Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lessons Learned from the Global Leadership Summit

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Lessons Learned from the Global Leadership Summit

Last week, I attended an event that helped me to look a myself in a new way: the Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Church in South Barrington. It was my second year in a row attending. Last year, I went not really knowing what to expect. I signed up mostly out of curiosity, since Ben and I are members of Willow Creek and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I also went with a little bit of guilt. “I’m just a stay at home mom,” I thought, feeling like I was stealing a slot from who would use it better. Why attend a leadership conference when I’m not really in a place to practice leadership? 

But I went anyway, and was blown away by the caliber of the lectures and the insight I received about my character and potential. Even as a stay at home mom, I learned that I actually am in a place to practice leadership, and that everyone has options to use their leadership skills where they are. I had left the Summit last year no longer feeling like I had stolen the experience from someone else, but rather that I was given a gift. This year, I went with an expectant spirit. I knew I would get a lot out of the Summit.

Here are the key take-aways that I brought home with me for life:

1. I actually am a leader.

This is the first and most important lesson that I feel that I got out of the Summit this year. I know, it's a strange thing to have this be the first time I am fully confident of that fact. After all, I've been a high school teacher for six years! The thing is, though, that I don't see myself as ever having been naturally gifted at leading, and in fact, not in teaching either. Yet where I did see myself as being gifted felt like areas that were important for teachers - knowledge, hospitality (making people feel welcome, comfortable, energized), and shepherding. SHEPHERDING. That's a fancy Christian word that really just means having the capacity and the desire to guide and protect others. I thought those three gifts qualified me to be a teacher, but I always felt a little guilty that teaching itself (providing insight through amazing lectures) and leadership (which I was never able to define) were never my top gifting areas. Thus I find myself at the summit. Not inherently gifted with leadership, I keep finding myself in positions (whether on purpose or by accident) that require me to lead. It's a skill I wanted to grow.

Just like my first year at the summit I had to get over a certain level of self-doubt (was I taking a spot away from someone else who is more qualified?) ... during this first stage of my life as a teacher I had been fighting the whole time with a similar level of doubt. "Can someone else being doing my job better, making a bigger difference in the lives of these kids?" was a thought that I may have never voiced out loud but silently fought against. So in attending the summit this year, when I realized that I actually AM a leader, I was able to breathe a sign of relief at the sense of validation.

The insight was about what a leader really is. To paraphrase Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and Chairmain of Good 360, 
Good leaders don't just give good speeches. While those are important to clarify and to exhort others, they're not enough. Leadership is about changing the order of things, about unlocking the potential in others - about untapping and focusing that potential. True leadership is not about ourselves, our position and power, but it's about others, and it requires faith. Faith teaches that we are all equal and gifted, and it gives me the gift of empathy and of optimism. To be a leader, you have to know that things can be better!
The ah-hah moment that Ms. Fiorina unlocked in my heart was when she spoke about a leader's reward. "There's nothing like the look someone gets when their potential is unlocked," she said. "That's what leaders are paid in. That's what makes us excited. That's what we work for. And everyone always gives that same look, one filled with awe and excitement about what they're able to do that they didn't think they'd be able to do" (paraphrased). For me, at that moment, it clicked. That's why I loved teaching. That's what I wanted. Deep down, and more than anything else, I wanted to see my students realize something about themselves, about their potential, what they're capable of. The best moments of my teaching were at the end of the year, when a student told me that they spoke more Spanish than they thought they would be able to. Those were the moments I worked for. When I realized that what I wanted is what a leader wants, I realized ... in my heart, I am a leader. "Everyone has the capacity to lead; leaders are made, not born," Ms. Fiorina said at the Summit. I know not everyone agrees with her and not even all of the speakers who also taught at the Summit do. But that touched me deep down, as someone who never really thought she was a leader and realized just now ... I actually am.

2. I need to watch how my vision casting affects others.

I also got a look into my personality as a vision caster and how this can effect others.  Bill Hybels spoke about the subtle disconnect that can happen between a leader and a team when a leader with a high level of passion for her vision one day senses that others are not as committed as she is.  Looking back on my teaching, I realize that often I didn’t know what to do when my students weren’t as excited to learn Spanish as I was to teach it. As excited to learn about other cultures as I was. As convicted of the importance to become more self-aware and other-aware. As desiring to learn good study skills and time management skills. Sometimes this did cause a disconnect, and students would feel invisible or over-worked, just as Bill said sometimes happens in organizations with these kinds of leaders. For my teaching - this made me think about the importance of getting to know students one-on-one - their interests, their aptitudes, their personalities, their quirks and their ticks. It reminded me that it's okay for a student to like math or art more than they like Spanish. That I didn't need to lower my vision of what I want my students to get out of my class, but I needed to accept that students have different priorities, and that it was important for students to know that I care about them and their goals. For my parenting - looking forward to facing a son that talks, walks and acts out of his own free will, the thoughts applied to teaching are very applicable here. My son may not be as passionate about eating healthy and balanced meals as I am that he does so. I may want him to play an instrument or get involved in a sport, but his passion may be somewhere else. While I want to challenge my son and help him to unlock his potential, I don't want to implant my vision onto him and have that cause a relational rift when either he is less committed than I am or his vision is totally different.

I guess it all comes down to this: I can't get everyone to like me, but I can act with integrity to my own values. And, I can't get everyone to buy into my vision, but I can let them know that I care about theirs. As Bill said, God treasures people more than visions.

3. I can live up to my potential.

Another big lesson that I got out of the Summit was the importance of negotiating with myself to live up to my own potential. Erica Ariel Fox, author of Winning From Within, asked a question I really resonated with: "How often do we commit to a plan and then go against it?" My draw dropped. "Several times a day," I said to myself as my eyes were fixed on her to see what other gems she would share next. I just assumed that this was a part of my personality that I'd always be at odds with, my energetic loves-to-create-ideas but sometimes-has-a-hard-time-following-through self. It's not like I start things planning not to finish them. But somehow, especially now that I'm at home and don't have a teacher's schedule imposed on me, I have a hard time doing all of the things that I say I want or need to do. Erica spoke of the performance gap that we all have between drawing on our full potential and what we actually do, and of how a developmental area all leaders have is to consistently identify their performance gaps and to close them. As she said she would share some tips on how to close these gaps, I was thinking, "Maybe this isn't a part of my personality that I just have to live with. Maybe I can change it." 

Her key point was that we should look at ourselves in a different way. To paraphrase some key points from her talk:  
We tend to look at ourselves as a single entity - I am. But look at yourself in a new way, as a plural entity. As Walt Whitman said, I contain multiples. Brain science backs this up. We're more like an orchestra than a soloist! We're missing so much in our lives if we only play one or two instruments, the sides of ourselves that stick out as being the strongest. In reality, just like leaders have to negotiate with a lot of people when they're on a team - we have a lot of mini-negotiators in us, our different values, needs, agendas, and priorities. Let's look at ourselves when we're having internal conflict as if we were resolving conflict with others.
She gave names to these inner negotiators as shown in this diagram:

As she shared on the four "executives in our suite," I felt like she was speaking directly to me.

About my Dreamer, I felt she was saying,
Your inner dreamer is very strong. You set a strategic vision for your life. You did for your students in your teaching. You sense a path forward, and you give direction. But sometimes your dream didn't end up playing out in reality like it was in your head and that discouraged you. Don't give up on your dream. Use it, and see what happens even if it doesn't meet your specific hope. 
About my Lover,
Your inner lover is very strong, also. You feel emotions, you care about managing relationships and collaborating with others. You make people feel cared for and valued. But the other parts of you besides your Dreamer and your Lover tend to get pushed back sometimes. 
About my Thinker,
Your inner thinker is getting a little bored. That part of you that analyzes data, manages risks and considers consequences ... it's not that you don't do those things, but it's just that your Dreamer and your Lover sometimes speak louder than your Thinker. Sometimes you don't know how to interact with other Thinkers. Work on going and finding data, getting some facts, considering probabilities, stuff like that. And give your Thinker a chance to choose between different risks before you get all fired up about one when you haven't considered its consequences. 
And finally, about my Warrior,
Frankly, it's time to give that Warrior in you a little more excitement. He's even more bored than your Thinker, because sometimes you really do spend a lot of time Thinking, like while you're writing this blog entry, for example.  Or while you wrote your last blog entry on your convictions about what's going on in the Middle East. But the problem is that sometimes you're thinking and dreaming so much that you don't act. You need to take action, reach your goals, and speak hard truths. Let out your Warrior! 
To sum it up, she said to me, "Use all of the parts of you, Molly. I believe in you - all of you!"  Isn't it awesome that, in a conference that was directed towards tens of thousands of people, Ms. Fox took the time to speak directly to me? ;) Okay, not really, but what she said was so personally applicable to my life that it just made sense to frame her words this way.

What This All Comes Down To

These three lessons - that I actually am a leader, that I need to be careful of how my vision casting affects others, and that I can live up to my potential - all come down to an internal shift. Before the Summit, I had direction. There were plenty of things that I wanted to do. Above all, I wanted to work towards being more self-disciplined. But there was something inside me that doubted I'd actually be able to do and be all of the things that I thought were wonderful. I thought that it was just a part of my personality that I'd have to get used to, this having big ideas but lacking full capacity to follow through on them even if the desire was there.  

But now I realize, that's not something I have to live with. My visions are powerful, and I feel like my confidence has been switched on slowly over the course of the past week, like a light switch attached to a dimmer being moved to maximum brightness.

I spoke with my husband last week about how I felt at last year's Summit. It had been excellent, but I feel like a day or two after the Summit the motivation to apply what I learned just wasn't there. It was if I had never had it in the first place. I didn't even know why - it's not like I didn't think the lessons were important anymore. I knew that they were, but ... I just didn't follow through. "I'm worried," I told my husband on Thursday night after the first day of the Summit.. "I'm worried that the Summit will be excellent this year, but that I won't do anything with what I've been learning." I told him, asking him to help hold me accountable to apply what I learned.

I am a Christian. I do listen for God and try to hear his guidance in my life. When people say "God spoke to them" or "I heard from God" I sometimes wonder if God speaks to others in words that are actually audible. For me and I think that for most people, it's not that way. But, sometimes he does speak to me with words - like he planted a thought in my mind, one that comes to me in my own voice but clearly from a source outside myself. When reflecting on all of these things at the Summit, and especially on the desire to be more self-disciplined in my personal, spiritual and professional growth and my commitment to my family, I felt that God spoke to me. "You will be successful," are the words I heard, "and it will not be easy." Definitely an and, not a but. An and in that spot, "and it won't be easy," tells me ... that it will be a kind of "difficult" that I will actually enjoy. A challenging, fulfilling and even exhilarating kind of difficult.

The level of confidence I feel in my ability to apply what I've learned at the Summit this year is strange for me, but wonderful. I believe that I will be successful, with God's help. And I believe that it will not be easy. But I will see it.

That's it for now.  

Thank you so much for reading with me on my thought journey!

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