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Growth from mistakes


On the the lifelong practice of becoming a better leader, moments arise that if we gift ourselves the time, we have an opportunity to pause and reflect on our role as a leader. Over the past month I've had a couple of opportunities to reflect:

  • I was a guest speaker sharing my perspectives as a Founder with students at the UNSW Masters Program
  • Hewish, Stew and I have this month celebrated 5 years as Founders at Leaders on Demand 

As I reflect on my years as a leader, I feel I've learnt more about myself in the last 5 years as founder than I have in the previous decades of leadership experience. And as usual, I've learnt more from my mistakes than anything else.  So, in very deliberate order (!) here's my list of mistakes I've made over the past 5 years, lessons I've learnt and questions I ask myself to keep focussed. Maybe this will help you not make the same mistakes I've made.... or at least share the learnings I've had.

Mistake 1 - Not prioritising my wellbeing (or expecting someone else to!) 

Those of you who know me, will know I've experienced more than my share of health mishaps. Over the past 5 years alone, I've ended up in hospital with some pretty serious medical conditions and been wiped out with a severe case of Covid-19. With the support of a great therapist, I've dug into how I manage stress and boundaries and realised that whilst I looked after myself physically, I was not taking great care of myself emotionally.  

Lesson Learnt - I'm the only one responsible for my own care and wellbeing and for prioritising my self-care and calendar.  I've got people around me who've got my back but I need to set and communicate my boundaries (and book in my weekly pilates sessions!).  I can also help ignite the conversation for leaders and teams to create collective change in this space.

Q: What can I do to prioritise my wellbeing today?

Mistake 2 - Avoiding tough conversations (and expecting things to improve by themselves)

Being trained as a Certified Dare to Lead Facilitator - I know that avoiding tough conversations is the number one thing that gets in the way of courageous leadership. And yet, I still do it from time to time. We all do.  I've held back from giving feedback when I should have been more direct. I've not shared my perspective when I've had something to add. It's always caught up with me. 

Lesson Learnt - In Dare to Lead, we use the analogy that courage is like a muscle, it needs working out every day. The cost of avoiding these conversations is high - emotionally, building trust and connection, time & energy... don't miss the opportunity.  With feedback conversations, I am reminded of the advice from a CEO mentor - if I don't have hairs on the back of my neck, I'm not diving in vulnerably enough. I need to just get over the short term discomfort and keep working the muscle of having more tough conversations. Future me will thank Today me.

What's the tough conversation I'm avoiding that I need to have? 

Mistake 3 - Not asking for help or support

We've all been there - thinking we can go it alone.  We don't need any external help... we can make this work ourselves.  I've been there both at home and at work. It's stressful and not sustainable. It's generally unproductive, lacks creativity and innovation.  And it can be lonely (even with co-founders) if we think we need to do it all ourselves.  At various points we've found ourselves stuck in our heads, not out talking to the team, to customers, asking for outside perspective, bringing in additional capability/capacity when we've needed to scale. 

Lesson Learnt - It's ok to ask for help. In fact, more than that - if I want to be a great leader, I'm expected to ask for help. I should play to my strengths and bring others in to plug capability and capacity gaps when I need. 

What do I need to let go of?  What can I share? What's causing me most pain/angst/worry that I would like some help with?

Mistake 4 - Not investing in the foundations and getting too busy in the business

It's pretty easy to get caught up in execution. Setting up the new business was no exception and we were 6 weeks in, busy with a new client, and still hadn't sat down to work on the purpose, vision and values. We had the business plan (the head) but not the foundations (the heart) of the business created.  That was until a good friend and team member pulled us aside to help us. We got the foundations in place and off we were running, aligned as a team. Likewise, once the business was running, we've had times where we've been running hard so hard in execution mode in the business, we've lost sight of stepping back to work on the business. It's really easy to do and has tripped us up more times than I care to admit.

Lesson Learnt - Stopping to reset (individually and as a team) is essential to building a great business.  It's a real skill to walk the steps between the dance floor and the balcony.   We've now built into our operating system cadence a series of annual/ quarterly/ monthly reviews so that we have the opportunity to review and reset priorities.  Oh and having anymore than 5 priorities is meaningless! 

What do you need to pause and reset?  What's most important (today/this week/this month)?

Mistake 5 - Thinking that because I've done the work, I'd 'done' the work - it's a daily practice!

Like many leaders in our team, I'm used to running towards fires and get a rush from it. My early career was spent diving into crisis and difficult situations and I was known for being resilient and dealing with hard things.  Then I became a Certified Dare to Lead Facilitator in the transformational courage-building work of Dr Brené Brown. It aligned with how I'd executed transformations as an interim c-suite leader. I'd now done the work in the field and been certified in courageous leadership.

Whilst becoming Certified created a new level of competence and skill development for me, it also made me realise how much I didn't know. I realised I'd also carried around a lot of armour, and held back emotionally when I could have been more vulnerable to connect. Four years later and having trained hundreds of other leaders in Dare to Lead, I know that the work of becoming a courageous leader is never finished for me.

Lesson Learnt -  It's hard to embrace more heart when we're trained to use our heads. Leading with heart and embracing vulnerability is key to courageous leadership and who I want to be as a leader. Having the certificate doesn't matter... it's how I show up every single day. 

How do I want to show up today? 

I'd love to know if any of this resonates for you, or how you reflect on your mistakes and growth. Send me a message if you'd like to connect on any of the above.

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author. This article provides general information, does not constitute advice and should not be relied upon as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information.