The Leadership Dog Years

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As a business leader, I feel like I’ve been living in dog years — so much has happened that this year feels more like seven. In the spring, our company — like many others — had to throw out our annual plans and quickly pivot to new ones. In the summer, we increased our focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, which led to an evolution of our core purpose and our culture. And in the fall, amidst an abundance of new opportunities and innovative ideas, we steadied our focus on where we felt we could make the biggest difference. Overlaying all of that, I received my first formal feedback as CEO.

At the start of the year, I was the first of our partners to go through the Leadership Versatility Index (LVI) — an effort we are undertaking as part of our core value of “Always Growing”. Our company also launched an employee engagement survey and has been deploying pulse surveys across the company every two weeks since. Additionally, our newly established Culture Committee started brainstorming on ideas of how we can improve as an organization overall.

As I reflect, I see a clear thread running through everything we’ve gone through and accomplished this year — the power of being authentic as a leader. Thanks to the formal, and informal, feedback I’ve received from others throughout the year, I have really been able to evolve as a leader, but in a way that still feels true to myself.

So, here are the learnings that I am taking into the new year as my “resolutions”:

Resolution #1: Take on Intentional Change in a Way That is Authentic

I’ve never seen a leadership model that felt right to me — on paper or in person. While I’ve been inspired by various other leaders over the years, I’ve never had a like-for-like role model to help guide me. I’m not sure that the “leadership” role in general ever felt authentic to me before this year. I always wanted to coach other leaders, but never really wanted to be one myself. But this year, a sense of purpose ignited me from my core. This year, I was inspired to be more.

Looking back, the timing of the feedback I received from the LVI was perfect — right when I needed to take on a stronger leadership role as the pandemic hit. One of the more poignant areas of feedback I received from my team is that my desire for inclusion can hold me back as a leader and slow us down as an organization. I’ve realized that while inclusion is one of my superpowers, I need to find the right balance of getting inputs and buy-in while quickly setting a direction and moving forward. Through conversations with my leadership team, I’ve shared the root of my hesitations and they’ve been able to share their trust in me, which has given me a newfound confidence to be the leader I want to be: the best version of myself versus someone completely different.

Resolution #2: Keep Asking for Feedback in the Areas You Want to Evolve

Back when I was a new manager, I used to ask my team members how I could make the projects we worked on better for them. At first, they were hesitant to respond, but once they realized that I not only really cared about their feedback, but that I also really tried to work on it, I received some big insights from them. So, with that in mind, at Thought Ensemble, we’ve worked hard to build ongoing feedback into the very fabric of our culture so that we are all continually working on growing and evolving.

What I’ve realized this year through my work with the Leadership Versatility Index is how valuable it is to share with my team what I’m working on as a leader and to keep revisiting it periodically. The more we discuss it, the more I get clarity on how my leadership is impacting our organization and where the opportunities are to grow. It also comes up more fluidly with my team giving me specific examples along the way. They give me grace because they know I’m working on it, and I feel supported by them.

It works at the organizational level too. For example, we’ve been working on evolving and improving all the ways we communicate to keep everyone on our team in the know. We implemented weekly stand-up meetings and quarterly deep-dive meetings at the start of the year but found that we needed some additional, deeper “fireside chats” as well with all that we were navigating in the spring. We gave it some time to work, then got more feedback, and evolved it more from there. People know we are working on communication, so they keep providing ideas, and knowing that it is a topic that we WANT feedback on really opens up the conversation.

Resolution #3: Encourage Belonging and Authenticity to Gain the Value of Diverse Perspectives

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has been a big topic for me and our entire organization in 2020. While Thought Ensemble was founded on the belief that bringing diverse perspectives together is the best way to solve problems, we have had a lot of realizations on how we can continue to evolve from there. Our conversations and insights inspired us to update our core purpose and start taking concrete actions.

We’ve had one pretty big “aha” as part of this process, and that is that our DEI efforts won’t bring real value to the organization until people feel truly accepted as their authentic selves, which is why we are focusing on more than just inclusion by focusing on belonging. I am personally more aware of this as a leader and we are doing more to weave this into our culture and our talent development. We believe there’s a lot we can achieve on this topic of belonging and encouraging people to be their authentic selves. Expect to see even more from us on this in the new year.

Resolution #4: Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

This year really tested my resolve to bring forward positive energy. I was dealing with personal challenges — see homeschooling blog 1 and blog 2 — and while our business wasn’t devastated, we had some real curveballs to deal with earlier in the year. I found myself simultaneously worried while optimistic, guilty while grateful, and saddened while relieved. It was quite an emotional roller coaster.

Another big “aha” for me in 2020 is that it is my responsibility as a leader to do the work to get in the right headspace — and heart space — to be the light for others through the dark times. If I look at problems as opportunities, if I get in a space of gratitude, if I believe we can make a difference, others will join me. As I listened to “The Next Right Thing”  from “Frozen 2” on repeat for the 100th time, I had to pull myself out of the disappointment, sadness, and fear to a place of gratitude, hope, and inspiration. I knew I had to get there authentically, and once I did, I saw the change around me.

I also realized how foundational it was to take care of myself in order to help tap into that positive energy  — letting go of some things in order to be able to sleep a full eight hours, prioritizing some form of exercise every day, taking time to meditate, not having that second glass of wine — or sometimes even the first — and eating healthy. Those practices make me stronger and enable me to more easily bring a positive attitude to everything. With that foundation, I am more likely to generate the energy I want to give off and to be the leader that I want to be.

Toward the end of the year, through some related conversations about energy flow, my colleague Cassandra introduced me to an energy leadership model, and a related book, that she’s been studying through her coaching certification program. This book put words to some of what I experienced, so I recommend reading it if you are interested in this topic.

As we all look for the silver linings in 2020, I find that one of the big silver linings for me is what I’ve learned as a leader. If I can tap into a way of leading that is authentic to me, if I can garner the support of others in reaching my potential, if I can create a space where others can grow to their potential too, and if I can be a light for others, then I can make a bigger difference in my little part of the world.

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