The foundation of the leader I am today isn’t listed on my resume. Those formative moments don’t really belong in the official documentation of pursuing autonomy, mastery, and purpose through software product innovation.
My training in leadership did not begin during my MBA or any of my agile certifications. It began by watching my father’s servant-leadership as a minister and the mentorship of my high school English literature and composition teacher.
There was a day that came when Mrs. Bernsen, my high school English Lit teacher, gave the disengaged classroom an admonition to inspire our focus as we read and discussed selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance”. Who we choose to be today sets us on a path for who we will become in 5 years. I took that idea very seriously. I studied “Self Reliance” several times and began teaching its ideas to anyone who would listen. I had decided I was a philosopher who loved teaching people to strive for introspection and self-ownership of their journey in life. My career has been expanding on that theme ever since.
As 1st chair trumpet in band, I learned the power of servant leadership and inspiring people to the prestige they wanted. I played third part because I was naturally the loudest and it made the whole band richer. I made sure everyone who wanted one got a chance at a solo that they would succeed at. Senior year we had a particularly challenging piece and not enough trumpet players to effectively make it beautiful, so I noted out with my second chair how he and I would trade off between 1st and 3rd part, ensuring the high notes were never missed while the low notes were the right strength.
As a Youth Minister in college I found the power of Accountability Partnership in learning plans. There is truly to many virtues and too much knowledge in life to tackle at once. Whether a mentor, teacher, or friend, finding someone to share your personal development goals with, and being someone who can ask about progress, is essential. Saying it out loud makes goals more realistic and personally expressing them to someone simplifies the ability to prioritize your priorities.
As an assistant manager in retail and in a restaurant after completing my philosophy degree, I learned the importance of being the janitor. Clean up the messes, socially and physically, that your team can’t get to so that their flow isn’t interrupted and the customer is happy. You show up at 2am to unload the new stock so someone else won’t have to and you run the reports and call the customers no one else wants to call.
Yesterday I was asked to share a story that exemplifies my leadership style. I shared a simple story – I recently noticed a group looking a little lost because there were no meeting rooms were available and they had a conference call. I gave them my office. Their work and that customer were important than my comfort. I worked in the lobby.
All of these moments stay vibrant in my mind, as the milestones of how I became a leader today. Most important though is the example of my dad, which laid the foundation for how I view people in need of guidance, listening more than teaching, and serving where no one else wants to go.
So when you ask me about the leader I am today in the software space, it centers around four goals, built off the foundation described above, and countless other tiny moments along the way.
I use workshops and one on ones to build the confidence and vision of my team so they can pursue their own sense of meaning and purpose at work – I can only help build the bridge between company goals and values to personal sense of prestige and love of your work.
I use learning plans and information sessions to help my team members pursue their sense of mastery in their craft. I am constantly learning what they want to learn so they have someone to meaningfully converse with, while playing the role of accountability partner much more then mentor. I don’t lecture or train so much as play the role of knowledge janitor, cleaning up the chaos of possible theories, tactics, and practices, finding answers for people and resources and thinking a few extra steps ahead about how we can grow.
I am an advocate on their behalf when political games are in the way of their autonomy, while challenging them to become more cross-functional, more collaborative, and better at self-advocacy. I want my people to be leaders who are better at defining their own processes and taking pride in their work because they trust I can challenge them. The most important trait of a leader is gaining trust by proving that I have their back.