Like 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?