My Leadership Story
I wish I could tell you my leadership story is one of a meteoric rise to success, filled with cultivated potential and personal fulfillment.
I wish I could tell you leadership came naturally and every professional opportunity ended with positive outcomes.
I wish I could tell you I fully understood what an awesome responsibility leadership was to those around me.
I wish I could tell you I was a great leader, but the truth is, I made just about every mistake in the book.
So how did I become a successful coach after a difficult leadership journey from struggling to thriving?
By becoming the coach I wish I had
Most people come to professional coaching in one of two ways. They are either retired successful leaders who want to help others benefit from the wisdom of their experience or academics with a PhD in Organizational Psychology. I represent a compelling third option - a battle-scarred leader who has tripped, stumbled and fought a long, uphill battle to leadership success. Far from an organizational savant, my early adventures in responsibility made me a posterchild for ineffective ways lead. After years of humility, introspection and education, I learned a thing or two about what it takes to be a successful leader, capable of cultivating results and relationships at the same time.
This is the story of my unlikely journey from novice leader to CEO teacher and the origins of my committed passion for becoming the coach I wish I had early in my career.
Just a Little Hustle
Just before my 26th birthday, I was named Corporate Operations Director for a medium-sized health and wellness company. As in most organizations, my talent for accepting responsibility and delivering a healthy bottom line was rewarded with a series of promotions that brought me from a location manager to corporate officer in under two years. Before I knew it, I was not only responsible for creating financial results but also an expanding team of people with whom I was expected to drive successful outcomes. With promotions comes the assumption that if you know how to drive results, you must know how to lead people - I'm here to tell you, nothing is further from the truth.
Houston We Have a Problem
I was trying to navigate my position of authority with a command-and-control version of leadership I derived from god-only-knows where and getting the poor results that often come along with leadership rigidity. At the time, I equated compliance with competence and enforced complicated systems of accountability that deteriorated the professional relationships I counted on. Micromanagement, inflexibility and frustration were such hallmarks of my leadership approach that I (along with my 5'1" frame) earned myself the nickname "Napoleon." I wish I understood then what I know know - a leader's success is defined by the quality of their professional partnerships.
In the absence of any guidance, mentorship or coaching about the long-term benefits of strong professional partnerships, I was left to interpret any negative feedback I was given and adjust on my own. I naively believed systems and processes were the keys to organizational salvation and couldn't find that sweet spot between driving outcomes and cultivating strong professional relationships at the same time. My frustration grew, negative feedback kept coming and I felt I had nowhere to turn for advice on how to get it right. As it turns out, my experience is not that unusual.
How many leaders begin their careers full of hope and resolve, only to find they've hit their heads on the ceiling of effectiveness too early?
How many are applauded for the results they achieve, then simultaneously criticized for the shortcomings they encounter?
How many leaders have the awareness they aren't doing something right, yet lack the wisdom and insight necessary to move things in the right direction?
The short answer is too many! Too many leaders are painfully aware of a leadership gap and have no idea how bridge their current skills with expectations. While many high-potential professionals are taught to deliver results over the course of their careers, too few are provided the relationship education required to cultivate their own leadership potential.
Beginning to See the Light
Twelve years and two companies later, I was invited to a massive industry tradeshow in Los Angeles. Sitting there in an audience of several thousand and listening to an impassioned keynote about innovating leadership to meet new expectations became the turning point in my professional life.
A radical shift in organizational culture had taken place over the last decade since I joined the workforce. The days of strictly professional exchanges in the workplace had given way to some overlap with discussions of personal well-being. Businesses transitioned from bottom-line-driven enterprises to conscious capitalistic organizations with moral and ethical mandates. We came to expect more from our leaders than achieving goals and outcomes; we now expect them to partner with us to cultivate all aspects of our professional potential. In short, leadership expectations shifted from managing outcomes to inspiring people, and the leaders who how to cultivate strong professional relationships will survive in the next generation.
That was it - the lightbulb moment where I suddenly realized that if I wanted to thrive as a leader, I would have to adapt my style to meet the rising leadership demands of empathy, connection and development. That speaker made be believe for the first time that I could learn to be a better leader.
A Growth Mindset
I became was fascinated by the intersection of human behavior and work, and relentless in my consumption of books, podcasts, classes and seminars about leadership. I studied voraciously, built a repertoire of skills and practiced deploying my lessons at work. I channeled my gifts of strategic planning, organization and direct communication in entirely new ways and learned to invest just as much attention into building strong relationships as I did in creating successful outcomes.
The improved quality of my partnerships allowed collective accomplishment beyond anything I would have achieved under my previous command-and-control leadership style. My teams were stronger, the results spoke for themselves and I experienced a level of professional fulfillment I could not have imagined possible a dozen years before. I finally understood how to create organizational value in a meaningful way and experienced the gratification that comes from cultivating potential in others. Eventually, coaching and mentoring my team to achieve career success replaced exceeding revenue targets as the most fulfilling part of my job.
Nothing was better than sitting across from someone, discovering what really matters and providing them with the support, wisdom and insight necessary to design professional lives they loved.
I began to reflect on my leadership career and wonder what it would have looked like if I started out knowing more of what I know now. I became frustrated with the knowledge that leadership wisdom is out there, yet organizations were not prioritizing leadership training to effectively lead a new generation. I started to dream about supporting leaders like me - struggling to evolve their skills to meet changing leadership expectations - and longed to have a greater impact on the way we work.
Returning With the Elixir
In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell talks about the final step in any hero's story - returning with what you have learned to help others. My long leadership road taught me to capitalize on my strengths, understand my derailing behaviors and develop diverse methods to meet organizational challenges, yet reaching that point was a difficult process of trial and error. I knew there was a better way to establish leadership mastery and believed the best way to show appreciation for insight by sharing it with others.
I went back to school to earn my masters (twice), became a trained and accredited coach and started my own executive consulting firm. Today, I work with leaders all over the world to support, cultivate and express their own unique leadership values in the organizations they serve. I prepare them for the ever-expanding scope of skills required to produce results and cultivate strong professional relationships, and I help them to become the heroes in their own lives.
Along the way I remind myself the best teachers are not those who have done everything perfectly, but instead those who have navigated difficult terrain, taken wrong turns and made mistakes. My leadership challenges fueled my desire to find a better way and my accumulated education, wisdom and experience is what I share with those on a similar quest for leadership mastery. I am honored to have a partnership role with those aiming to serve through leadership and humbled by the commitment of like-minded individuals who challenge themselves to succeed for the betterment of the organizations they serve. Leaders have an extraordinary power to positively impact the lives of others and I could not be more grateful to play even a small role in cultivating that potential.