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  • Writer's pictureLorri Palko

Timely Leadership Lessons from An Hourglass

Sometimes painful lessons teach us things we didn’t think we needed to know. ~ Amy Poehler

Confident leaders are eternally learning, and now is the perfect time to learn some emerging leadership lessons that might surprise us. It’s undeniable that individually and collectively we have had to navigate an unimaginable twelve months. Our lives were turned upside down. Our peace of mind was shattered. As I sat at my desk looking at an hourglass with the saying, “may every hour of every day bring you happiness,” I wondered whether we would ever be able to return to a hopeful present.

The hourglass measures time by establishing the present between the past and future. That tiny fleeting moment of “the present” is meant to be cherished and keep us grounded in the now. Of course, this is difficult when our recent past has been so disrupted, and our near future unsure.

Still, as I glance at that hourglass while I’m assisting clients, I find peace in the present moment and can focus on the important things. Like many of you, not only has my life changed, my coaching practice has too. I have served clients by helping them keep businesses open with scarce resources, make hard career choices, balance their own personal fears with the need to fearlessly lead, and continue to honor their values in the face of unthinkable conditions. Here are the common themes that emerged from all these powerful experiences I witnessed and faced alongside some inspiring leaders this past year, marked, as always, by my hourglass.

Themes and Questions to Ponder from The Last Year

Theme: Less is More – We are socialized to think “more is better.” Organizations are viewed as dying if they are not growing. Yet, during the past year we purged, offices disbanded, and conveniences were scarce. As we learned to live with less, there was often an unexpected result – increased energy and creativity. Work we relied on someone else to do may have landed in our inbox. It is possible that not only did we find we could do the work, but we rediscovered we actually enjoyed doing it! Elaborate workspaces with all the add-ons and luxuries became unnecessary to accomplish what needed to be done. While there have been many ways our fears zapped our energy this past year, when we experienced that less could be more, many had a renewed sense of freedom and energy. We were forced to create space either physically, mentally, or emotionally that often generated delightfully creative solutions. We learned that we can do more with less.

Timely questions to ponder: What is there still to purge? How do you grow without the perception of needing more?

Theme: We are Stronger Together – If there is one phrase that I heard repeatedly over the last year it is: relationships are everything. We talk about the need for connection and collaboration, but until we experienced the past year, we did not truly know that connection and collaboration are essential to our survival. If relationships are everything, creating a culture that is built on trust is the only way to genuinely connect and establish authentic collaboration. None of us must have all the ideas. Instead, we need to create an environment where the most creative and best ideas can emerge. Connection is not about having a standing meeting or even hosting a Zoom happy hour. These may be tools for connection, but they do not necessarily result in connection. Deeply listening, asking questions of importance and being present to others builds connection.

Timely questions to ponder: What skills do you want to sharpen in order to build connections? Where do you get in the way of fostering true collaboration?

Theme: Not Having the Answers is OK – Leaders often avoid communicating when they are uncertain about specific direction, or fear they cannot answer anticipated questions. The belief we carry culturally is: we must show confidence when we communicate, and how can we do that if we don’t have all the answers? The truth is, we never have all the answers, and we are never in control to the degree we think we are. Having all the answers and being certain about direction or decisions can actually limit possibilities!

“Leadership is as much an emotional endeavor as it is an intellectual one.”

This past year was a time when we needed to be decisive in the face of enormous uncertainty. Being decisive wasn’t rooted in being sure about specific actions and decisions; it was about being true to our values, being transparent in our communications, constantly engaging in conversations and allowing ourselves to be flexible. Leadership is as much an emotional endeavor as it is an intellectual one. This past year the ever-changing conditions reinforced the idea that it is not only okay not to know, but also it is the better answer.

Timely questions to ponder: What do you need to do to become comfortable with not knowing? What benefits can you see from being more transparent in your communications?

Theme: True Assets – This past year forced us to deploy our assets differently. Office spaces and buildings were vacated. Employees worked from home. Teachers conducted classes on Brady Bunch-like Zoom calls. Employers realized that their employees did not need a fully-appointed office building, complete with workout rooms, foosball tables and coffee bars in order to get the job done.

“Often it is said that employees are a business’ most important asset. Actually, employees are the business.”

Success is not determined by processes, systems and tools or even an emergency cash reserve. Success is created by the commitment and dedication of loyal employees and customers supporting each other. Some leaders developed a new appreciation for what their true assets really are as they tackled the chore of deploying assets differently, and in some cases, agonized over depleting assets. Often it is said that employees are a business’ most important asset. Actually, employees are the business.

Timely questions to ponder: What do you need to do to show employees how important they are? How will you deploy assets differently moving forward?

Certainly, our world has changed of late. Our lives have been rearranged! For some it has been catastrophic, while others have flourished. Nothing could be timelier than to pause and reflect on what we have learned from all the disruption. We cannot rest on the laurels of the past, or depend on the future; we can only cherish the present. The present is the only place where we can create our future. I encourage all my clients (as I do for myself) to learn from the past, cherish the present, and look forward to the mystery of the future. When we can master that approach, over time, then we can look forward to every hour of every day bringing us greater happiness.

Let Lorri work with you to gain clear insight from your lessons fro the past year, for your own success and the success of your teams. Find out how.

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