In one of his usually insightful blog posts , Dan Rockwell says, “Wisdom, like every other great thing, is pursued and nurtured, not attained.” This phrase reminds me of my own view of leadership, that becoming an admired and respected leader involves a lifetime journey. When we get to the point where we think we are indeed a “great leader,” that is when we stop growing and learning.
Leadership, like wisdom, is pursued for decades. The best leaders realize that they never stop learning – from their peers, from their colleagues, from their competitors, from their teammates, from their stakeholders. Once we think we know everything about leadership, that’s when we are in trouble. We must stay open to new lessons, to new perspectives, to new ideas. During this pandemic, something leaders have never experienced in their lifetimes, it is especially important to bring differing paradigms to our leadership tables, to open our ears and pay attention to people who possess different viewpoints, especially those whose views contrast with our own.
As we navigate through these treacherous waters, I am reminded of an experience that touched me deeply a number of years ago. I was completing the Georgetown University Leadership Coaching Certificate Program. Today that program is part of the Institute for Transformational Leadership (ITL) at Georgetown. It is a rigorous program designed to bring out personal insights and develop skills and knowledge.
On the final day of our class, the co-directors of our program asked all students to being in something very personal to them, something they would be willing to surrender. When we arrived in class, all mementos were placed on a large table. One at a time, classmates approached that table and selected another person’s item for themselves, as a symbol of the cohort’s closeness and a memento of the time we had spent together growing and learning.
I selected the simple plastic frame above because the message it portrayed resonated with me so clearly. It had been brought in by a lovely young woman, the youngest woman in Cohort 42 at Georgetown, a woman blessed with grace and compassion. Now, whenever, I look at this frame next to my desk, I think of her and the gift she gave me.
Like Dan Rockwell’s definition of wisdom, leadership is about the journey, not the destination. Our leadership journeys are unique to us. They are filled with hills and valleys. When we encounter those valleys, how resilient are we, how quickly can we rise and try again? How adept are we at pausing in that gap between stimulus and response, as Viktor Frankl said, to learn from our mistakes and our crises? Do we apply what we have learned or are we too busy moving quickly on to the next project, the next task, the next bright shiny object? Do we possess 10 years of leadership experience, or do we have one year of leadership experience repeated 10 times?
This pandemic has represented a huge obstacle for all of us on our leadership journeys, regardless of our ages, our jobs or our locations. Do we have the strength to not only adapt so that our businesses can continue, our colleagues can stay safe and our customers can meet their needs, but do we also have the courage to ask the question “What is this pandemic trying to teach me as a leader – a leader of my business, a leader of my family and a leader in my community?”
Only when we make the time – not take the time – to ponder these big questions will we be able to say that even during a pandemic, we are making progress in our leadership journeys.
Larry Center — Principal at Center Leadership Coaching, LLC