Friday, October 12, 2012

What is leadership?

What is leadership......

This question is such an interesting one. I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by two leaders, as part of their leadership development training program. Their task? To interview different leaders on their perspective of leadership, lessons learned, defining moments in leadership and recommendations for new leaders.

I’ll tell you. The hour flew by. It was a delightful conversation because it really challenged me to think about leadership in terms of what it means, what I’ve learned and the moments that changed me somehow. My  mind when to the day that I chose my dream career. In grade nine (here I am... grade 9), I became more confident, outgrew my shyness and decided I wanted to be a Correctional Officer. I thought it would be an exciting job... I hadn't thought about the need to be a leader in my own life.... to be a leader in the lives of others.... the next few years of high school then college began to provide me opportunities to learn self leadership.

Back to the coffee shop conversation about leadership... I shared an example of a time in my first leadership role that I failed….miserably. Twenty two years old, and not yet having full confidence in my own abilities and skills. I had to provide some sensitive feedback to one of my team members… it was stressful, the message didn’t land well, and I had to do a mulligan… I had to do The Do OVER and put things right. That situation taught me a lot of what I didn’t know (and needed additional mentoring, training and coaching on).

We also talked about the importance of leaders knowing when to lead, when to follow and when to empower. For leaders who want to be in control, this is a tough switch. I personally found it so relieving when I discovered that strong leaders don’t have to know all the answers, have all the solutions, be perfect or know how to fix things. Rather, they need to know how to ask for help, engage others in solutions, and be comfortable enough with not knowing to powerfully lead the team. Even when the leader doesn’t know where they will end up.

This is a much bigger discussion, that I will continue blogging about.

A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to be on the International Academy of Leadership radio show, talking about resilience and bouncing forward, and essential skill for all leaders. You can listen to additional tips here.

One of the most seasoned leaders I worked for was Jon; it was my first job as a Correctional Officer in a young offender custody facility. I had graduated from College with a Correctional Worker diploma and had finished a job working as a Correctional Officer in an adult prison. Jon was a true leader. He had enough trust in me, and in himself, to let me struggle enough to fit in, and handle being tested by the young offenders. In talking to Jon later I asked if he was hanging on the edge of his seat to come and rescue me, save the day, or help me out. He replied that he had to trust himself to allow me to go where I needed to go (which was uncomfortable and vulnerable) to learn and find my place, and earn the respect of the youth. He suggested that leadership is about leading people to where they truly need to be (even when they don’t see it or want to be there).  His leadership was like how I saw the elephants in Thailand ..... the young elephants followed the actions of the older ones... they followed in trust....

From Jon I learned to trust myself, and the importance of integrity. Important lessons in leadership.

Who were your mentors?

How did they impact you as a person?

As a leader?

As who you are today, and how you show up tomorrow?

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