When I left college and started looking for a job, I was thinking that I needed to learn two skills to increase my chances of being successful in a career. I needed to learn how to sell stuff and I needed to learn how to lead a team of people. I was pretty lucky in that my first job, with the government, was actually a role leading a team of 3 people in an office. I’m not sure why they trusted me to lead people at 22, but I was glad that I got the experience, the failures, and the ability to realize early on that leadership wasn’t something you were born with, but a whole set of tools and skills and processes that I needed to learn more about. In fact, I learned that the thought “I know how to lead people” is the very thing that sometimes gets in the way of learning how to lead people.
I moved on to a sales role after several years and had to start all over at a new skill, and also got the chance to experience a new boss and another person’s way of leading a team.
I eventually transitioned out of sales and once again began to lead my own teams, first leading a sales team, and then teams in the learning and leadership development space inside a couple of fortune 25 companies. Leading my own teams, while simultaneously working to support other people who were leading other teams inside the company was an incredible experience. You are on your own journey while you are also trying to help others take the same journey.
That experience taught me that leadership is indeed a journey and you shouldn’t wait until you complete yours until you help others work on theirs. You never complete it and that means you can never help anyone if you wait. It’s possible to help others improve, while you are still improving as well. It's also important to just know that you never stop making mistakes leading others. I still make them daily. The journey is about progress, not perfection.
After making my career climb and reaching senior executive levels in the field of learning and leadership development I left the corporate world after about 20 years. I began to realize that leadership was something lots of people in business equated with authority. And that meant that those people executed it in ways that weren’t leadership at all. I wanted to help people think about leadership differently and measure it by its positive impact on others, rather than the amount of authority the leader acquired by doing it.
That led me to start a consulting firm that specialized in leadership training and executive coaching. I built my own models and processes for leadership success, drawing on two decades of studying leadership and leaders, both the good and bad ones.
I never advertised or marketed or any of that, candidly, I’m not very good at those things, but the business grew in spite of it. I focused solely on helping people organize leadership into a series of steps and habits and organized frameworks so they could think about it differently and execute it in ways that increased engagement, built stronger more accountable teams, and created a culture that ensured an incredible future for the business, the leader, and the people they led.
At the risk of sounding overly idealistic, I just focused on helping people become leaders I would want my kids to work for.
Fast forward to now and I have had the tremendous experience of training tens of thousands of leaders and managers, and conducting over 5,000 individual executive coaching conversations. Not only have I helped people on their leadership journey, every one of them has helped me on mine. Those interactions have taught me how to help more effectively. I have learned how to say things, and how not to, so that people can connect with leadership concepts, implement them, practice them, and master them.
I have had a front row seat as some incredible leaders have shared with me what’s working for them, what isn’t and I get to look at hundreds of sets of results and outcomes and learn how to refine my view of leadership and help more people learn to lead more effectively as that view has evolved.
And yes, I have become quite the leadership geek along the way. I spend most of my time reading about it, understanding the neuroscience associated with it and exploring new ways to think about it. The fact that I will always be working on it at least means that I have a sustainable hobby and won’t ever be bored.
I have also realized through that work, that there are a lot of bad examples out there of how to do it and even books written that focus on leadership tactics that will never get sustainable, positive, leadership results. People don’t think of it as a thing you can get wrong or right, but more of just a thing that anyone can do, any way they feel like it, and that the authority they have means they get to lead. I like being a small part of helping to change that narrative.
And so, I get to make a choice now. Do I want to try to expand this leadership conversation beyond the people I can directly work with in my current business model of training, coaching and consulting, or settle in and ride it out with the model I have and help the people I can along the way. For years now I have been limited as to how many people I can help, simply because I run out of hours, and it’s a genuine source of frustration. I’m making such a tiny dent in the need for better leaders.
So, I made the choice, and made a set of plans and on July 6th my team and I launched The Leadership Gym. It’s a place where anyone can come to work on their leadership skills. Whether you want to lead yourself, your team, a function, an entire business or even a family or a community at a higher level. We will be there to help. I hope you will join us there as we continue to support leaders who want to have more impact tomorrow than they do today.
It’s been an incredible journey and I am far from finished. In a lot of ways, I think I am just getting started. I will continue to learn alongside you in the gym and together, we will make a bigger dent in the need for better leaders.