I recently completed an 8-week leadership development program hosted by my employer. Even though I willfully participated, the first day was a bit nerve-racking. You know what I’m talking about. It felt like those times when you are voluntold to a committee, and you feel apprehensive about how it will go. Then you walk into the room for your first meeting, see who is sitting at the table and you breathe an enormous sigh of relief. You fist pump to yourself and say, “Thank goodness. The right people are here. This will be totally worth it!”.
Well, that’s how I felt as the group filtered into the room for our first meeting. It was a mix of folks I knew and respected, some that I didn’t know, but respected because of their reputations and one person who had just started with us. But he used to work at NASA, so of course I respected him; he is friends with astronauts! It was a talented group of individuals—heartfelt, insightful, eclectic and just the right amount of unruly—the people who do the important work to promote thriving communities, ensure robust democratic processes and who are the backbone of local government.
By the end of our program, we settled on a name for the group: Winfluencers. Our name is a made-up word that captures our whimsical spirit. And the sentiment that leadership is about influencing towards the “win”— influencing toward the BIG wins where benchmarks are met and exceeded. And influencing toward the little wins, where employees embrace a learning moment or teams reach a new level of meaningful cooperation. When it all boils down, BIG wins are the result of a culture of constant little wins… so, really, Winfluencers are driving a work culture where team members feel personally empowered and connected to our shared vision.
Being a part of this group was provocative, contemplative, challenging, and affirming. Our personalities, our interests and day-to-day jobs starkly contrast one another, yet we connect in a very profound way. I learned a lot from these folks. So, I’m sharing the two key lessons that I hold closest to my heart.
About half-way in, we had one really tough session. It was one of those moments where each person in the room had very different experiences with the content and very different reactions to the speaker’s message. It was an uncomfortable, deeply personal message about racism, privilege, and responsibility.
I had many contradicting feelings. I felt emotionally exposed, yet guarded; inspired to act, yet energetically defeated; informed about a problem, yet ignorant about the solution. The uncertainty—I’ll call it vulnerability–in that moment unveiled a shared trust among us. Despite having incongruent personal reactions, we were honest in our engagement with one another. This permeated future conversations and the unsettling session became a touchstone for future dialogue.
Winfluencer Leadership Lesson 1: Leadership is Authenticity. It is listening with an open mind, speaking your whole truth and, most importantly, purposefully empowering others with a safe space to do the same.
Through this process, I learned that our brain trust is informed, reliable and a valuable resource as we move through our careers. But, more impressive to me, is that we saw each other for who we are. And accepted one another. We gave space when someone needed it; we felt the fire when emotions intensified and walked through those feelings; we pulled people in, once they were comfortable; we learned and respected each other’s boundaries. This balance between self-awareness and shared-awareness was truly magnificent. It’s the kind of give-and-take; push-and-pull; yin-and-yang that makes-up the healthiest, most fulfilling relationships.
Winfluencer Lesson 2: Leadership is Love. I mean, really, truly loving each other. Honoring the ways in which others make you better, and knowing how you make others better. Putting the needs of others before yours and trusting that your needs will be nurtured in the process. Knowing when to sit quietly in support and when to compassionately disrupt for action. It’s about hard truths and subtle lessons. It’s about tears of frustration, and deep-bellied laughter. It’s about finding every reason to eat ice-cream at 1 o’clock in the afternoon and to celebrate with happy hours whenever possible.
When we are in love—the best kind of being in love–we are energized, compassionate, open, balanced, self-aware, attentive, creative, and courageous— we make things happen and we bring others along with us. We are our best selves.
As I look forward to fully embracing my leadership roles, I do so with an open heart and my whole self and the intention to love my way through everyday.