Question 16: Do you have any concerns or worries about your community or your community involvement?

The title of this post is the next question in the 50+ page “life review” that I am completing as part of my coaching certification program.

What a loaded question. Since it’s not one of the ones with the radio dial buttons for “yes” or “no,” I think it’s time to put into words the whirlwind of thoughts that I have been having on the subject.

Yes I have concerns and worries about my community, both the local and the online one. I’ve been asking myself a lot these past months why, when I’ve identified some distasteful (to me) elements possessed by the culture of these two separate but connected communities, I opt to step back in retreat over stepping up to make a difference.

I think I’ve figured it out. It’s like that old lightbulb joke – about how many therapists it takes to change a lightbulb?

Just one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

I think the community wants to change in the way that I want to lose weight. Like magic, and overnight, without actually having to sacrifice anything it enjoys or put in any long term effort into the hard work and sweat it’s going to take to build a new set of habits.

The community likes to say that it is inclusive the way I like to order a salad when I eat with people, but take a spoon to a jar of nutella when nobody’s watching.

I think the community leaders are those who once felt like they could make a difference – like they could either reinforce what they loved about it, and/or make changes to help create a better environment for themselves and the ones they care about.

Problem is that once they succeed, they think their work is finished. Just like I thought I was all set when I lost 80lbs and thought that I’d never have to wear anything larger than a size 12 again.

I was wrong.

In order for the community to be better, it has to never feel like it already is.

Yeah, I have concerns about the community.

But I don’t think I’m necessarily any better than anybody else who ever thought they could make a difference, succeeded in making a difference, and then stopped asking “what more needs to be done?”

I’d love to think that I am immune to the corruption and complacency that power and popularity seem to have on so many of our recognized leaders. In politics, in religion, in workplaces, and even in sex positive, polyamorous, and queer communities – we see people who had the best intentions get sidetracked by greed or become intentionally blind to the experiences of others.

How do I know I’d be any different?

I was reminded of something I learned in school – about George Washington and how he had said something upon the completion of his second term that led to a 150 years of Presidents that move aside after 2 terms before an actual constitutional amendment was made to enforce it.

I went to look it up and ended up on a page full of quotes about term limits…some of which seemed similar in theme to the aforementioned whirlwind of thoughts in my head:

The highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it. — T.B. Macaulay

You will always find those who think they know your duty better than you know it. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

If the way to do good to my country were to render myself popular, I could easily do it. But extravagant popularity is not the road to public advantage. –John Adams

I don’t think my concerns over community are new or unique, and I don’t think that they’ll never be addressed, nor do I think I am powerless to address them.

I think when the community is ready, it will seek out the types of leaders and organizers it needs to make those changes. And I hope it never stops trying to be better.

Advertisements

On Leadership

Whether or not this pans out, something extraordinary has happened….

I sat in a room yesterday being interviewed for a position for which three weeks ago, I don’t think I’d have had the cojones to apply.

Three weeks ago I was questioning if I even want to stay in this sector. I was questioning if I needed to make what I’m making, and figuring out how significantly I could reduce my cost of living so that I could get out of an unhealthy work environment.

Three weeks ago, I went prepared to a conference for my profession. Having already made the decision that I need to find my next job, I had some business cards printed with my personal contact info and my LinkedIn profile address. I went knowing that I had to network. For reals, this time. Not just find the one person in the room that I was comfortable with and spend the whole time talking to them – but to jump around, meet a lot of people, and let the world know that I exist.

I also attended a two-day leadership workshop in advance of the conference. I’d mistakenly assumed it was going to be a workshop to teach leadership skills, but instead it was a horizon-broadening two day conversation about the qualities and characteristics of leadership, what the role of leadership is – not only within an organizational structure – but in the profession as a whole.

I learned something really important during that workshop: I am a leader.

Now, I’ve known some of this already. Perhaps I’d not have used the word “leader,” and opted for “influencer” or “person whose opinions are sought.” I always said I never wanted to be the boss, but I wanted to be the person that the boss would turn to for advice.

That, in and of itself, is a form of leadership. What I was shying away from or hesitant to accept was the responsibility for that leadership. I didn’t want to be the person who pushed the button. I wanted to be the person that said, “here are three potential buttons. Push one.”

I didn’t believe that I was qualified to be the button-pusher. I thought I still had way too much to learn.

But I think I’ve come to understand now that a leader isn’t someone who knows all the answers. A leader is someone who asks questions. And, a leader is someone who knows how to ask those questions (and the followup questions) of the people who can help determine the answers.

A leader is a convener – someone who can bring together the right team of people who have the capacity to achieve a goal. A good leader is someone who has the respect and support of that team.

I didn’t say loyalty. Loyalty is different. Loyalty has positive connotations, but I think loyalty can also lead someone down the wrong path. If a leader has loyalty to the mission, then their team will likely be safe in having continued loyalty to their leader. But if a team comes to realize that, as much as they respect and support or appreciate their leader, that the mission or goal is compromised – they should speak up. I think sometimes “loyalty” to a person can be detrimental to the cause (whether it be a tangible cause like “manufacturing of widget” or an intangible one like “be happy.”) Mostly because people are fallible. People are sometimes driven by altruism, but at some point greed and self-preservation can kick in and you don’t even see it coming.

Another thing I think I’ve come to realize is that that the person who pushes that button has never been solely responsible for the win or the fallout. The credit for the wins is shared by all. And the opportunity to learn from and overcome the fallout is equally shared by all.

The type of leader I am is the type that shares credit where credit is due. It was important to me when I was part of the team – and now that I’m in the leadership position at work, it’s important to me that I give my team that same due.

So, three weeks ago – I went through all of that. It’s been percolating since. But here’s what else happened.

During one of the lunchtime networking sessions, I sat at a table with one of our vendors. I explained my work sistuation and he suggested I give him my contact info. In his job, he is frequently presented with the information that his former contact at an organizaiton has either moved on or is planning to move on – and he might be able to put me in contact with the right people at the right time the next time that happens. I happily passed him one of my bright black and yellow business cards.

The following week, he copied me on an email to a recruiter friend of his that he’d met along the way. “I met this incredible person at the conference and she is discretely looking for her next move.”

I followed up with a thank you to the vendor and a message of introduction to the recruiter. The recruiter responded, asking for my resume.

I sent that over.

Two phone calls and four days later, I’m sitting is his office during a pre-interview to determine if i’m the right fit for a C-Level position in an established and well-funded organization. At the end of our interview, they seemed pretty certain that I would be a great fit for the job – and had these parting words to say:

“The only thing you lack is enough confidence to see that you have ALREADY been doing this job for the past three years. The title is throwing you off – don’t worry about the job title. It means nothing. It is about the work – and you’re more than qualified to do this work.”

Four days after that, I’m driving downtown to meet with the current CEO of the organization and some of her colleagues. That was yesterday.

By the end of that interview, they assured me I would be contacted soon for a followup – to come in and more formally meet the rest of the staff and perhaps some of the Board.

The possibility of getting this job is, right now, a VERY real possibility.

Whether or not this pans out, something extraordinary has happened.

I have embraced myself as a leader.

And, as such – I want to give the credit everywhere it’s due.

I called the recruiters and thanked them profusely for the pep-talk and the opportunity. I sent a handwritten thank you note to the woman who ran the leadership workshop in advance of the conference. I have sent an email to the vendor that put me in touch with this recruiter letting him know how grateful I am (and if I get this job, I’m sending his entire office a fruit basket).

And you.

Yeah. You.

All of this started about three years ago when I was a heartbroken, mourning mess of a woman – and I started writing.

You read what I had to say and you were supportive. You remembered me from one post to the next and some of you started to see the change in me before I did. The confidence I had to sit in front of the CEO of a $10M organization and ask her just as many questions as she asked me during the course of a 2+ hour interview….that all started here.

So thank you.

If I get this job – fantastic. The work will be hard and my time will be limited for a while as I acclimate to a very different professional climate. If I don’t? I’ll get the next one.

I have no doubt of it.