20 Feb 2017
If anyone tells you leadership is easy, they either: 1. have never led anybody in their life; 2. are delusional or 3. both. These people probably have 30 leadership books on their shelf, quite possibly never read and still in pristine condition but know all about it. I too have at least 30 leadership books on my shelf, all thumbed through, dog eared, and some underlined.
The books tell us that in order to be a good leader, you must be a kind of Mother Theresa/Attila the Hun hybrid, with the sunny charisma of a game show host, strategic single mindedness of a fascist dictator, wisdom of Dumbledore and staying power of the Energiser Bunny…PLUS have a work life balance that allows you to raise a family, volunteer in Cambodian orphanages WHILE sitting on the boards of no less than 7 not-for-profits and attending every one of your kids dance recitals. You are also innovative enough to have worked out how to get 29 hours out of your day but are too humble to brag about it. And above all, you never, ever let anyone ever see a flicker of doubt, emotion (unless it’s joy) or worry on your smiley, trustworthy, transparent face.
So here’s my problem. I don’t measure up to that list…I am an IMPERFECT leader. Which leads me to ask: What am I doing wrong when all the books tell me I can do it in ’10 easy steps’?
Well, the first thing is that I have worked out about my leadership is that I have 50 years of hard wiring in my body that seriously wants me to do things which are not considered ‘desirable leadership traits’.
Secondly, it also doesn’t help that even if my mouth is shut, my face tells you exactly what I’m thinking—I’m that TRANSPARENT. Apparently, I give off all the visual warning signs of impending danger that a visually impaired gastropod could not miss. So when my natural reaction is to swiftly and decisively tell the truth in a manner which leaves no one within a 2 kilometre radius in any doubt of what I’m thinking, I have to sometimes physically stop myself from saying anything at all.
This leads me to my third problem: I am a direct person. I come from a long line of short, over-catering, highly-strung, brutally direct women. You ask me a question, I’ll give you a straight answer whether I want to or not, and if I don’t stifle it, it slips out and then it lies there like something unpleasant on a plate I’ve just served and everyone is looking at it in disgust.
So my MESSAGE is often lost because of the DELIVERY. I am working on: 1. shutting up first and 2. reframing my message.
My fourth problem is that I have a wall around me that can apparently be seen from space. Good leaders do not have walls around them, unless they are physically under siege. That’s what castles were for, not just decoration or folly. A good, solid, un-breachable defence system. Both castles and I have that in common.
Now I have unknowingly constructed this wall over decades and remained quite inconspicuous behind it, functioning quite happily, albeit at arm’s length, away from everyone around me without me actually knowing I’ve kept them there. Not a desirable leadership trait, as leaders must be APPROACHABLE…and unless you had some sort of medieval trebuchet, it wasn’t going to happen. However, occasionally, someone would slip through the barbed wire and crocodile infested moat and catch me unawares. They are now dear friends. And I have grown from a relationship founded on honesty. So yes, I understand the wall has to go for my good and the good of the company.
Fifth? Ah yes, fifth. I’m an introvert. And I must say I’m very happy being an introvert: it completely allows me to have the freedom from that feeling of missing out (FOMO). I detest small talk and crowds and ‘glad handing’ but I can be quite personable, in the right setting. I’m still working on taking the time to talk to the staff, getting to know them and allowing them to get to know me and stop hiding behind my busy-ness. Sometimes, when I am weighed down with responsibility of people’s lives, I forget to be personable, to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable and responsible at the same time is a hard one for me—up until now, they’ve always been mutually exclusive.
However, the odds are ever in in my favour: I am authentic. I am learning how to be an authentic leader, one who is self-aware, genuine, and focused on results in the long run while also leading from the heart. I can now admit when I am wrong and when I don’t know. But I also won’t hesitate when I do know and when I can best contribute.
Do I want to be a better leader? Sure do!
Does my company need me to step up and be a better leader? Sure does!
Do I keep getting feedback that my best, to date, is not good enough? Yessiree!
Do I die a little inside every time I hear that? Absolutely!
Do I keep trying to do better next time? Hell yeah.
I think they key is knowing that transformation starts with yourself, but does not stop there. Knowing that at first it may feel like the end, but it’s actually a beginning. And instead of feeling scared, I am excited for what’s to come.
SHERYLL is the co-owner and Managing Director and is responsible for operations, human resources and strategic partnerships. Prior to joining the company in 2006, Sheryll oversaw administration, project management and quality systems in engineering and space related industries in Australia and the United States. She volunteers with the Rotary and enjoys reading, mountain climbing, trekking and fishing.
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