I got my first “leadership” title during the second year of my credit union career. I got that opportunity for a few reasons, none of which had to do with leadership skills or acumen. I worked hard, I learned quickly, and I performed well. From an operational, member service, and team perspective I was solid. I held several different leadership roles at that credit union. I then had the opportunity to move to a leadership role at a larger credit union – after all by that point I had solid leadership experience, at least according to my titles.
I truly began my journey towards leadership several years later at my third credit union, when I had the opportunity to work for a leader who saw my leadership potential, but also cared enough to tell me what I didn’t know and wasn’t good at yet. And he walked alongside me to begin the journey. It was a case of I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
I didn’t know that lack of delegating effectively was depriving my team rather than helping them. I didn’t know that avoiding important, constructive feedback conversations, and sometimes conflict, with and within my team was really due to my own discomfort. I didn’t know that by beginning a journey to develop my emotional intelligence in deep and meaningful ways I could make a deep and meaningful impact on the lives of those I worked with way beyond the work world we shared together.
I have been so fortunate and will be forever grateful to that leader, and to several other great leaders along the way that I have learned so much from, both in observing them and from the support and opportunities they gave me.
A few nuggets I picked up along the way:
- Leadership requires the willingness to learn and grow as a person. This first step in the journey is being open and humble enough to deeply understand yourself, and the impact you have on others.
- Self-reflection and self-accountability allow us to take ownership of our thoughts, actions, and impact. This is hard work, and honestly, in my opinion, is never ending. 20+ years into this work and I still try to be intentional about this every day.
- Knowledge is power as the saying goes – but knowledge without action does not typically result in change or progress. Learning about ourselves deeply is the first step, but it is just the beginning. We’ve all heard someone say, “that’s just who I am” or “I’m sorry, but that’s how I communicate”, etc. Humility is essential and we need to see the world beyond ourselves and modify our behaviors to best serve those we lead.
- Leaning into our own discomfort is so important. Growth often happens in the realm of discomfort.
- Ask for feedback from others and be open to truly considering what you hear. We can learn and grow so much from the gift of feedback that others provide.
- This type of development goes well beyond a job or leadership role, this impacts your entire life, and the lives of those you touch.