Almost everyone I’ve ever admired were or are leaders.
Jim Rohn, became a millionaire leading a team in network marketing. Eugene, my first Gymnastics coach led scrawny kids to become powerful young superstars. My dad, learned his chops in the military and went on to lead hundreds of men and women for the Metro Toronto Police Force.
It’s clear to me that leadership is an uphill battle. It demands excellence, discipline, and vision. It can quickly expose you, if you aren’t prepared, to the chinks in your armour. And it is surely a humbling pursuit.
I admire leaders for the same reason you do. Leaders lead. They take the first step into uncharted territory. They organize, rally and inspire. They take ownership over the direction and strategy for the team and ownership of the failures along the way. Leaders, force you to grow.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve decided to crawl out of my shell and embrace leadership. Not for the admiration, but for the growth. Looking back to when I started I never would have imagined how far I’ve come and how many missteps I was soon to make in the process… It’s a journey that, for me is just beginning, and a journey that I encourage you to travel for yourself.
Today, I’m currently the president of CSI Pitchmasters as well as the Area Director for Area 71 with Toastmasters. And as I’m sure you’ve experience first hand, most of our growth, almost all of our greatest epiphanies as leaders, are through our errors. The purpose of this series is to share them and call them out so you don’t need to make those same mistakes as I have.
In late 2017, as the President of CSI Pitchmasters, the board and I decided on our club contest dates. Every 6 months, each Toastmasters group runs a contest to test the members and ensure their progressing by going head to head with other members from across the globe. When we sat down as a board to discuss the next steps, it was decided that our VP of Education would organize the event with my support along the way. The next 4 weeks leading up to the event were a blur. The next thing I knew it was 4 days until the contest with very little progress made. The club was excited but I was nervous.
The only thought going through my head was, “I guess I’m screwed!”
Let’s unpack this first lesson in lousy leadership, together.
Autonomy Over Blind Faith
My first major blunder as a leader was misinterpreting the word autonomy. I thought, our VP has decided to take on this project so we can meet once and he’ll get it done! He’s an intelligent, educated and hardworking guy, this is going to be easy I thought.
How could I have been so naive?
It’s true that he is intelligent. He is Educated. And he is certainly hard working. But as a leader I totally dropped the ball. What I thought was autonomy was actually blind faith.
It’s a mistake I’ll never make again.
This, like all failures, merited reflection. After playing out other scenarios in my head and understanding more about the way autonomy worked in my current job, here’s what I should have done. If you’ve ever worked with a great leader they probably did this – They define the expectations.
As a leader, I should have set expectations for who was responsible for what, when it needed to be done by, and how often we should have had a progress update. Although we clearly needed to organize the event, I never set the expectation around food and our budget. Who would print off all the materials and forms. I missed communicating what needed to happen in order for us to be ready and when did it need to be ready by. That simple method of setting expectations would have saved my ass.
If I had done that, I would have been giving him autonomy instead of blind faith.
Blind faith is saying, “Let me know if you need any help!”
Autonomy is saying,”this is what we’re responsible for, here is our desired outcome, and these are our agreed upon check ins.”
That way, it’s clear what needs to get done and everyone knows their personal responsibilities.
Trust me when I say that your team will thank you for setting expectations and appreciate you caring enough to check in when you said you would.
If You F Up Be Like A Duck
Finally the day of the event arrived. I ended up scrambling like hell to organize the people, the paper work, the food, and get the venue set up to support the desired outcome. It goes without saying that you don’t need that kind of stress in your life.
I’m now standing in front of the room, 10 minutes before the start time with our VP and the MC we invited to run the night. While my VP and I franticly ran around trying to set everything up, our veteran Toastmaster and MC, Emilio, demonstrated to me what it looks like to be a leader under pressure. I’ll never forget that night because it was the first time that I saw first hand what it meant to be like a duck.
Leaders of all capacities will be required to execute under pressure. When the chips are down, when you’re the underdog, when it’s clear you’re underprepared and no one has a clue what the hell is going on. The leader still needs to lead.
That night, 10 minutes before we started, Emilio walked up to my VP and I and said, “We’re missing forms and you see these other forms? Ya, all of those are for the wrong competition.”
My stomach sank. I tried to keep my composure but both my VP and I were panicking. All of a sudden my VP was not only panicking but he had verbal diarrhea and lost his nerves in front of the whole group. They were beginning to realize we F’d up.
Coming to our rescue, like a war tested veteran who had clearly done this hundreds of times, Emilio grabbed us and pulled us outside the room. We have a room of over 20 people ready to participate in the contest, he said. A few missing forms is nothing to ruin this night over. Yes, we screwed up. Yes, we don’t have everything we should have. But we’ll make it work, he said boldly.
With a straight face and head held high, one that only a real leader could muster under pressure, Emilio guided us back into the room and worked diligently for the next 5 minutes briefing our judges, the timers, and our ballot counters on the missing forms and what we were going to do about it. When we F’, he acted like a duck. Cool and calm on the surface, yet working like hell to paddle hard under the water.
When you watch ducks, it looks as though they are smoothly gliding along the surface of the water with very little effort. However, a closer inspection reveals that they are paddling hard under the water to get where they need to go.
It was easy, even default, for my VP and I to get frazzled that we had screwed up.
But the best leaders, leaders like Emilio, are more like ducks. Sure, they’re still working hard, but they make it look easy. With warm smiles and a relaxed demeanour, they bring a sense of calmness and reassurance to those around them. They are less likely to explode in rage when the team has made a mistake and more likely to focus immediately on a solution.
As Emilio would say,
“The show must go on.”
Staying cool, calm and collected is the only way to keep everyone level headed and productive. Emilio told me that he works best under pressure. He’s learned from all his past experiences that it is best to focus our energy on the factors WE CAN control and not to lose sweat over what we can’t.
Because of Emilio, that event was still one of our biggest successes to this day. Thank you, brother.
Don’t make the same mistakes I have. In your next leadership opportunity practice these two lessons from my lousy leadership.
- Set the right expectations. Don’t lead with blind faith, instead give your team autonomy. Who’s responsible for what, when does it need to get done by and what are our agreed upon check ins.
- If you make mistakes, which you will, receive them relaxed. Choose intentionally to focus on the solution rather than the problem. If you act like a duck, you won’t project your anxiety and frustration on the rest of the team. Instead you will become an example they aspire to emulate like I do with Emilio.
I hope these stories inspire you to share your own leadership lessons. Please leave a comment below so I don’t have to make them all myself!
Till next time be on the offensive. Aggressively pursue a better version of yourself. And remember what Jim Rohn said, “You cannot change the destination of your life overnight but you can change your direction.”