Over the weekend, I started a closet clean out project. Specifically, I am looking to lighten my closet of military uniforms and items that I no longer need because I retired.
As I was reminiscing with my kids, I came across my original pair of patent leather shoes I remember so clearly the day I bought them - I had just graduated from the AFROTC-version of officer boot camp With a fellow, newly graduated cadet, I walked across Lackland Air Force Base to by these shoes. They were only allowed for juniors and seniors. They were earned. I remember being so proud of these shoes because they were a symbol of an important transition
They were also (and still are) close to the most uncomfortable shoes I have ever bought or worn. They were meant to be one thing & ended up being painful and wrong for me.
As I thought about that say, I began reflecting on how those shoes symbolize for me the various leadership "rules" or ways of leading that I have been guided to throughout my career. They also symbolize that even when you "earn" something, it might not be right for you.
Throughout my career, I remember being told to do this in leadership or to lead like that. I remember vividly a specific scenario being asked how I would respond in a situation where someone challenged my way of thinking -- and not giving the answer I knew they wanted because that is not what would fit for me. Leading the expected way would be unauthentic and also likely ineffective.
At the time, I wasn't as aware of one of the biggest reasons that the prescribed or expected way of leading wouldn't work ... bias. What might work for someone could lead to someone else being labeled difficult, angry, aggressive ... for the many who give advice or coach others on leadership, being aware that identity and bias impact someone's ability to lead is an essential piece of leadership development.
At the time, I simply knew the leadership behaviors I was expected to display didn't fit right, and I remember feeling judged and at the same time a little more solid in who I was as a leader. I remember being afraid I wouldn't get a job - and also reminding myself that I didn't want to be leading in an organization that would expect me to behave the way others did.
I have spent and continue to spend a lot of time learning about, teaching and coaching others about leadership. My guidance to individuals and groups is that you might need to "try on" and discard some leadership practices and habits until you find the ones that really are the best one for you as a leader.
My daughter's response to my well-earned and painful shoes fits this perfectly ... "mom, these are the worst. I'm never wearing these or buying shoes like these." Yes, exactly. Tried on. Felt the future blisters. Discarded.
Remember that someone else's leadership tactics and advice don't have to be yours. They might not fit - and it's okay to go find the ones that do for you.
What leadership practices, behaviors or advice might you need to discard to find a more authentic and effective leadership identity for you?