The Greatest Leadership Lesson I Ever Learned

I have quite a few friends now, mostly former colleagues, who are not happy. Why? Leadership.

One friend was laid off after nearly 15 years of hard work and good service, because this organization, yet again, failed to have a marketing strategy that would sustain the organization. He was given 2 weeks severance. This is the third time a layoff has occurred in the last 10 years. As I read on one of those sappy Facebook memes today, “You can never make the same mistake twice, because the second time you make it, it’s a choice.” So true. Another former colleague with another organization also experienced a lay off after years of hard work and service, with the same pitiful severance package. Neither person was let go for cause (I know; I worked with and supervised both of these people). Bad leadership.

Other former colleagues are struggling with leadership in another context. No one is losing their job but morale is very low and there is no end in sight.

I’m not a leadership expert or genius. But I care about the topic, have read a lot on it (for some excellent resources, read anything by Patrick Lencioni or listen to Andy Stanley’s leadership podcast), and was a leader in my professional work for nearly 20 years. Right now I’m an independent consultant, so I’m in charge of leading the most recalcitrant of workers, myself.

I’ve seen it from both sides. I’ve been a very bad leader, especially in the early days of ascending to partner in a law firm. I’ve learned the hard way–accepting I wasn’t good at it, reviewing my behavior, hating what I saw, ignoring it for another few years, still hating what I saw, and then making my way down the rocky and sometimes backwards-winding road to self improvement. I’m a much better leader now. But still not where I need to be.

One leadership lesson I’ve learned, and I think others need to learn, is that some leaders are not good leaders and they don’t want to change. Could they change? Yes. If he or she is a praying person, I think change is even more possible because God will bless you if you want to be blessed with self-improvement and you act. I am not one of those religious people who thinks praying all day is all God wants you to do. If you pray for change in yourself but do nothing about the underlying issues, take no action, make no recognition of contrition, he’s not going to bless you with self-change.

The corollary lesson to this is that when you are faced with a leader who will not change, who makes the same choices over and over again, you have two choices: 1) put up with it or 2) get out. Is there a time and place for trying to lead up and assist your leader in change? Yes, of course, and that works sometimes (Lencioni has written on how to do this), but at some point you will know if leading up is successful or simply another occasion for you to bang your head against the wall. When the leadership won’t change, and you believe it is hurting the organization you work for, you then must make a choice. Stay where you are and endure (and, incidentally, stop bitching about the leadership), or leave.

Is that a hard choice? Yes. Is it always financially smart? No. Jon Acuff’s book Quitter can walk you through how to make a change and still put food on the table. It’s a great book that I completely ignored in my exit from two different industries. For better or worse, I made the decision that my personality (and yes, my own failings and challenges) dictated that I was not going to keep my mouth shut when I realized that there were needed changes but that no change was going to happen, and so I knew it was best for me and everyone else that I move on.

I’m not sorry about that. I’m doing consulting now, with opportunities to advise on leadership issues, in an industry that fascinates me and dovetails nicely with my faith. Am I rich from it? No. Am I satisfied? Ab. So. Lute. Ly.

Make a decision. In the immortal words of the Kinks, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

And then shut up about it.

2 thoughts on “The Greatest Leadership Lesson I Ever Learned

  1. Good words, Kathleen! I’ve actually said that to myself before, “I can’t change my leadership, so I need to decide can I put up with it or is it time to leave?” Through prayerful consideration, we must each make those choices.

  2. Pingback: The Question Ineffective Leaders Never Ask | An Untitled Life

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