- inner work determines outer work: one of my goals for this academic year is to increase and strengthen my personal devotional life or, as others have put it, to improve on my spiritual practices. As I have dipped my toe into this and, having spent more time in reading scripture, prayer, and quiet meditation, I am finding that there is more clarity in my decision making and more calmness in my execution. This has not been easy for me, so I am thankful for the advice of one of my Board members who reminded me to not make this another "law" I have to follow but to extend myself grace when I forget or do not spend the needed time each day. I look forward to see how this increases over time and shapes the way I lead.
- team is everything: more than ever, I have experienced a great team this year, working with five other people who are moving in the same direction and supporting each other along the way. This team did not come about easy, not was it perfectly formed the first day. We have done the hard work needed to become a great team and know that we can never let down our guard, lest we slip back into bad habits and retreat back into our silos. I have learned to never take having a great team for granted AND to never settle for anything less than a great team.
- decision making never gets easier: having been in a leadership role for many years, and having thought about and written about leadership for many years, it is still difficult and gut-wrenching to make those hard decisions that impact people and organizations. Having done the inner work and having a great team with which to do the work helps to provide the support necessary when making these decisions, but they are never easy. As an organization grows and changes, the decisions that leaders make become more complex and can have consequences far beyond what one can imagine. Perhaps this is why leaders (especially those who are founding leaders) get stuck after the first few major changes and decisions.
- you are what you read: in her book A Poetry Handbook Mary Oliver notes that great poets begin to use the right words and sounds because they have read great poetry and writing over and over and over, giving them the ability to produce the right words and sounds through instinct (as well as the hard work they out into their writing). I believe this is also true of leadership - creating vision, building team, and making decisions are all a result of the years of experience one has put into their craft of leadership, and it often begins with what one reads. My reading list over this past year included more Shakespeare and poetry than ever before, as well as a number of more in-depth books on how to run a university.
- it's all about having the right people in place: as a corollary to "team is everything," this maxim is a reminder that leaders are always looking for (and pushing others in the organization to look for) the right people in the right seat on the bus (kudos to Jim Collins and his book Good to Great for ingraining this concept into all of our heads). As Collins puts it "first who, then what." This concept is very difficult for type A leaders to not only understand, but to enact in an ongoing manner. Leaders want to get things done and not worry about who will get those things done. Having the right people in place relieves the leader from having to worry about getting things done because the right people will have already done the right things.
That's my list of leadership lessons learned for 2017...next week I will look back at my top five books of 2017 and how they have shaped my thinking about leadership over the past year.