How Do Leaders Grow?Jan 25, 2021
Fresh start. Clean slate. New year, new you. This year is gonna be different.
Well, yeah, kinda - but probably only a little bit. For most of us, each year doesn’t represent an opportunity to transform, or to start from scratch - instead it’s a chance to build upon a foundation that was already there. Whether you’re talking about building a business, pursuing a professional career path, or nurturing a family - each day and each week/month/year represents an opportunity to grow - and change a little bit.
There’s a marketing agency here in Fort Collins - Old Town Media - that has a slogan that I find clever - 1% better every day! I had a fun conversation with one of their leaders, that it needs to be more like 0.1% better every day because 1% was simply unsustainable. With the power of compounding, that would be like 400% better every year, and what organization or person can sustain that magnitude of growth!? I do love the principal though because it speaks to the notion that it’s not “New Day, New You!” - but instead raises the question of what can each of us do to be just a little bit better today than yesterday.
I learned about the Fort Collins mayoral race the other day for the first time, when one of the three primary candidates reached out to me. They were seeking whatever support I might provide ranging from campaign funding, putting a yard sign in my highly visible Laporte Ave. front yard, and most importantly to my surprise - my endorsement! A few days later, a friend and supporter of another candidate reached out seeking the same. As it turns out, I’m considered to be a leader of some sort and in some circles. How and when did this happen? And what am I to do about it - I’m the founder of a business organization, not a political one - and it’s a diverse business organization at that.
This made me wonder, how did I grow into this role, and what can/should I do to be the best leader I can be?
In asking myself this question, I had the opportunity to reflect back on my leadership development. Many from my distant past might say I’m a natural leader - I’ve always been quick to share an idea (or an opinion) when in a group setting, and my personality type is such that I tend toward the persuasive/argumentative side of things. I’m an 8 on the Enneagram personality profile, with a 7 right behind it - 8 is the Challenger, 7 the Enthusiast - and the 8/7 combo platter is affectionately called the Maverick. Both of these types (and the combo) are considered to be powerful personalities that can inspire others to action, with the 8 willing to oppose the status quo or seek new and better ways of doing things, and the 7 eager to shout out what he or she has learned or come to believe from the rooftops. You can learn more about Enneagram types here if I’ve made you curious. :)
In my own journey, however, I often chose to defer taking a leadership role - preferring to avoid the responsibility to others associated with leading. When we had school projects that required a group leader, I’d often advocate for another to take that mantle - and sometimes I’d be overruled by the group. I’ve thought at times that they just wanted me to do more of the work, but in later years have come to accept that they saw things in me that I wasn’t yet ready to see in myself. In those cases, I’d accept the role and did my best to make sure everyone contributed to the project in ways that they were best suited, and that I didn’t get stuck doing all the work. At the time, I imagined that I was serving myself in this - but since the point of a group project was learning in collaboration with others, I can see now I was serving their interests as much as my own or more.
In my early career, I was in a junior role - young banker-dude as it were. Early on, it was car loans and checking accounts, and some mortgages and investments activity, but eventually I settled into the role of Business Banker - go out and find us new business owner clients, and serve their lending needs and keep them for a long time. It was largely a solo job, with a support staff - but they were led by others. But when I’d change banks, which happened every few years in my journey - my now former boss would always say they’d miss me, and the team would too, and it seems I made a positive impact on the culture of most every location I served - though I didn’t have the title of, or look upon myself as a leader. But I was curious, and I kept listening and learning.
My development as a leader really began when I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors for The Matthews House in 2012. The mission at TMH is to empower youth and families by building trusting relationships and providing resources to disrupt the cycles of poverty and abuse - we walk alongside people enduring struggle, with an eye toward helping them find a path to self-sufficiency. I had been passionate about the organization and cause since my wife became one of their first employees years before, and I remain so today. But I wasn’t a leader, and I wondered what it was that I could contribute.
At the time of my joining, the board member who’d recruited me was serving as Interim President - the board had its’ transition from a mostly friends and family board of directors to larger and more professional group, and no one was ready to accept the mantle of Board President when the prior leader transitioned off the board. Within a few months, I’d been asked if I would take the Board President role - to which I quickly said no. A few months later, and with more urgency and force, the ask was made again - and I said yes.
Boom - I was now the leader of a non-profit board - what does that mean? I listened to the other board members, working to uncover areas of opportunity for growth. We’d need more structure if we were going to build a more professional board, and more connections to the business community, and more-connected to philanthropic organizations such as the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado and the Bohemian Foundation. I went to a non-profit board education session sponsored by Bohemian, and learned about best practices being adopted regionally and nationally to engage a board, to grow a support community, and to fulfill the fiduciary responsibilities such a role requires. Leading with my heart, I recruited new board members with skill and experience in organizational development, a heart for the organization, and connections to the business community.
We made many mistakes - but together with my fellow board members, we served well I think, and when I left my role in 2016 the organization was stronger than when I’d arrived - and is stronger still today. It was hard work, and it stretched me - but I had the confidence of my board, and they had confidence in each other, and that means a lot. It was their encouragement really, that helped me to believe in myself as a leader.
There are many parallels to what a LoCo Think Tank member experiences upon joining, especially after a period of time. To serve one another’s needs well, to grow in understanding of how their business works and what might be holding them back - they have to listen. And to make the changes necessary to overcome these stumbling blocks, they have to learn. They learn about themselves, learn from one another, and learn independently through resources inside and outside LoCo. In our peer advisory chapters, members get perspective, accountability, and encouragement, and their growth as a leader is empowered through trusting relationships with those traveling comparable business journeys. I’ve grown fond of describing our chapter experience as two parts board meeting, one part support group, and I think it’s pretty spot on. It’s definitely a place where leaders grow.
When I first drafted this blog, I started with Listen, Learn, and Serve. Later, I observed to myself that each of those board members I served with was a leader in their own right - and they were all volunteers! They had no obligation to serve, they served out of love - out of an affection for their fellow man and woman, who’d not been blessed with the same opportunities they had been given. Much the same as the best of our medical professionals, our police, military, teachers, and firefighters - the best business leaders serve out of love, not obligation, and not because of the big paycheck.
To best grow as a leader, make sure you’re always ready to Listen, Learn, and Love.