In eighth grade, the spunky, 14-year-old version of me ran for student council president under the slogan, “Pick Flowers.” With the maiden name Flowers, I was lucky to have such an easy tagline, and I won over my classmates with my promise to improve school lunches. (I failed at that part.) This was my first sojourn into the realm of “leadership” and my first time with the title “president.”
In January 2019, a less-spunky version of me became president of a small company. There was no slogan, no improved school lunches; but there were more responsibilities and opportunities to fail.
As I reflect on my first year leading as president, it would be easier and probably more fun to highlight some of the wins my team and I achieved. But some of the best lessons can come from failure, so let’s take a look at how I failed this past year:
1. I changed a lot of things really fast, and people hated it.
I’ve read many books and even taken a change management class for my master of business administration, but those lessons flew out my office window when I chose to put real change into practice in our organization. I changed the personal time off approval process. I added weekly meetings. I decided we needed performance evaluations. I added and removed staff members. And while I felt like all of these changes were good and necessary, I could feel and see the changes exhausting my team. The past year was dubbed, “The year we changed everything.”
Takeaway for year two: Change is inevitable. Framing the change in the context of the mission and goals of the organization isn’t enough. It’s important to earn buy-in from each team member for the change to be successful.
2. I was a firefighter for brush fires and birthday cakes.
I found myself putting out a lot of fires in 2019, some more necessary than others. While helping solve problems is a major job duty for any leader, it seemed to consume my time some days or weeks where nothing proactive or strategic would get done. There’s not just my lost time to consider; jumping in to “save the day” did a disservice to my team, too. It might have even conveyed that I lacked confidence in my team members when I offered to step in to solve problems they were capable of solving without me.
Takeaway for year two: Empower others to have difficult conversations, connect with team members they don’t usually work with, or fix a broken process. This is critical to growing a strong team.
3. I had unrealistic expectations for myself.
The timing wasn’t in my favor from the start. On my first day as president, it was also my first day back from maternity leave with my second son. To say I was overwhelmed by my new responsibilities would be an understatement. I wanted desperately to triple company revenue and prove to the world (whoever was watching, which I’ve found is never as many people as you think) that I could be an amazing mom and wife while navigating my new role. I had an idea in my head of how hard and how many hours company presidents work, and I tried to hit that mark, even if it meant sacrificing my mental health.
Takeaway for year two: Do not be defined by other versions or molds of what success looks like. Giving yourself space and grace to succeed on your own terms can help you be a more authentic and, ultimately, effective leader.
There’s nothing like a list of failures to motivate me — and others — to have a better year. What would you add to my takeaways to help me become a better leader in 2020?