I have a complicated relationship with leadership development books and leadership conferences.
I read half a dozen leadership books and attend a handful of leadership development conferences each year. I’m passionate about lifelong learning, personal reflection, and the power of stories and fresh thinking to challenge my status quo. However, I find myself thinking, “This is pretty obvious stuff. Why am I spending all this time and money learning about things I already know I need to be doing?”
“How did we get here?” I thought to myself as my wife and I sat in silence, furious at each other on our anniversary get-away. In 23 years of marriage, we had never once had a fight about money. Then, out of nowhere, we found ourselves at odds over how much we were willing to pay for our daughter’s college tuition. I was so pissed that I stormed out of our Cincinnati Airbnb, and started walking north in the cool night air to clear my head.
I returned later that evening in the same state of mind as when I left. Kim and I went to bed angry, facing opposite directions.
I’ve been investing a lot of time and energy on personal growth. It’s hard work. It’s revealed some tough, ugly truths. One of those truths is that I don’t like to spend a lot of time thinking and planning. I like to get stuff done. Thinking and planning feels like a waste of time. The problem is that I struggle with developing long-term strategies. Because I don’t make the time to reflect, I run the risk of focusing on the wrong things. I’m starting to see this character trait, both in myself and in some of the leaders I come in contact with.
Behavioral changes don’t just happen by accident. They require internal transformations first.
You see, there are subtle ways we sabotage the changes we want to make. If we don’t remove those internal blockers, we’ll never achieve lasting outcomes.
I intimately learned this lesson last year. My family accomplished a milestone goal. We became one of the 20% of Americans who are debt free. My entire approach to this goal was different than my usual run-of-the-mill – goals. This goal required that I show up differently and clearly address my blockers.
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.
My 13-year-old son Kael was babysitting my 10-year-old son Zeff last week. Upon my return from an appointment, I asked Kael how it went. “Zeff was pretty good, but he disobeyed me.”
I’ve been knocked off-center. National-level politics, police shootings of defenseless citizens, the assassinations of police, and terrorist attacks around the world have all fed my sense of chaos, discouragement, and vulnerability. I’ve become disillusioned. The world is a mess.
What is my posture towards the assassins, terrorists, self-serving politicians, and lawless police?
I’m the Co-Founder and President of Rare Bird, an internet marketing firm. I’ve recently had the opportunity, if you will, to experience a pretty significant sea change in my world, and it allowed me the chance to reflect on how we react to changes of all kinds.
A few months ago, one of my business partners left the company after 18 years. He was the very definition of a key man: with me from the beginning, he was an integral part of the way we ran the business, the success we’ve had, and the decisions we made. When the opportunity to run a family business came up, he discussed it with several trusted advisors and decided to make the leap. From my perspective, it was the right choice, even though it would require huge changes for his entire family — not to mention being incredibly disruptive for Rare Bird.
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…
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.