In our volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambitious (VUCA) world (Ungerer, Ungerer, & Herholdt, 2016, p. 3), the only thing constant is change. I truly embrace change with an open heart. As a man in my mid-thirties, with a young family and aspiring career goals, changes and surprises occur at a very high frequency. I believe changes bring new opportunities and creativity to what is mundane and regular. Since changes will happen anyways, I choose to accept it and try to discover how we can best move forward.
The most challenging year: 2017
One of the most challenging years of my life was in 2017. Here are some of the highlights:
- January – Purchase a new house
- February – Sold our old house
- April 7 – Took possession of the new house
- April 8 – My daughter, Abigail, was born
- May – Vacate old house and temporary move to in-laws
- June – Renovation of the new house begins
- July – New house got broken into. Over $10,000 worth of belongings stolen
- August – Move into the new house after renovations were completed
Every significant life change is a stressor, whether they are good or bad things. The blessing of our baby girl is no doubt a great joy! But having an infant in the midst of dealing with other significant events have multiplied our stress level. What is not mentioned is everything happened in between these events are also stressors. Dealing with our lawyer and mortgage specialist for the housing transaction; working with the police and insurance adjuster with regards to the burglary, and project managing with our designer and contractor for our renovation. Facing these circumstances has been challenging but my approach is the same as any other change I faced in the past, the process then takes action. Fixation on uncontrollable things is not beneficial. I also feel as leader of the household, it is my responsibility to help the rest of my family manage change and help them progress through the emotions until there is acceptance to the future state.
Changes in my workplace are happening at a record pace. With the younger, energetic generation replacing many of our experienced leaders in the workplace, the office culture is experiencing a rapid shift. In much the same way I face challenges in my personal life, I welcome new changes within my workplace and look forward to seeing how all these changes will shape the organization’s structure and strategic direction. In my role as Health Protection Systems Specialist, I have a sense of responsibility to help the rest of my team and staff to process change and do their best. This is based on the servant leadership model I deeply believe in, where the leader intentionally considers the follower’s best interest first and focuses on empowering them and helping them develop their full human capacities (Northhouse, 2016, p. 496). Perhaps the sense of responsibility originates from my involvement with many new initiatives and its potential in affecting the entire department. Similarly to my personal life, I feel compelled to help my “work family” in process change.
Experiencing constant change does not mean it gets easier to process, but it helps develop the individual in becoming more efficient and better prepared in managing changes. Facing so many challenges constantly can lead to fatigue and exhaustion. It is important to recognize changes cause stress, even for those who remain positive. Continuous support from people who are close to me helps relieve a lot of the stress in a profound way. On a personal level, direct support from my wife cannot be replaced by anyone else. Her support such as a simple encouragement or taking care of other household needs while I focus on the task at hand can bring tremendous relief. On a professional level, it is important for my direct superior to provide enough space and time to allow me to work. I work well independently and will approach others when I need assistance. Being micro-managed only creates unnecessary pressure and resistance. For me to work effectively, my preference is for all the important details and deadlines to be presented to me at the beginning so I can consider my process and action plan. Uncertainties or indecisiveness from others creates frustration for me and lead to unnecessary stalling of the work and losing confidence in how to proceed.
Conducting research and analyzing differences are a great interest of mine. Whether deciding on the brand of toilet paper to purchase or the strategic direction to take my team, it is rare when a decision is made without me taking a deeper look. Your initial thought may believe this is a strength when wanting to make desired changes in my life. I am sure many people prefer to approach things with a rational and meaningful thought. However, when done excessively, the thoughtful and analytical mind becomes hindered and leads to inaction. This is one of the things I realize I must manage if I want to continue to be an effective leader. There are many circumstances where a time for analysis is not available, and a decision must be made instantly. In my personal life, I am learning to recognize urgent situations where I simply must take action on my family’s behalf. On a professional level, I am practicing to trust some of my instincts and experience during urgent matters instead of always taking the time to analyze the situation. In health protection, we respond to many public health emergencies such as oil spills or disease outbreaks. An effective leader in these scenarios must attempt to make the best decision possible with the limited amount of information and time given. I must continue to strive to achieve a balance between analytical and intuitive thinking.
Personal mission, vision, and values
In the early years of my career, I hit a slump. I was highly demotivated in my job and was disengaged. As an Environmental Health Officer, I was responsible for inspecting restaurants, swimming pools, and personal service facilities to ensure their compliance with the health regulations. I had the freedom to plan out my schedule and conduct my work in the community, without the confines of an office building. It was an interesting job at times but it can be mundane with the routine work. It was during this time where I felt discontent with my job and was unable to perform my best. This happened around the third year of my career, where the honeymoon phase of starting a new career has passed and I have yet to determine a clear mission, vision, and value in my career. These three things are important aspirational components that create meaning and purpose for an organization [or individual] (Hughes, Beatty, and Dinwoodie, 2014, p. 25). I believe as a Christian, humans are created for the purpose of glorifying God. I attempt to do this by utilizing my gifts and talents to witness Jesus by serving the church and loving my community. However, I did not make this connection to my professional career until two years after my slump. I neglected to realize my purpose exists not only at a personal level but professional level as well. As soon as I realized this my perspective of work changed and I began to work hard and strive to serve the community at my work. This is not to impress my employer, but to witness Jesus Christ and what it means to utilize my gifts and talents to its fullest. By God’s blessing, within 2 years of this realization and physically putting things into action, I was promoted to the position I am in today. As I continue in my career path, it is my desire to become more effective in serving and loving people within my influence and thus, my decision in pursuing my master’s degree in leadership and learning what transformational servant leadership entails.
In my personal life, it is my goal to be more strategic and intentional within my own family. With two young children and both my wife and myself working full-time, we lose focus on our purpose of serving and loving our community at times. Like many other parents, we are tempted to enrol our children in too many activities, sports, and lessons in order for them to succeed in life. However, upon reflecting on what our mission, vision, and values are, I believe the duties of parents are not helping them to succeed by learning soccer, but to learn how to be more Christ-like. Since this realization, I now strategically arranged a time of family worship at home. This occurs every day right after the children’s bath and we engage them with biblical learning, prayer, and song. There are many times when my wife and I are weary and rather be lying on the couch after work. But since starting this habit as a regular occurrence, we delight in the achievement of our 4-year-old son, successfully memorizing the names of the first 16 books of the bible!
With my purpose mentioned earlier in mind, one key strategic driver I will focus on is to develop a deeper relationship with one another. A loyal following is only established when there is a relationship developed between the follower and the leader. This does not mean I will be friends with everyone. Establishing a relationship means building trust with one another and without trust, even the best of intentions will be taken with skepticism and even threatened. On a professional level, I will stress the importance of transparent communications. Very often, the leadership team withholds information when communicating new initiative or projects to staff. This may be due to sensitive information; however, it is more often because the plans for the initiative or project are not being completely finalized and did not want to risk it being seen or heard. Establishing transparency means the leader must first trust the staff with information and not worried about being criticized. Transparency will demonstrate to staff the leadership team trust their staff with information and invite them to participate in the decision-making process.
On a personal level with my family and church, we already established a great deal of trust and transparency. Deepening relationship on a personal level means I will strive to empower the people around me to achieve their maximum growth. I will take more time to develop and equip others so they can be more effective in their ministry and goals. With this focus, certain activities and projects are to be abandoned or delayed if they do not reinforce relationship building. For example, instead of spending money on new equipment for the church, the funding should be spent on team building and development.
For people to develop a deeper relationship and build trust, a culture of openness and vulnerability must be created. On a professional level, it means crafting a safe environment to allow staff members to share their ideas and opinions without being criticized and judged. To promote this culture, the leaders should be the first to show openness and vulnerability as an invitation. When staff members can see their leaders are willing to do so, it is a signal to which staff members are also welcome to participate. When a culture of openness is fostered at the workplace, the collective team will experience growth in terms of relationship and intelligence. In my personal life, a similar culture of openness and vulnerability is to be developed but in addition, I must also extend a lot of grace. Sometimes it is more difficult when dealing with our own family members because we tend to have higher expectations of them. With a young family, children make mistakes all the time and as a parent, I can easily lose my patience. As modelled by how Jesus loves the church, I remind myself I must forgive and I must love. As a husband and a father, there are many times I must choose to forgive and love first even when it is difficult. The outcome of creating this culture in my family means we are not afraid to make mistakes and allow us to be vulnerable with one another. We accept the fact we cannot be perfect and aim to do our best.
Old vs. New Economy Thinking
One old-economy thinking concept I am currently transitioning is the view of leadership being a position and entitlement (Ungerer et al., 2016, p. 15). While I attempt to embody the new-economy thinking on the importance of servant leadership and stewardship, I often forget about this concept in my professional work. My role as one of the frontline leaders puts me in a position of limited authority to the frontline staff and thus, I tend to rely strictly on the senior leadership team to provide direction and guidance to the team and exclude myself from the picture. In servant leadership and collective stewardship, the role of being a leader is to empower others to do great things (Ungerer et. al., 2016, p. 16). This includes staff members from the entire team and not just restricted to people with a leadership title. It means the success or failure of the team is everyone’s responsibility and does not fall upon the senior leadership team alone. When a culture of shared responsibility is established, I foresee information and ideas more free-flowing and allows the entire team to move better in a strategic direction. In a culture where we are all accountable for one another, there tends to be less blame and more focus on how the team can move past challenges collectively.
As mentioned in earlier parts of this chapter, I tend to take a lot of time to analyze many situations. While this may strengthen my strategic thinking skills, the other skills I need to improve on is the ability to take strategic action and make strategic influences. Because of my tendency to acquire as much information and details as possible before taking action, it often hinders my ability to take strategic actions decisively despite the inherent ambiguity, chaos, and complexity (Hughes et. al. 2014, p. 49). It is important to cultivate the skill in translating thoughts into action in a timely manner. In addition, the success of any strategic initiative of an organization requires the entire team to participate and have buy-in. The other skill I need to work on is the ability of strategic influencing. Very often leaders neglect to involve others during an initiative, but inviting others into the strategic process can increase commitment from all who are involved in this strategic direction (Hughes et. al., 2014, p. 48). I will need to focus my efforts on working with people and supporting other to achieve the common goal, rather than focused on completing tasks.
As mentioned in Hughes et al., leading of self or organization requires continuous learning (2014, p. 260). Throughout my leadership journey, I recognize honing specific strengths can help me succeed in being a better strategic leader. The first, is my ability to critically think and analyze a situation. When this is balanced with promptness, strategic decisions can be made in a timely manner. The second is my ability to listen, which is one of the ten major characteristics demonstrated by a servant leader (Northhouse, 2010, p. 496). This is rooted in my need to gather information. I believe being a good listener is the key to being an effective communicator. When good listening skills are paired with the ability to strategically process information and discern what information is useful, then I can provide meaningful feedback and develop valuable strategies for the team.
Hughes, R. L., Beatty, Collarelli-Beatty, K., & Dinwoodie, D. L. (2014). Becoming a strategic leader: Your role in your organization’s enduring success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Ungerer, M., Ungerer, G., & Herholdt, J. (2016). Navigating strategic possibilities: Strategy formulation and execution practices to flourish. Randburg: KR Publishing