I’ve been in a reflective head space lately. A significant chapter of work is coming to a close at the end of 2019 and it’s made me think about the big leadership lessons that have formed me into the person I am today.
Six lessons stand out from the past few decades.
- Walk with the wise and you’ll be wise; a companion of fools suffers harm. This is the foundational leadership lesson I took from Proverbs 13:20 when I was in high school. It has oriented me ever since. I look for wisdom in peers, mentors, books, podcasts, documentaries, wisdom literature, etc. I pray for wisdom on a regular basis. This was the cornerstone advice we’ve shared with each of our kids on their 13th birthday rite of passage weekends. If this is the only advice they remember, I’ll feel like I’ve done a good job as a parent. No one has all the answers, but there’s always wisdom available if we look for it.
- Think for the group. As a college student, I had a month-long experience living on the South Side of Chicago. The group of students walked various neighborhoods to experience and learn from a wide range of cultures and voices. One day, the group of about 30 came to a major intersection as the light was starting to change. I hustled across just before the first car plowed through and turned to see the rest of the group still bunched up on the other corner. One of the professors yelled, “Think for the group, Christin.” I stared back at the other students while we all awkwardly waited for the light to change. I realized that leading didn’t matter if I wasn’t paying attention to the capacity of the group to follow. Just because I could make the leap didn’t mean the group could do the same. As a leader I had to consider the implications of my actions on others before I took risks and asked them to do the same.
- When we’re stuck, ask, “What problem are we trying to solve?” Hat tip to Chip Neidigh for this one. This question sharpens our thinking. It illuminates assumptions and misalignments. Ask it early. Ask it often.
- Thinking time is non-negotiable for leaders. The best performing leaders in the most competitive and fast-paced industries in the world consistently protect some of their time for thinking about their business, their team, themselves as leaders. This is not a frivolous luxury. It’s an opportunity for cultivating competitive advantage.
- Pay attention to what drains you and what gives you life. The Ignatian Spiritual tradition calls this the “Desolation and Consolation of your Soul.” We all have these experiences of joy/energy/life and resistance/anxiety/drain every day. Most of my life I ignored them, numbed them, discounted them, or was unaware of the cumulative impact they were having on me. I’ve found that we avoid naming issues when we don’t know how to deal with them. So how should one deal with the life-giving and life-draining things observed? First, see both types of experiences as an opportunity to grow, challenge or expand your thinking, and make intentional decisions. Second, see Lesson 1 above – find some wise people and give them access to your life to help you figure it out.
- Own your whole story. It’s not a liability. My career path to get to where I am today was indirect and unlikely. That used to make me very careful about what I shared with others and made me believe my options were very limited. My internal narrative was, “you’re not enough. If people knew your story they would be disappointed, underwhelmed, and walk away.” My whole story includes taking time off work to stay home with my children when they were small. My whole story includes work and volunteering in nonprofits and churches, and “only” having a Bachelor’s Degree. It includes living in low-income working class neighborhoods where I was the minority for over a decade. It includes re-entering the workplace as a receptionist. The truth is that nothing is wasted. Every experience I’ve had is a resource I bring to serve clients, even if they never know my story. If I was an unlikely candidate but was given opportunities and coaching to flourish, what other undeveloped leaders are out there needing to be seen and cultivated? I suspect we don’t have a lack of leaders today. I believe we largely have passive, outdated, narrow approaches for developing and launching leaders that needs innovation. It’s why I’ve loved the work we do at Kairos. We help organizations build cultures of leadership development and it’s work I have loved being a part of.
That brings me to the chapter that is closing.
I want to share that after more than seven wonderful years on the Kairos team, I will be leaving my role at Kairos at the end of 2019.
I have been consulting for both Kairos and an organization called Spiritual Leadership Inc. (SLI) over the past seven years. I have decided to move to a more singular focus on the SLI work. This was a challenging decision since I love our clients and this amazing Kairos team.
I will still be in Indianapolis and will continue to celebrate the good work that Kairos is doing with clients. It’s been an honor to work with you all over the years.
Here’s to healthy but bittersweet endings, new beginnings, and leadership lessons yet to be learned.