Sweaty Palms. A knot in my stomach. The taste of adrenaline in my mouth. You may think I’m about to run a race or compete in an event, but that’s the feeling when I post a vulnerable blog post. Insecurity, hesitation, doubt…
Isn’t young leader just another way of saying unproven, untested, not real. What have I really done to prove myself yet. What if this is it – this is as far as I go?
These are the thoughts I think when I self-describe as a young leader. I get insecure. I think of all the ways I haven’t led well, all the mistakes, all the missed opportunities, all the fears. I think of all the ways I. just. don’t. know. Still, something inside me compels me to move forward and write, so write I will.
Keep moving. Leadership is about action and results. Period. There are enough people with ideas and enough talkers. Enough meetings and enough thinking sessions. Just do it. You must learn to get over yourself, face your fears, and the resist the desire to settle for mediocrity. In most jobs, you won’t be fired for mediocrity. Resist the temptation to stagnate or better yet, find somewhere where excellence is standard and a job well done means giving everything of yourself to achieve it. As I write this, I think of all the things yet unaccomplished. All the times I could have pushed harder, given more. There is a relentless dissatisfaction with my performance and I have yet to figure out if it’s good, bad, or neutral.
There is a constant challenge for leaders, young ones especially, to balance confidence and cockiness, insecurity and humility. I often find myself wavering between these extremes – sometimes day by day or situation by situation. If I think I am performing well then I tend to cockiness. If I feel I am performing poorly then I tend toward insecurity. Age is a factor in leadership, but it is not the ultimate factor – nor is experience. A young leader will be forced to lead those older and more experienced than (s)he is. It is a hard balance and you will mess up. Learn to hold confidence and humility in tension while avoiding the narrow fall into cockiness and insecurity and you will be a much better leader. If you figure out how to do this well, let me know because I. still. don’t. know.
Leaders must know the motivations and reasons behind every decision. Especially as a young leader your decisions will be questioned, examined, and challenged. This is good. It will force you to slow down and think through your decisions. Still, once a decision is made a leader should know and be able to clearly communicate the why behind a decision – even when others disagree. I’m not one to typically shy away from conflict, especially if I feel strongly about an idea or decision. Still, there are times when I leave a conversation emotionally exhausted because I. don’t. know. What if I made the wrong decision. What if I was inconsiderate or worse, obstinate and blinded? What if this is the big blunder I can’t fix?
Lastly, leaders must create other leaders. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the best decisions I’ve made is to coach high school soccer. Each season I tweak, evaluate, and change aspects of my coaching style. This season, my big focus has been on developing our captains and the captain position into a significant leadership position. I want our leaders to feel ownership and responsibility for the team.
To do this, I’ve given them the authority to decide if a missed practice is excused or unexcused. The team talks to the captains first and most absences are handled exclusively by them – including makeups. They also get a significant voice in the team policies and they can let me know if/when I’m pushing too hard. Empowering them requires a lot more work from me on the front end – teaching them to think how I would think and guiding them through decisions, but even now, a few weeks later, it has made my job so much better. I honestly cannot wait to see their growth and the growth of the team throughout the season.
Almost every day I find myself thinking, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know how I will get there. I don’t know how to handle XYZ situation. Still, I love it. I love the uncertainty, the thrill, and yes, the adrenaline. I love learning and I love pushing myself to conquer new challenges. I remind myself of these lessons daily to assure myself that it’s still ok to not know or to make a mistake. I’m sure there are plenty more lessons to be learned and I want to know…
What lessons have you learned that others should know?