitudes... for their openness.  Of course, they needed to have certain skills, but I trained them in the skills they did not have.  And following this idea, the team performed in amazing ways.  The project was super successful, and it continues to be talked about as an example of excellence in HR, leadership, and team management.

I thought I did a pretty good job.  But, leadership is not a one person job.

My journey as a leader was one of self growth.  I learned a lot about myself.  I was far from perfect.  I made mistakes.  It was the people in the team that made it happen.  I was part of that.  I was not that.

Six years have passed since this project ended.  I reflect on it at times, and I believe the most important success factor was mind fitness.

Mind fitness is emotional intelligence, openness, mindfulness, and an acknowledgement that you are human and you are the same as everyone else, that you are learning and growing just like everyone else.  Mind fitness is the ability to be stable in the highs and lows, but to acknowledge that there are highs and lows.

I liken a Mind Fit Leader to a Warrior.  The Warrior is courageous.  Courage means understanding your fears and learning how to manage them, and move through life and work with them.  A Warrior is soft hearted, though.  She is tough in spirit, but gentle in heart.  The strength comes from within. The exterior is far from tough or rigid.

Leadership means creating boundaries, providing clarity, and stepping into situations to help resolve an issue.  In my Mind Fitness Coaching Programs, I help leaders do this.  But just as important as these concrete leadership skills, is the ability to allow your team to lead you.

My team taught me some of the most important lessons about leadership:

  1. I don't have all the answers.  I don't need to have all the answers.  I don't need to have all the skills.  That does not make me a poor leader.  Often employees look to their managers or leaders for the answers - even if they believe they know what to do.  This behaviour can be a result of low confidence or working in fear.  Either way, it is not the best way for an organization to be solution oriented, creative, or to operate at peak performance.  Over time I learned to rely more on my team for the answers.  When they did not have the answers, we worked together to find the solution. 
  2. I am wrong most of the time.  Even if I had the answers, they weren't necessarily the right answer for that specific situation.  My role as leader became one of guidance and accountability rather than telling people what to do.  I hired brilliant, creative, kind people, and I learned how to allow them to bring their best forward.  That resulted in them having the best solutions.
  3. Silence is good.  When the team first formed, I found myself talking a lot.  That was necessary at times because it was all new, there was a lot of training and learning happening. However, my team had a lot to say.  It did not take long before my talking was probably boring to them. They had ideas and solutions and so much to bring to the group and project as individuals.  So I learned how to sit back and listen.  Allow them to do the talking.  Allow them to create what comes next.  My role became ensuring we were staying on track and committed to the vision of the project.  So I got more and more quiet.  And I learned a lot.  I advanced my own technical skills because the team members had skills I did not.  And I also learned a lot about each person as a person.  It allowed me to connect to them and help them grow.  I had a lot of ideas myself... but as a leader, I had to learn how to be silent.  I'm still learning:)
  4. Mistakes can be celebrated.  There were times I had the answers and I knew I was right. But I also knew that if I always gave the answers, everyone would always ask me the questions. Just like a parent needs to allow her/his children to make mistakes, a leader has to allow her/his team to make mistakes.  Mistakes create the learning... and allow creativity to occur.  (Did you know Post-it notes were made by mistake!)  This is a lesson in patience, but the result is a knowledgeable, skilled, confident person.  When mistakes happen, they are to be acknowledged, and sometimes celebrated!  A mistake means someone tried something. Trying is better than avoiding or procrastinating.  Mistakes were not punished in my team.  In fact, punishment never happened.  Learning happened.  If someone was not doing their job well, discussions took place to help them do it better.  Consequences are always the result of good or poor performance, but as a Leader, I learned that if you had clear expectations and boundaries, compassion always could prevail.
  5. Be accountable for my mishaps.  I made mistakes too.  Many.  I learned that apologies are fine. Apologizing does not discredit you as a leader.  In fact, when they are genuine, they connect you to your team and cultivate mutual respect.  Apologizing for something that is not your doing, though, is not genuine to yourself.  So that doesn't work.  That might discredit you as a leader.  A leader does need to have confidence in their abilities.  Their intuition does need to be strong.  And a confident, intuitive leader knows when an apology is needed - and it comes from the heart.
  6. Arrogance is the ruination of a team.  Funnily, my role in this team was Leader, but the people I worked with every day taught me how to lead.  They taught me to come down off my high horse and be human.  The taught me that to be a great leader, I needed to know when to not lead.  I had my moments of arrogance.  Don't we all?!  We work hard to get somewhere and we are proud of it.  We want to prove we are worthy of this position.  But the thing is... we ARE worthy.  Arrogance does not make us more worthy.  Arrogance tears a team apart by tearing others down.  The only way to have a truly successful team is to lift each other up.
I am forever grateful to this amazing team who taught me to become a better leader.  They are my colleagues, my comrades, my friends, my tribe.  And they are Warrior Leaders.

Connect with Tina for a free Mind Fitness Coaching consultation at tina@pomroy.ca.