Chronicles Of A 31 Year Old: Trying To Lead Effectively

1 July 2019 | The week starts with a bang and we hit the ground running. I quickly walk into class and find my seat. The session today is facilitated by Dr Nicholas Pearce, an award-winning professor of Management at Kellogg School of Management. As you’d expect he takes us on an experiential leadership journey that would stick with us for years to come. I’ve been on a few leadership journeys before which were incredible; this one, however, not only challenged me but left me in awe.

The session is titled “TOGETHER: 3 Essentials of effective collaboration”. The purpose of the session is to help us build and lead effective teams- given that most of us are young leaders in business or in our professional lives.

Professor Pearce does not waste any time and gets straight into the business of the day. I sit anxiously on the edge of my seat, trying to take in as much as humanly possible. I’m inspired by his confidence, knowledge and the examples he is sharing with us about the topic- he is a subject matter expert yal (is that an American accent ?). As the session gains momentum, I struggle to stay engaged because my mind is all over the place. I desperately try to bring it back, but it won’t stop retrieving ALL archives of my life that simulate this session. I am burdened with countless flashbacks of the mistakes I made in my position as a people manager two years ago. It also brings back the mistakes I made as the president of the Rainbow Toastmasters club, and boy oh boy it doesn’t stop. The only words flashing in my mind at this point are failure, Failure, FAILURE!

I feel like crap and my emotions are all over the show. My stomach is unsettled and feels like a cocktail mixed with the most potent and lethal ingredients of FAILURE. I have failed so many times as a leader and this session is a reminder of that. In my desperate attempt to stay present in the session, the professor says something that pulls me back from the internal war brewing in my mind.

Professor: ” Leading teams is NOT easy”

I stop for a second to reflect on what he has just said, but he quickly moves to the second part of his sentence.

Professor: ” If you do not like people, then you shouldn’t be leading”

At this point, my mind shuts down the internal war happening and I come back to the session- fully engaged. I came back just in time for a group activity that would challenge us to solve a problem as a team. And like a team of proud, experienced and confident leaders we make our first attempt at solving the problem. Outcome? CHAOS…

Everyone is trying to lead, everyone is trying to speak at the same time and others literally check out and disengage. We have no plan or direction and it’s evident that there is still not enough trust in the room (despite the many exercises we achieved as a team). We have one task at hand- find out who is the marketing director and we could not achieve this. Why?

As with our case above, the challenge facing us as entrepreneurs or leaders in our respective organizations is the lack of trust or confidence that we can achieve goals. We do not trust our teams or believe that they are capable to execute the strategy and achieve goals. The direct consequence of this, is us (as leaders) thinking we can do everything ourselves. The second challenge facing us is the low levels of team work and lack of collaborative mindsets when approaching problem solving- it’s more about “I” instead of ” we”. So what ends up happening is that people disengage and suddenly leave the team, then we wonder why.

Professor: ” The reason why people quit teams is because of sloppy processes. Some of the most talented champions quit teams because of bad cultures”

I stop again, withdraw and reflect on my past experiences as a people manager. Did I trust my team to execute? Did I leverage the individual strengths of the team? Or did I think I could do it all? The answer to all 3 questions is no! My reality hits me hard (again) and the potent and lethal cocktail makes its way back, reminding me of ALL my failures. On all 3 counts, I failed. I wallow in this pity party briefly and then I remember that “leadership is not easy”. I pull myself together and acknowledge my mistakes. I verbally acknowledge that yes I have failed my team previously and that I didn’t trust them. The outcome of that situation was a toxic experience, low team morale and a lot of cracks in the team.

The question facing me now is what do I do going forward?

Today I choose to be intentional about building effective teams. And I propose to achieve this by doing the following.

1. Trust my team and leverage on our different skill sets to deliver exceptional team performance.

2. Communicate effectively, listen more and talk less. I also commit to being more empathetic.

3. Spending more time on co-creating and collaborating instead of rushing to get things done. Whilst deadlines are important, I’d rather we all contribute and deliver projects as a team, instead of leaving some members behind in order to meet the deadline.

Leadership development is an ongoing process, but I’m committed to it- committed to the continuous learning and improvement. This is possible through initiatives such as Mandela Washington Fellowship, an opportunity I’m eternally grateful for. Thank you to Northwestern University|Kelloggo School of Management and Professor Pearce for the powerful session.

#NUYALI2019 #YALILesotho2019 #MWF2019

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