For the past 15 years, I have developed and grown an afterschool program model from its infancy serving 20 kids in a church to serving over 600 kids across three cities, demonstrating incredible success rates.
By all means I have been deemed as a visionary, strong, competent leader. Each year as we get larger and stronger, the pressure mounts as the praise continues, and the expectations build. However, what most people on the outside looking in don’t see is with all the ambition, the drive for success, and the pressure to continue to be better than the day before, something suffers. No I don’t mean those personal relationships in your life, although yes, those two can suffer. However, I am speaking of those with whom you lean on the most and who you work with most closely that often suffer the greatest. Leadership is supposed to be utilized differently based on behaviors and situations, but even some of the greatest leaders often struggle with this balancing act. Steve Jobs was often praised and revered for his incredible leadership in the tech world, struggled to manage his day-to-day interactions with his colleagues and employees. There have been insiders who have claimed that regardless of the revered leadership of our 44th President, Barack Obama, he was often very difficult to work with, not wanting to work collaboratively, or would barrel over any ideas that weren’t his own. I am sure many presidents have struggled with this power balance. However, this isn’t just attributed to the “greats” of our times, this can also be attributed to our everyday leaders, including those in our field.
I personally struggle with this greatly. While yes, by all means I have accomplished some pretty awesome things, I have done so leveraging one style of leadership and minimizing the others. If there were a support group out there for the flawed leader, I would stand and say, “I am Annemarie and I am a pacesetter”. This style of leadership served me very well when we were building the model. After all, it was just me, and there was no one to develop or grow, the work simply had to get done. However, as the organization has grown and expanded, my continued pacesetting style has greatly affected the company culture and how my team interacts with others and myself. We aren’t always conscious of our behaviors and how they affect the culture of our organization. It wasn’t as if I was trying to just run everyone over, or create an environment where people were afraid to make independent decisions. It was more an unconscious, targeted focus at keeping all the plates in the air without letting everything drop. After all, if I have control, I can ensure no plates crash and burn.
So why do I share all of this?
Well, I have come to realize that you can’t truly be your best, if you are afraid to admit to your flaws. We all have them. One of my colleagues and friends, always asks, “What do you own in the dysfunction?” I don’t believe there is a perfect or ideal leader out there, although many publications have tried to define what that is. I think it is always a balancing act, and more times than not we are leaning to our defaults, which throw other things out of whack. However, I think there is an opportunity to embrace our flaws, to own them, to let down our guards and say “yes, I suck at this, and need to work on it”… and then, most importantly, go out and work on it!
A few months ago, I took a leap. I allowed my staff to provide me with 360 feedback on my leadership styles. There were incredibly supportive statements about my strengths as a leader – visionary, role model, ambitious, strong work ethic, dedication, etc. Then there were some earthshaking, painful comments about my areas of growth – too controlling, does not listen to others, directive, hard to talk to, and shows little empathy. It was incredibly painful to read, yet, so important to my personal and professional growth.
Now I must decide how to grow.
I don’t believe I will reach a point of perfection as a leader and I don’t seek to reach that. Rather, I seek to find a way to be better for my team, to forgive myself for my flawed behaviors and to better understand the underlying triggers that lead to those behaviors, and to take small steps towards changing them. I could continue to lead using the same style I have been for 15 years, and quite possibly reach the same vision I have been working on for several years, after all, we have had great success over the last 15 years, as I am sure many well known leaders have. However, I would do so at the sake of others. I am a flawed leader, I own it, and I am working on it.
It is an incredibly painful, scary, and nauseating experience to open yourself up to that feedback, to really put your naked leadership out there for everyone to critique and criticize, but without it you are only living in the bubble you have created and yet the conversation continues without you knowing. I am still working on mine. I have only just begun, but I think the first step in all of this is for us to forgive ourselves for not being the “ideal leader” to recognize the good we have done, and to commit to being better for those around us as we go forward.
For breakfast this morning: Egg Whites, Chicken, and Feta Cheese burrito wrap.