Lessons I've Learned About Leading (#3)

Third post in the LILAL series. If this is your first time reading, check the intro post.

Is good leadership defined the same way across individuals? Does my idea of good leadership look like your idea of good leadership? Probably not, but I think we can all agree that there have been people in our lives who have made us want to work harder, grow faster, and achieve more than the average Joe. The gap between being an awesome lead and being an awful one is most apparent when there is a demoralizing/unresponsive figurehead, but that is the extreme example and most people fall somewhere on the scale of ordinary. No one strives for average leadership, but the truth is that most leaders straddle the median - average, but unlikely to change lives.

Ever go to a job interview and someone asks you to describe an incident where you failed and what you'd do differently in hindsight? There's only one way to get this question wrong and that is to have no answer. If you can't easily recall a time you've failed, you're either lying to yourself or not taking enough risk. People don't grow from their successes... Change of heart, change of mind, comes from not getting what you want. Mind you, this was not my attitude 3 years ago. I used to be paralyzed by the idea of failure and not being good enough. I still struggle with those emotions, but I no longer let them stagnant me. The number of opportunities I missed being too afraid to put myself out there or move on is one of my heaviest crosses to bare. Over time I've been able to change my heart and mind, but it took a lot of failure and resilience to make sense of this.

The software development industry provides no shortage of opportunities to fail. In fact there is an entire development methodology dedicated to failing in faster, less painful increments called Agile. Unfortunately Agile is a framework, not a recipe, and all the soft skills involved with diluting tension, compromise, communicating strategy, estimating projects, and navigating personalities become unspoken requirements. For IT people this is usually the biggest learning curve.

I got my first taste of the importance of these soft skills during a Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) class in college. A few classmates and I took part in a real-world SDLC project for our university's Database Services department and I ended up taking on a lead/business facing role. I quickly found that even as a psych major I lacked basic personality management skills. Since I had zero experience leading a group software development project I constantly felt stretched. Imagine weathering wave after wave of emotional rollercoaster: overwhelmed, frustrated, helpless, useless, angry, defeated. I clearly remember the breakdown I had in front of our client (my actual boss) while trying to explain why the project we were delivering was behind. Instead of leadership, I found myself a sobbing, fragile mess. Thank goodness this happened in school and not an actual job. When I came home that day, I spilled my guts to my housemate (something I never do) and immediately wrote an email apologizing to the client and team.

The mistake I made was assuming leaders don't get to ask for help. To this day I still suck at asking for help, but I'm getting better at recognizing when I'm overwhelmed and overcoming the fear of asking others for help. Help does not have to be calling in the cavalry, sometimes it just asking peers for their support on a particular problem.

3. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of humility.


Author's Note: I'm been terrible at blogging as of late, not because I have nothing to say, but I've been about bad about reflecting. Trying to change that through the rest of 2016.

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Meet the Author

Hi, I am Julie.
Sometimes Jules Juke.
This is where I ramble, reflect, and refocus.