I was born to a woman that handled general-level duties as a civil servant because she provided stability during an uncertain time. This is the reason why I know that there are leaders among us regardless of age, rank, title, or role. Leaders are made for a moment
My mother earned promotions ahead of people with more degrees than a thermometer and exceeded all expectations laid at her feet. She was told to go back and get more education. She took a few college courses and then when the opportunity presented itself, she completed the equivalent of a Master’s degree in 12 months. This is why I know that not having a certificate didn’t mean she couldn’t achieve great things, that paper only meant that others could more easily recognize that she could.
What are you sure you can do if others only give you the chance?
What would it take for you to give yourself that chance?
I was groomed for a role at the start of my career. When I didn’t get the offer, I was told it was because I was a slow learner. The truth was I was asked to do something I was never taught. Within two weeks I was asked to replace The Chosen One, negotiated additional training, and stepped into the role, beginning an Emmy award-winning career. With this, I learned that decisions are made – especially by bosses – with only the information we have on hand.
Later in my career, I was deemed the leader of a crew without a formal title change – now known as quiet promoting – even though all I wanted to do was learn new things and share that gift with everyone else. While it was nice to be recognized for the impact I could have, I knew that the team was already working well, so I asked that this person’s opinion not be shared with anyone else. Too late. That leadership decision led to rumors and innuendo until suspicion sprung up like a dandelion through the pavement and our self-organizing team splintered and scattered in the wind. This is when I learned that some prefer and bestow labels to help them organize the flow of information.
In what ways do you already lead people and projects regardless of the title you’ve been given?
Looking back, I see now that I have led – without rank or title – expeditions into challenging situations only to deliver outcomes no one thought possible. As a Software Trainer, I would go into television stations rumored to be toxic only to have a completely different experience. This is why I know that a situation is not necessarily as dire as others label it because they can only see it from their vantage point.
For me to go into those tough corporate environments and succeed, I first had to fail. I have since discovered that FAIL is an acronym that stands for First Attempt In Learning. During my onboarding, I was asked to train a team on how to operate one feature of a software system. I delivered the teaching as I thought I was supposed to, and by the time the system was deployed, one student asked me why I shared so much information if they didn’t need it. I had no answer for her. That moment taught me to share only the information that was necessary with access to additional resources so that everyone can take their next step in confidence. During my next corporate training situation I got five-star ratings and the students immediately implemented what they learned.
How have those times you thought you failed helped you to be a better leader?
I took this experience with me as I fulfilled a contract that took me from coast to coast and tip to tail across Australia. I faced leaders that didn’t know what they were getting into, so I architected an outline of what was included in the corporate training plan and the intended outcomes. Slowly I could see relief spread across the stakeholders’ faces because everything made more sense. In taking the time to listen and empower them with information, I gained an ally who reached out to other training sites, paving the way for me to be welcomed with less resistance.
While at Microsoft I was given opportunities to present to leaders from high school to the top ranks at international corporations because I adapted to what each group needed, becoming the first person from my crew to present for both the Office Envisioning and Strategic Prototyping teams. What I learned from this experience is that if you can help a group feel seen, you can have more opportunities to speak.
What have you learned by taking on challenging projects?
During an executive summit, I witnessed a group of leaders in dark suits huddled around a kiosk trying to get a glimpse into the future of work. From backstage I was drawn to look only at one woman, seated, wrapped in a green sari. To this day, she represents a true leader who is authentic and not afraid to position themselves differently from the masses.
The leaders I meet now are graduating from boot camps, transitioning between roles, or preparing to level up their careers while balancing between how they see themselves and how others see them. I began writing this career reflection as a way to balance those expectations for myself and honor all the times that I have led or been called to lead. Bosses may have titles and leaders may have people, but it is clear to me now that sometimes these are the same person, and many times they are not.