Working outside the home as a leader in a non-profit organization that does many great things for the homeless and under-served in the Knoxville community can make for exciting days. Most days are 10 hours or more, and can lead you down the road of exhaustion at the end of the day. As the time quickly approaches for school to start back, I find myself becoming anxious thinking about how I will once again juggle the hectic lifestyle of a busy professional with the daunting task of getting several children off to school and educated in the public school system. For the last week or so I have spent some time thinking about my priorities as a leader. And when I think about it, being a parent is the ultimate test of one's leadership skills. You have the awesome and sacred responsibility of guiding and shepherding young people through all the trials and tribulations of life into becoming positive and productive human beings - and contributing members of the human race.
Although my mother worked outside the home when I was in high school, she was home most of my early school days. And why? Because its' hard to work outside the home AND run a successful household! Whether our parents were ideal or less than ideal examples as leaders, our first leadership lessons are most often learned in the home. Through our own parents' leadership example, we learn both what to do - and what not to do.
Reflecting back, I have been fortunate to have role models in my life who taught me lifelong lessons on leadership that still guide me and our organization's work today.
Here are 7 of the best leadership lessons I have learned to apply as a leader - most I have honed being a Mom - and they apply to my professional life as well.
1. Leadership demands action.
Leaders have an obligation and duty to step up and stand for something. Yes, it's much easier to complain, whine, and pout about the state of affairs... But what really does it accomplish?
Being involved in school, homework, budgeting decisions, social sacrifices, and settling arguments amongst the many female personalities in my home, I have learned that action speaks louder than words. Leaders get in the trenches to understand the challenges so that they can be a part of the solutions to overcome them.
Leaders do something, and in so doing, combat the forces of entropy and evil that can so quickly and easily take over, like weeds overcoming an untended garden. Leaders can't sit idly by and do nothing. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
2. Leaders pour their hearts and souls into their people and their purpose.
Leaders are all about their people and their purpose. They invest themselves fully into their people and purpose - knowing that in the long run, all the time and energy will be worth it. Leaders willingly subvert their own ego for their cause. They understand that their success is not measured in how well they do individually - but ultimately in how well their team does - how well their family does.
3. Leaders plant seeds of success.
Leaders invest the time to plant seeds of success in their followers. They create a positive vision of what people can become and continually encourage and nudge them along that path. I was told often by my father, "You are a child of destiny. You are destined for great things." While he was clueless in how to support me in my longings and skills, he provided me with fertile soil to 'go for it.' I tried new things - took risks - tried new things, and believe it was that encouragement that helped me find my passion and purpose in life.
4. Leaders hold people to a higher standard.
While great parents, coaches, and leaders are very loving, they also know that a big part of their responsibility is to hold people accountable. They are willing to take the tough, yet often unpopular stances for the good of their people. Hopefully, I have encouraged my girls to take the unpopular stance and do what is right. Higher standards are the stepping stones to blessings and make for much better sleep at night.
Honesty and accountability are the hallmarks of great families, sports teams, businesses, and organizations. Without honesty and accountability, trust can never occur. And without trust, you cannot sustain long-term success.
5. Leaders provide strength and hope during the depths of despair.
My mom has faced tragedy often throughout her life. She lost her husband when she was just 24 and had two small children in diapers. She survived graduating from nursing school, re-married my dad, had two more children and endured much heartache and tragedy for the next 20 years. Despite these tragedies and challenges, she reminds us that the human spirit can survive anything. When trivial troubles are getting me down, she reminds me that we have survived much worse.
Strength and hope also come through my walk with Christ. He has provided shelter in many storms in my life - storms too devastating to talk about still. His encouraging words - often spoken through words from friends, encouraging cards received in the mail, or emails from Sisters in Christ, are often the building blocks of hope from which I am lifted and strengthened. I share encouragement in every way I can with my girls. It works. It works well.
6. Leaders remember and appreciate the little things.
Leaders are tuned into the little things that make a BIG difference. They realize that it's the little kindnesses you do on a regular basis that forge the strongest ties. The spoken word can be more powerful than almost anything else. A smile. A hug. A kind word of thanks. This seemingly simple act of kindness is one that is greatly appreciated by those who receive them. We know someone cares when they take time to notice the good things - the right things - and thank us for them. Your children love to hear that you are proud of them or that they do something right. Take the time to praise them - you will be glad you did.
7. Leaders keep it all in perspective.
Finally, leaders are able to keep everything in perspective. They invest themselves fully but also are able to keep their priorities in order. As author Stephen Covey suggests, they spend their time on the important, not the urgent. In one of the many blogs I have written, I mentioned that the meaning of family grows more and more important as I age. Facing the untimely death of my father served as a reminder to me how precious a family can be. Successful parents, and leaders keep it all in perspective because they are able to separate the important from the urgent, and devote their time accordingly.
And as school starts back in less than two weeks, I will desperately try and reconfigure my days and my nights to practice what I am preaching above. It's not easy. Nope. Never. But it's worth it.
What leadership lessons have you learned that you can share with your organization, friends or family?