On Finding the Leader’s Way

“You got up, and you did something. And if trying to find a way when you don’t even know you can get there isn’t a small miracle; then I don’t know what is.”

—From The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

At first, it was simply the gathering of everyday natural things that pleased her: leaves, flowers, sticks and rocks.

These pleasing things, found in her front yard and back, as well as other parks around town, down by the sea, up in the mountains, and other realms of her ever-expanding world, were gathered with awe and handled with care. They were then stored in small plastic buckets outside on the front porch, on the back porch, in and around the house, and inside the cup holders of her car seats.

She studied them endlessly, held up high and down low, then up close and far away, smelled and rubbed, sometimes even licked and tasted. All the while, reverent questions arose of origin and type, of utility and relationships, her mind revolving around magnificent worlds within worlds, a gravity grounded yet flinging her into orbit to watch the universe birth anew, over and over and over again.

Patterns emerged on paper and across the kitchen table, the living room floor, the sofa, her bedroom floor and elsewhere. Some are more abstract than others, mazes and puzzles that only she knows the solutions to, ready to share with her parents, her sister, her teachers and classmates.

Regardless of what career may come for my eldest daughter, she’ll hopefully be college educated and working for a company where her colleagues share knowledge, collaborate with one another and spark innovative ideas, products and solutions. A company that invests in her continuous development, strengthening her skills and competencies.

Maybe she will be a scientist, or an engineer, or a captain of industry, looking for patterns and puzzles to solve in “pleasing things” and more, for those fleeting moments making the world a better place, searching for the magical visions within that will help transcend the unlikely.

And if the statistics hold steady, the pool of qualified women leaders is growing. That according to Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. That’s good news for both my daughters.

But whether you’re a woman or a man, the ability to “finding the leader’s way” in the world of work (and life) against all odds, or less dramatically, one little learning step at a time, is no easy task. Authentic leadership comes from continuous learning that embraces trust without judgment and the belief in everyday small miracles.

Unfortunately the world of work today continues to struggle for leadership. According to Bersin by Deloitte:

Leadership will be a big challenge in 2014. Executives are struggling with leadership gaps at all levels—from first-line supervision through top leadership (more than 60 percent of all companies cite “leadership gaps” as their top business challenge). This year, baby boomers will begin to retire in large volumes; one oil company told me that they expect to lose 30 percent of their workforce in the next three years.

So what to do? Finding the leader’s way today includes these two things:

  1. Encourage Learning. We are all lifelong learners and potential leaders, and from the earliest memories of awe and exploration to everyday “finding our ways” in the world of work (and again life), learning and leadership development should be part of every company’s talent strategy. This ensures that employees are given the learning opportunities they need to develop their leadership skills, and that the organization itself will have the leaders it needs for the future.
  2. Encourage Authenticity. Authentic leadership is all about developing yourself first in a manner that helps others see the complete you, exclusive of any organization’s help. This includes all your strengths, imperfections and accomplishments. We all crave authenticity and you have to be real in order to be heard. The most effective leaders today create dialogue and skillfully use indicators of their humanity. Great leadership is all about partnering and relationships, and the key to building productive teams is to be a little more unfiltered, personal and authentic.

Learning and being authentic are what it’s all about. This includes being willing to spread out our everyday “pleasing things,” looking for patterns and puzzles to solve, for those fleeting moments making the world a better place, searching for the magical visions within that will help transcend the unlikely while finding the leader’s way.

We can get there, girls. You are the small miracles.

Photo courtesy of Kevin W. Grossman.

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