What I Learned Working in Leadership Development

You might know my background in wellness leadership, but you might not know that I developed a lot of these skills while working in the field.

I have always taken a liking to being in leadership positions. Not because I need to be seen and heard, but because I find being in a role of working with quality people to be fascinating.

I first found my love for leading as a drum major in high school (go ahead and laugh), and found that being in front of a classroom where we were putting a project or sound together was ethereal.

I loved the charge of pulling something out of people that maybe they hadn’t realized within before. And it wasn’t because of me; it was just the energy of the space we allowed.

I wasn’t always a good leader, so I sought out leadership skills.

You know how kids are; they think leadership is forceful in nature. I know I demanded a lot as a student leader, and as a new teacher. It fell flat for me, and I couldn’t understand why. “I’m smart enough and capable enough. What is going wrong?” I would ask myself.

Your boss that is forcing numbers, not listening to their teams, threatening positions, and holding things over employees’ heads is still in this level of leadership… which isn’t leadership at all. It’s closer to authoritarianism. And no one wants to work for an authoritarian.

So a couple of years ago, I spent time working within a leadership development firm.

I really didn’t know why at the time, other than that I was fascinated by the work. By then, I was a leader in the wellness space and had developed my skills past authoritarian rule and into a compassionate and motivating leader. I was presenting nationwide and leading teams at home to be their best selves in the service of others.

But I still had work to uncover.

Here are the top four things I discovered more deeply while working with Momentum Consulting:

  1. You don’t have to know everything (and you shouldn’t)
  2. Curiosity is key to growth (for all involved)
  3. Move with what aligns with you
  4. Soft skills are the hardest and most essential part

You don’t have to know everything

I thought when I was younger, and perhaps you do, too, that the leader needs to be the most informed and most intelligent person in the room.

An ineffective leader might spout out with “well I know that…” or “actually, it’s like this…

This is a sign of immaturity and a feeling of inadequacy on her part. 

A leader will need to know deeply about the topic in which she is then trying to develop into something greater. And then the next step is finding out what other people know… and developing that.

Which brings me to my next point, curiosity is key to growth.

Get curious. Once the door is opened, it’s time to ask lots of questions, even “dumb” ones. Get to the root of how someone thinks. Find out about the other person’s experience and why their knowledge base is different, and then discover how things flow together to create solutions and/or next steps.

…which feels so much better than being beaten with someone else’s standards of belief, right?

Move with what aligns with you.

In other words, when you’re moving along a path, some things are going to be hard. They should be hard. Tough questions should be asked. But they are asked to get better or to develop the next part to the problem or solution.

It should never feel like being beaten up or hitting a wall over and over again, with no progress.

Have you ever worked in a place that made you feel this way? Like everything they did was in direct opposition to your inner knowing? Have you ever felt like your voice isn’t welcome? Your essential skills aren’t respected? Or that the leader or company are just pushing everyone down a bad path, destined to end in certain doom?

It’s a terrible feeling, right? 

So, what do you do? Your work becomes sluggish. You lack drive because it seems pointless, and you might even get physically ill from it.

This is no accident. Alignment is important. That doesn’t mean this has to be the project of your dreams or that you have to be the lead design of this project, but it does mean that things are moving in the right general direction and a place of flow for all involved.

Soft skills are the hardest… and most essential.

I think people started calling empathy and compassion “soft skills” to pretend like they don’t matter.

They matter more than any “hard skills,” (which is what…. math?!), because skills that lead to collaboration lead to success. Skills that lead to understanding lead to effectiveness. Skills that lead to opening new doors lead to innovation.

This is the way to go, in any team and in any work. Right?

So let’s reframe “soft skills” and start working for a more communicative environment.

These skills could be allowing 10 seconds between a question and response before moving on. It could mean asking about others’ experiences around a topic, and honestly finding story behind the vision and backgrounds of others. It could mean that when Mary loses her mother that we don’t pretend it didn’t happen and “carry on as usual.”

Humanity is dependent upon these skills, and so is our work toward the future. I’m here for it.

Check out the work of Momentum Consulting. They are beautiful people doing beautiful work. And check out also books by Brene Brown and Simon Sinek, to me, the quintessential writers of modern leadership.

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