7 Leadership Lessons from 2012

images-1Like many of you, I have been taking some time over the past few days to reflect on lessons learned from 2012. The point of reflection is to learn and make adjustments for the coming year. I always want to be getting better as a leader. But without reflection and lessons enumerated it is difficult to determine what steps to take. I am still digesting the following seven lessons, but I thought I would share them with you and invite your input. So please comment after the post and add to the learning.

1. Transitions take more time than you think. As a family, we moved back to the U.S. from Italy a little over a year ago. We moved back to a familiar city and surroundings, but we are still making adjustments back to our home culture. We were told that it might take up to two full years to feel completely normal again. I think all transitions take time, whether adjusting to a new country, a new job, a new social status, unexpected loss, etc. I have often counseled others that it will take three years to feel completely confident in a new job role. One friend of mine puts it this way, “You are new until you are not anymore.” Transitions take time and that is OK. Give yourself the freedom to be in transition.

2. Directional clarity comes more slowly when tackling something new. I am on a team that is trying to change everything about one division of our organization. To be honest, I don’t think any of us fully knew what we were in for. We are restructuring old and creating new. Don’t get me wrong, the people we are leading are responding well and with great faith. But we have certainly created some chaos. We know where we want to go ultimately, but the how is an ever changing process. The learning curve is high and directional clarity comes in small doses. That is the way of “new.”

3. You have to listen well, and then listen again, when leading up. I am interfacing ever more with our corporate leadership. We have been blessed with some great leaders at the top and I have learned much from them. But like anything, fresh eyes see things to improve. Leading up is more of an art than a science. I am learning from the school of hard knocks. One thing I am clearly seeing is that you must listen to your leaders really well to not only understand the strategy, but to also understand the intent. It is easy to shoot at things that bug you. It takes more time and thoughtful questions to get to the heart of a matter–and that matters when leading up.

4. Propose solutions, and not just problems, when leading up. Another aspect of leading up is that you must do so with some plausible solutions at the ready. Again, it is easy to only whine about the problems you see. You will rarely gain a hearing with that tactic. If you truly see something that should be addressed, then think through how it might be resolved too. Leaders are more inclined to hear you out when you have actually thought through a possible solution. That poses you as part of the solution, and not just part of the problem.

5. Expect these responses whenever you are leading change: accepting, questioning, suspicious, and immovable. As I mentioned earlier, I am part of a team that is leading great change. I have been part of change efforts before, but I am always surprised by some of the responses. I forget that not everyone is like me. I fail to take in people’s past experiences when they encounter change. Sometimes, they have not been led well in the past. There are lingering wounds that cause a variety of responses. The four responses above highlight for me what is typical and to be expected when leading change. All but the last one can be overcome with time and solid, two way communication. It helps to anticipate these responses and even plan for them.

6. It is equally tiring to do nothing than to do something. There have been days over the last year where I have not felt like doing anything. My energy was low and my motivation was nil. Some of that was the transition phase I was in. Some of that was the chaos of the leadership season my team was in. But one thing I saw was that doing nothing is tiring too. When I am inactive I over analyze, rely more on soft data, question my own decisions, and become more cynical about those around me. And that is really draining. I have seen that to be engaged at any level in an active way is better and more life giving than just sitting around doing nothing.

7. Always work toward leveraging your strengths. I am not a young man anymore. I know better what I am good at and what I do poorly. It is more important than ever that I work in environments that tap into my strengths, gifts, and abilities–for my sake and for the organization. But sometimes I see leaders who blame the organization for not utilizing them well. That may be the case at times and there may be a time to move on. There is also the possibility that the leader needs to step up to change the dynamics of their environment so that they are leading better out of who they are. It is up to us first to investigate what can be changed so that we can make our best contribution. I clearly sense that the leaders over me want me to succeed. They are for me. I think this is true more than we think. That creates space to make some adaptations to my functionality for my good and the for the benefit of the organization.

What will 2013 bring? More learning. What are your thoughts? What are some of the lessons you have learned over this past year?

11 replies
  1. Stephanie N.
    Stephanie N. says:

    Gary, this is all so very helpful (and applicable) to me right now! I’m in an evaluative season in my role (and life) right now, so these 7 points are really great. I always appreciate your wisdom.

    Reply
    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Steph, Thanks for your comments-always love hearing from you. How is the juggling of home life and being an ND going? I know these are not easy days-thanks for doing what you are doing.

      Reply
  2. Kerri
    Kerri says:

    Hi Gary, I really enjoy your blog. I am very interested in helping people (particularly Cru staff) lead from their strengths – learning to adapt their role to fit who they are rather than the other way around. Do you have any good resources to recommend? We are pretty good at identifying strengths, less so about next steps in light of those strengths.

    Reply
    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Kerri, Thanks for your kind comments. And I am grateful for your desire to help others serve out of their strengths. You ask a great question. I do think the best tools we have in Cru at the moment to make this work are the Position Focus and Personal Development PLan. If you have used Strengths Finder, or something like it, to help a staff person identify their core strengths, then I think that is key as a guide to helping staff live out of their strengths regarding their contribution to a team’s strategic plan. And I think that is the starting point for crafting a good PDP-so that they are actually investing in making their core strengths even better. Too often I think we do the PF and the PDP without regard for a person’s core strengths–so they can end up demotivated over time when their contributions and development is disconnected from what they are truly motivated to do. Does that make sense? I will keep thinking on this.

      Reply
      • Kerri
        Kerri says:

        Yes, that definitely makes sense. Thanks for your thoughts. Some times the simplest option is the best one. It’s so energizing to me to think about how to help people move forward in this way. I love seeing people do what God made them to do.

        Reply
  3. diana brown
    diana brown says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. As I grow older, what is most meaningful to me is to approach opportunity with an open mind. Our world, business and otherwise, is in incredible flux. Often we can get stuck with a mindset firmly rooted in past. This is not productive. Sometimes even monumental changes mask the most valuable opportunity. If we can position ourselves to view and accept changes as opportunity we will be better prepared to create success in the now. This is my mission in 2013.

    Reply

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