As I reflect on my life, I find that the greatest growth has come from challenges that had me paralyzed at the time: believing I needed 34 hours in each day as a plebe at the Naval Academy, failing to stand up to a bully in the Marine Corps, trying to stay motivated and effective when I lost interest in my corporate job, learning to sell services to prospective clients, and understanding the depth of my arrogance and lack of curiosity as a coach and consultant.
I was a decent basketball player as a kid. I went to the Taylor University Basketball Camp two summers in a row, and I learned a lot. I’m right-handed, and I’ve always found it easy to drive to the basket to the right. But defenders would always frustrate me by poaching over to their left, shutting down my driving lane. When I learned to dribble left-handed, it opened up a lot of possibilities for me on the court.
Because of my personality, there are other behaviors that also come naturally to me.
Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi found himself diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 35 with months remaining in his residency. As he and his wife sat across from his oncologist, she asked him to think though his values so he could make the most of the uncertain amount of time he had left to live. While I hope none of us will ever have to have that conversation under those circumstances, all of us live with the same questions and wrestle with expanding and contracting timelines – some which seem more certain than others. I’m convinced that our focus on legacy, impact and leadership development shouldn’t wait until the last decade of our careers.
Last week I got a Tdap booster vaccination. My arm is still a bit sore. I knew it was going to hurt, because the nurse who gave me the vaccination warned me, “The needle will hurt a bit, and the injection site will be sore for a few days.” I took the shot anyway, because I knew it was good for me.
But in other areas of my life, I confuse pain and harm. And I find other leaders too often make this same mistake.
The clock is ticking on 2016. December can be an intense month with 2017 beginning to peek over the horizon. As a leader the best gift you can give yourself, your work, and your staff is time to think and reflect. This is not an optional luxury for the rare few. It’s a ninja move that gives you a strategic advantage.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret…
I hate failing! I hate looking like I don’t know what I’m doing or that I wasn’t adequately prepared. I usually try to avoid that at all costs. I was reminded of this pattern just a few weeks ago during a staff meeting. During a spirited exchange of ideas, I just sat there. I had thoughts and opinions running through my head, but I was silent. In that moment, I realized 3 things about my relationship with failure.
Lately I’ve had three experiences that have led me to the same conclusion: it’s time to step up my game as a leader…
Seth Godin poses this question in his book, Linchpin. This little book has rocked my world, and has me thinking about leadership, and life in general, in new and exciting ways.
“Leader” is a term I’ve always labeled myself with. In fact my parents love embarrassing me by sharing stories of me playing with the neighborhood kids at age 4. All the kids would come to our house and ask: “Alyssa, what are we going to play today?” I’d develop the agenda and start assigning roles…
We had great intentions when we moved our young and growing family into a tough, inner city neighborhood. We were going to be part of the solution. We invested 10 years of our lives there. And boy do I have some stories.
Here’s the thing. With all the good that we did, something was increasingly missing. It took ten years of living there and three years living other places to figure it out.
I was driving west on Kessler Boulevard in Indianapolis, near where it passes under the Monon Trail and the right lane ends. In the left lane, mentally zoned out, I was cruising at or slightly above the speed limit. I snapped out of my reverie when a driver sped past me in the right lane, then pulled in front of me before his lane ended. I felt a hot flash of anger. I sped up and started thinking about how I could pass him (over double yellow lines) and cut him off before the light at College Avenue. My blood was boiling.