Lessons I've Learned About Leading (#1)

I don't know where to start. I could say so many things that could quickly turn into word diarrhea. Now everyone is thinking about word diarrhea....

Focus, Julie.

I'm pretty sure by the time this post is published I will have written and re-written it dozens of times.  Part of the problem is I feel deeply about the subject, but I don't how to tell the story...nor do I want to regret telling it.

Stop making excuses. Just write, dammit!

I'm not what people would call a natural born leader. I'm introverted, hate public speaking, and lack an average level of social intelligence. Yet I'm no stranger to leadership. I've edited a yearbook, coached a girl's basketball team, led multiple technical implementation and development teams, liaised a credit card program, and attempted 2 start-ups! Along the way I've educated myself about leadership through books, blogs, and videos but the biggest teacher has always been first hand experience. I believe that education can only prepare you for so much. The fastest way to learn is to do, but the fastest way to improve is to fail and action your mistakes.

Enter reflection.

This is the first in a series of posts where I write frankly about my experience with leadership. The stories will be chronologically ordered, starting as far back as I can recall in elementary school until present day as a Technical Lead at a major airline. Each post will attempt to illustrate a different lesson I've learned about leading. The full series will be written over the course of 2015 under the tag LILAC.

My earliest memory of leading was for a 6th grade history project. It was a team of three - Marcus, Jonathan, and myself. Marcus was known as the class slacker/jokester and was always getting in trouble for misbehaving. Jonathan was a quiet, church-going boy who was sharp, but tended to fade into the background. I was that annoying, grade-obsessed kid who chased A's like notches on a bedpost. I can't remember the task we were given, but it involved teamwork and by default of our personalities I somehow became "the lead" of our group. I'm embarrassed to write this, but I began divvying up assignments in the way I was accustomed to receiving chores from my mom. Unsurprisingly with Marcus, this was about as effective as eating soap (in hindsight I realize that my mom's tactic didn't even work on me in 6th grade so I'm not sure why it would have worked on Marcus!).

I remember going home to my parents and complaining about this kid in history who did absolutely nothing to help the group. It was frustrating because I knew I would have to pick-up his slack on the assignment. In the end I did the extra work (while silently cursing Marcus), but will always regard this experience as my first "failure" in leading.

12-year-old-Julie was not quite as patient and educated in the art of mindset as present-day-Julie, so this is what I would tell myself if I could go back in time:

Praise effort and not outcome.

Carol Dweck's book Mindset changed my life two years ago. Up until reading about the different mindsets, I lived in a pretty fixed-mindset world for most of my non-athletic life. The problem was that everyone had always praised my "smartness" and not my efforts when it came to school. Unlike my athletic life, which naturally lent itself to hard work because of certain height disadvantages, many assumed I didn't have to put much effort into school because I was academically gifted. Truth be told, maybe I was coasting until a certain age, but once college came around all that changed. I studied my ass off only to see my grades indicate otherwise. This disconnect between effort and outcome affected me for years thereafter. At some point I convinced myself that it was better to fail than even attempt to try because my "smartness" was fixed no matter how much time I put in. Looking back, I realize how paralyzing and depressing that headspace was. I wish I could have approached school like I approached sports.

I think Marcus entered this fixed-mindset a lot sooner than I did. He was probably use to people calling him dumb, failing marks, and the nagging condescension of "needs improvement." He no doubt figured "why even bother if I'm already so behind?" If I had focused less on "managing" the project grade and more on getting Marcus to put in some effort, I would have done a better job leading.

Failure is a scary thing when you think of it only as an outcome. Everyone knows how to celebrate success, but why would you celebrate failure? Sometimes we just need someone to acknowledge the work when the goal seems out-of-reach. Acknowledge the effort, despite the outcome.

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Meet the Author

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