Leading from the Bottom

Leading from the bottom is never easy. When you find yourself in a place of lesser respect with your peers and you don’t want to be there, there are ways to climb out from the pit. They are difficult. They require commitment, self-honesty, tenacity and courage. That said, take it from someone who used to be a failure, who used to be a quitter: giving up should always be your last resort.

I had to start by asking a not-so-simple question: “why am I here?” It’s easy to point to others around you in your organization and say: “it’s their fault and here’s why”. There are bullies and cliques in every organization, and we will address them in a bit. Generally speaking, however, I discovered the only thing I can fix is myself. Taking self-inventory and finding out where I stand is Leadership 101. I’ve learned to ask myself when challenges arise: “am I sabotaging my influence, and if so, how?” On accepting difficult truths considering that question, and making some hard changes, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how my influence has increased, propelling me in a positive direction.

But what happens when the criticism is unfair, the reputation is no longer earned, and you are still the butt of jokes and condescension? What do you do when the problem is external to you?

I’ll tell you, I spent years doing the wrong thing: I took it personally. It’s hard not to. That led to me to becoming as critical of them as I saw them being critical of me, which was a huge mistake and an instant saboteur for all influence on top of my flaws. It just made them look “right” when they said negative things about me in the eyes of others. When I learned how to take inventory and started making the hard changes to eliminate those flaws, I still found myself under the gun more than I should have been.

I have two words to describe the right way for handling the criticism of others: love and kindness. Remove all criticism from your lips, treat people with respect no matter how they treat you, ignore the scoffs, side-eyed glances and casual as well as implied insults. Be kind, and practice love for others. It’s that simple. I speak from experience when I say you will become a beacon of light and your reputation will follow. Just think about the man or woman you know that everyone likes-if ever anyone spoke a harsh word against them, it would be piled back on their heads.

Proverbs 5:21-22

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

That leads me to this: one can practice a “charm offensive” without having made any personal changes. Politicians do this quite frequently. When it counts, however, character is what true leaders look for. If someone has no character, they collaborate with other leaders who do the same. Eventually, they will stab that person in the back. When walking in shady circles, people get backstabbed all the time: there is always someone smarter and better equipped than they are.
I can honestly say, after having worked out some character flaws, and having put down the defensive criticism, I was able to love others again and I find myself respected today. The exclamation point to my story hasn’t happened yet, but God has been developing a testimony in me that I cannot ignore.

Failing Forward

I’ve been reading John Maxwell’s “Failing Forward” and considering some of the lessons therein.

I have a tendency toward perfectionism. When I make a social misstep, or a networking misstep, I have a hard time forgiving myself. I’m irrationally afraid I won’t get another chance. In other words, I’ve been entrenched in “Conditional Regard”, the ugly cousin of “Unconditional Positive Regard”, where I only accept myself when I meet certain criteria. The fact that they are unreasonable criteria is only icing on that cake.

Though Maxwell makes it clear through his stories that we must be aware of how wide or narrow our windows of opportunity really are, I discovered something that applies to all forms of performance anxiety:

Giving myself grace is the only way out.

As long as I am serious about change and it’s evidenced through a majority of my behavior, allowing myself grace when I make mistakes is acceptable. In fact, it’s necessary. What I had to figure out was there is a difference between a mistake and a backslide. A mistake is something I usually recognize right after it’s happened and it’s not something I want to repeat. A backslide is a series of “somethings” that I barely acknowledge and allow to continue unchecked. Guilt is only useful for the second one, but not the first. Guilt slows you down, but grace powers you forward. If I allow guilt to overtake me for a mistake after my performance record suggests positive momentum, all I’m doing is sabotaging myself from continuing in a positive direction.

Maxwell’s core concept is found in the title- “Failing Forward”. In it, he suggests that in order to succeed, you need to give yourself permission to fail. I’m new to this, but I’m beginning to understand just how important that permission-that grace is-to my personal growth, my networking, my business, and my life.

Whether I Belong…

I’ve been hunting on “familiar” ground for leaders from whom I could garner some wisdom. “Familiar” though the territory is, I’ve again been reminded of how different I am compared to most of them. At first, that made me glad that I’m casting a wider net beyond what I’m used to. I didn’t want to continue to pursue a position in a field that I don’t belong in. Then, I began to consider the positive angle-perhaps I have some gifts they do not.

It’s also good to be speaking to people who are inherently different from me, as Rosalinde Torres talks about in her TED talk concerning what it takes to be a great leader. It makes me feel like I’ve already learned quite a bit about operating with people who are tribally somewhat different than I am.

I’ve also decided that I will pursue leaders in the fields of my interests. Ministry is one of them, especially creative outreach ministry. Broadcasting (all forms) is another. Teaching at a college level is another.

In the end, I hope to meet fascinating-to-me people from a broad swath of employment. Whether the support I’ll gain will send me back to school, or grant me a position, or both remains to be seen, but I have a lot more faith in the process now.

My first informational interview was this morning, and it went well.

Know Myself

It’s always been a little difficult for me when people try to give me compliments. It’s like, I don’t want to believe it when people start to brag on me, so I frown and by the way I thank them, I realize it sounds like I’m not really grateful. I’m totally grateful. I’m just afraid.

“What does this have to do with Leadership, Business or Success,” you may ask.

Everything.

Success is a dance that has everything to do with understanding truly where my strengths and weaknesses lie (i.e. Self-Discovery!). Negotiation, whether for a sale, on a resume, in an interview, to get promoted, and more…all of these things require me to be on point with my strengths and weaknesses. If I were to have a weak ego, or conversely, a large one, I would either be underselling myself or overcompensating for a weakness. My ambitions would either get eliminated, or devoured.

A major tenet of this process- “Know myself.”

I have to realize that my weak ego is a choice. It’s hard for me to admit that I’m a charitable person with a good singing and radio voice, or that I’m a good writer, but that doesn’t make it untrue. I just work hard to be better than average in some areas. As the Bible says, the person who buries his talents in the ground has them taken away from him and given to the person who has more-literally that was speaking of money, but figuratively I think the analogy is correct. I need to start taking inventory of my talents before I lose them.

For more about having a healthy ego (they refer to it as “true humility”), see this cool chart I found: http://www.swordofthespirit.net/bulwark/truehumilitychart.htm

Critical Lesson-The Tenets of Insistance

I’ve come to understand that I have struggled with being critical. I see a problem and I want it fixed, even if I have to do it myself. The issue is, it isn’t always my place or responsibility to do so. When responsibilities fall to other people, they are just that, their responsibilities. Most of the time, people in leadership roles don’t want my unsolicited advice. They certainly don’t want, nor need my criticism. If I ever have people working or volunteering for me, I need to give them some latitude to succeed as they choose. Even outside of the professional sphere, people have free will, and I have learned and am learning not to judge their actions.

The problem with criticism is that it demolishes my influence with people. Without influence, I cannot exercise my leadership gifts and honestly, I become a pariah.

In order to combat this issue of criticism, I’ve come up with a code of conduct. I call it The Tenants of Insistence. Rather than saying what I won’t do any longer, I have listed situations where I should insist, making the list positively oriented. I’m hoping it will make a difference in how I handle this problem of mine in the future.

The Tenants of Insistence

  1. The Boundary Tenet. I insist in situations where I need to defend my personal boundaries.
  2. The Physical Harm Tenet. I insist when physical harm may come to innocent people.
  3. The Good Student Tenet. I insist on being open to learning, even if it overrides the other tenants for a time.
  4. The Work-Learn Union Tenet. I insist on only working and volunteering for superiors from whom I can learn.
  5. The Stone-Thrower Tenet. I insist on being uncritical concerning the actions of others, and allow them to fix their own problems.
  6. The Law of the Land Tenet. I insist on obeying the will of established authority, unless doing so would put me at risk for violating the other tenants.
  7. The Impersonal Tenet. I insist on not taking it personally when someone reacts adversely toward me, except in so far as I can better myself and my conduct. I will, however, distance myself from corrosive influences to preserve my peace.

Expect edits occasionally, I will do my best to make these better, and perhaps in the process, add a few more. I hope you find these as useful as I already have, dear reader.