My best leadership lessons started as disappointments. I was the kid who wanted to captain every team, earn every Girl Scout badge and sell the most cookies. So when I got to Camp Kenwood and saw that they rewarded achievement by handing out feathers, I fully expected to receive a whole hatful. And I did, but the feather I remember is the one I never got. It was fuchsia, and it was given to the Girl of the Week, and hard as I tried I was never that girl. That missing feather was my first lesson in rejection, and what I learned is that you keep going.
Determination took me pretty far in my first career. Then I had a child and faced the pressures shared by most new mothers. One day when my son was an infant, I had to leave the office to manage an emergency with the caretaker. My male boss said to me, “You’re husband is at home. Can’t he handle it?” In fact, my husband was not at home and I needed to be there. That boss showed me how not to manage a working mother, and I promised myself that I would never run a business that way.
By the time I took over as president of the 1,750-member Healthcare Businesswomen’s Metro Chapter in 2009, I was running three businesses and had learned a lot about leadership. But nothing compares to the challenge of managing high-powered volunteers who know they can’t be fired. When someone misses the mark, the only option is to sit down and talk openly about the situation, even if the conversation leads to an organizational change. I learned that the conversations no one likes are sometimes the most valuable.
Disappointments have inspired me to persist through a recession, create a flexible workplace, and become a better problem solver. And that in turn has brought the immeasurable joy that comes from making a difference doing the work I love with a team I love.
So here are three principles of leadership. Keep going no matter what. Give your team what they need to thrive. Have the hard conversations. You won’t always win the fuchsia feather, but you might just succeed beyond your wildest dreams.