Stressful situations don’t always bring out the best in us, and I’m certainly no exception. When faced with my first challenge as leader, my typical adaptability was replaced with rigidity: I was resistant to any other idea but my own. My tendency is to dismiss the ideas of others when I believe my idea is superior to theirs (in part, because I believe I’ve spent more time considering all the variables). On a personal level, I can become indecisive, unreasonable and easily annoyed when under stress. Simply put, I don’t suffer fools. My indecisiveness leads to an avoidance of people or decisions. My remedy has always been balance: finding the equilibrium between holding onto things and letting go, speaking up versus staying silent, work versus rest. The last one is key: when I don’t have adequate personal time for reflection, meditation, prayer, rest and a break from demanding tasks, I typically become unproductive and my stress behaviours are in full effect. I believe this is the key to my success: when the mind and spirit are balanced, it’s always easier for me to see clearly, make sound decisions and think objectively, logically and practically.
If I’m going to make changes in this area, the communication between me and those I work with must be honest and direct: I need them to know when I need more time to make a decision or when I need some help. I strive for a relationship with my superiors where we have candid conversations—something my Birkman results (2017) indicated is a wise approach—however; there is an important balance to strike in such conversations (see bullet points below). I also need to encourage myself, celebrating my progress and achievements. This is particularly important when working on lengthy projects—which I can, at times, become bored with. In these situations, I should redirect my attention away from the mountain of work and back to the overall goal.
Based on all of this, there are some immediate and long term changes to my behavioural and thought patterns I’m committed to making:
- Be militant about my ‘me’ time. My days off will have to be just that: days off. It’s imperative I carve out this time for myself for personal reflection and rest.
- Make time for the people in my life. While this has always been a personal mantra of mine, it’s as much about them as it is about me. I need to spend time with close friends as it reminds them of how much they mean to me; it reminds me of how much I need them.
- Take time to meditate. The most important hour of my day is between 5am-6am, when I wake up to pray and meditate. The absence of this ‘power hour’ can lead to the imbalance I try to avoid. During this time, I reconnect with my Creator and what matters, but I also have the opportunity to think soberly and deeply about decisions—free of distractions and interruptions. This time of meditation also creates space where I can reconnect with my core values.
- Be quick to listen and slow to speak. This behavioural change is mission-driven and scripture-based. I must put to rest this belief my ideas are superior to others and listen to what they have to say.
- Don’t dish it since I can’t take it. More often than not, the people who offend me don’t mean to. In large part this is because I can dish it, but I can’t always take it: my tough exterior leads people to believe I can take it just as straightforwardly as I deliver it. In reality, I’m a campfire marshmallow: hard—and a little burnt—on the outside, but very soft inside. I need to adjust my communication style: if I know I can’t handle harsh criticism, than I shouldn’t be harsh with others (in other words, do unto others as I would have others do unto me).
- Say no. People with many talents are often called upon to do many things. It’s up to them to be wise about the tasks they accept. Particularly within the non-profit sector, it’s easy to let your bleeding heart be your guide. It’s imperative I only accept projects I feel strongly about: projects where I have the time and freedom to make thoughtful decisions, where I’m not subject to oppressive supervision and where I can plan for the long and short term.
- Don’t neglect my hobbies! In my spare time, I make…wigs! It’s a unique, but exceptionally fun hobby, and it draws on all my strengths. I love the way I feel when I try on one of my creations, or when I see someone else wearing it. What’s more, the compliments I receive build my confidence in my ability to do unique and great things.
When asked how he’s doing, a colleague of mine always gives the same answer: “I’m always trying to be better.” While the response might elicit a chuckle from the hearer, it always reminds me of my own personal vision: to tap into my greatness daily and impact the lives of everyone I meet. Doing this means I need to be an outlier. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell (2008) offers this definition:
- something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body
- a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.
There exists within me the capacity to be an outlier. Achieving such a level means learning how to tap into my greatness. Gladwell argues we shouldn’t spend so much time focusing on “what successful people are like… It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.” As cited in Gladwell (2018), my experiences, culture and faith present the kind of “extraordinary opportunities, cultural legacies and hidden advantages” to set me apart from my peers—but only if I learn to harness these things, add in the wisdom and knowledge gained through my journey, combining those nuggets with my natural talent.
Achieving my vision means focusing on my mission: to be a Christian every day. I know this might sound trite, but hear me out. I believe the path to greatness is through my faith, but I’m sure the journey will be the most trying, humbling and challenging process I’ll ever endure. It is easy to be a Christian on the outside: playing the part, behaving the way you think you should. However, I believe change begins from within. In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says “change always starts first in your mind. The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel influences the way you act.” (Warren, 2002, p. 182) As a leader, I will face temptation: to skirt the truth, lie, hide my faults and wear masks. It’s not easy to be a Christian when no one is watching…but those are the moments when character is built. If I focus on the change within, the outward behaviours will, inevitably, follow suit. The more I focus on working through and overcoming the character-building challenges and situations, the more I’ll be better able to tap into my greatness. The same values I pride myself on when all eyes are on me must be the same ones I continue to uphold when no one is around: fairness, respect, honesty, love and trust. This mission, vision and values apply personally and professionally: self-awareness prompts action, which promotes growth. By making a deeper pursuit of my faith my mission, I believe this will impact every area of my life, better enabling me to daily access the greatness within because the imperative my faith presents will prevent me from doing the one thing I’ll always be tempted to do as a leader: compromise. That said, it will take more than just strong values to succeed: strategic applications, a solid understanding of my industry, foresight, a healthy dose of stamina must all combine to create a strong, well rounded individual. Ultimately, my vision for myself is servant leadership and I believe my mission will produce determination to deter compromise, as I focus on the development of the characteristics of a servant leader: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people and building community (Northhouse, 2016). All of this will help me face what I believe is my greatest challenge as a strategic leader: how to lead an organization where the decisions made on the inside impact the organization and the industry. This will require I approach each situation and decision with scope in mind. As explained by Huges, Beatty and Dinwoodie (2013), “this broad scope requires seeing the organization as an interdependent and interconnected system of multiple parts where decisions in one area provoke actions in other area.” My values and faith (particularly as I apply the virtues of fairness and justice) will play a key role in how I approach decisions as the impact of our organization will be felt beyond my tenure. I believe any deviation away from core values is ultimately the downfall of any great leader. There must be a strong imperative to resist compromise. In my case, the imperative is my faith. Personally and professionally, I think this will require an abandonment of people-pleasing and the pursuit of popularity. Such an effort to appease can be exhausting and can compromise my mission.
In many ways, enrolling in this program is helping me achieve my vision. It’s led to a heightened sense of self-awareness, prompting action. Change isn’t something I shy away from, but personal change can be uncomfortable. However, I have two motivators:
- I don’t enjoy feeling as though I’m stuck
- I enjoy the fruits of change
If I can harness these two motivations—keeping them in the forefront of my mind—they could be powerful mindsets, driving me towards my goal. I can also use them to build on my personal and development strategies:
- Solicit feedback from trusted and respected sources
- Take time to talk out my concerns, so I don’t feel burdened by them
- Be a student of change by studying new techniques on how to overcome personal challenges
- Allow time and space to ruminate on key decisions
My only caution to myself would be to not become addicted to change: change for the sake of change is counter-productive.
Based on all of this, my definition of success is simple: progression, not regression. I expect a focus on all of the changes and ideas laid out in the preceding paragraphs will lead to personal change and development. Further to our course text, I’ve done a personal assessment of needed personal development (Figure 1.1), honing on four areas of potential growth:
Figure 1.1. Nadia Stewart’s Personal Development Chart
|Listen||If I can’t hear my team, how can I lead them? If they don’t feel as though they’re being heard, why would they want to be led by me? A concerted effort to practice active listening is necessary.|
|Make Time||This applies in two ways: I need to make time for thoughtful and abstract thinking, as well as making time for rest, personal reflection and for loved ones. The goal here is balance.|
|Idea Progression||I’m great at generating ideas, but not always able to build them out into full-fledged plans. I need to make time for creative and strategic thinking and planning, building on my ideas through sharing them with trusted individuals and thoughtfully considering their feedback.|
|Focus||Focus is a discipline. I need to narrow down the projects that matter to me, focusing on their completion to achieve maximum personal and professional growth.|
Birkman (2017). Individual Report Prepared for Nadia Stewart.
Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown.
Hughes, R. L., Beatty, K., Dinwoodie, D.L. (2013). Becoming a strategic leader: Your role in your organization’s success. (2nd Ed.).[E-reader version]. Retrieved from Google Play Store.
New International Version. Bible Hub (2018). James 1:19. Retrieved from: https://biblehub.com/james/1-19.htm
New International Version. Bible Hub (2018). Matthew 7:12. Retrieved from: https://biblehub.com/matthew/7-12.htm
Northhouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership Theory and Practice. Seventh Edition. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications Inc.
Warren, R. (2002). The Purpose Driven Life. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.