I was first made a manager over 20 years ago. I was a terrible manager at first. I know this for certain, because I was promoted over my best friend, and she let me know. My first improvement as a leader came when I volunteered to facilitate high performance team training for my company back in the early 90’s. If you want to get religion on a subject, teach it to a group of skeptical engineers (by comparison, the sales and marketing guys were a piece of cake). The engineers pushed me on everything: I had to internalize the concepts of empowerment, or I wouldn’t have survived the 10 sessions with them. They taught me a lot.
I learned about collaboration from a tough peer. He was a lifer in a male-dominated industry, and I was a female rookie. I participated in my first 360 feedback rating cycle in that role. My scores were generally positive with one exception, a score so low the consultant called the rater to see if they had reversed the scale by accident. They had not. Though the results were confidential, I knew where my opportunity was. I worked hard on that relationship; we ended up friends.
I learned about team building from the team I inherited that was cobbled together from five different companies. They were not aligned and didn’t even trust each other. It wasn’t all fixed before I left, but I was proud of the progress we made on several fronts.
I learned about building engagement from the team with which I climbed Mount Everest. When we accomplished the nearly impossible task we were asked to do, I told them that while I was proud of what they accomplished, I was more proud of how they did it. It wasn’t pretty, but we did it, and we didn’t lose anyone on the way.
I’ve learned something from every team I’ve been on—lessons unique to that team and to my stage of readiness as their leader. What I remember maybe better, however, are the mistakes I’ve made. There have been many. I’d like to apologize for:
- Not listening enough
- Not communicating enough
- Not thanking you enough
- Being “too busy” and not making enough time for you
- Not having enough fun
I can’t make it up to those of you who endured my learnings as a leader over the years. I can only thank you from the bottom of my heart for the individual and collective effort you invested in me, and commit to doing my best to apply the lessons you taught me to my current team. I wonder what they will teach me?
“Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” –Vince Lombardi