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A Shift in Perspective: Creating the Conditions for Leadership
Kathleen
20 Jan

I woke up late this morning with a list of what I needed to do running through my head, this blog post being one of those things. Writing makes me nervous and blogs are slightly unfamiliar territory for me. As I sped through my family’s morning routine I tried to think about how to summarize what I’ve learned in my Next Jump University Leadership and Listening class in a way that fit neatly into a post and felt worthwhile enough to read as you were in the bathroom stall.

As our morning routine was coming to a close I realized just how late I might be and I turned my head towards the kitchen and yelled to my husband, “We’re late! I should have been on the train 10 minutes ago. Let’s go!” I turned back to my daughter who I had propped up on the edge of the couch while I was attempting to double knot her shoe. She was crying. She’s 15 months old with a very limited vocabulary. Her list of words consist of “mamma” “dadda” “dog” and “ooh ooh a a,” so crying is her way of communicating. This morning she was crying because instead of being read “The Little Blue Truck” by me, she was getting her wool sweater, coat, hat, and now shoes forced on her. She put her lips out and said “no” very firmly - the newest word she’s added to her vocabulary.

“Honey, we have to do this. I have to tie your shoes and we have to go. Mommy’s late.” I added a “honey” at the front to make sure she knew I loved her, but my tone clearly communicated that I was annoyed.

She wriggled her body around and moved her foot up and down as I made every human attempt possible to tie a double knot onto a moving target, and then she jerked back, hit her head on the arm of the couch, and her crying turned to waling. The arm is padded, so I know it didn’t hurt her as much as it startled her. Even though I knew that, the site of my daughter’s mouth wide open, face red, and body moving from the weight of her wails made me cry too.

As I collected myself and we walked to the subway I apologized to my husband and told him that I wasn’t the wife or mom I wanted to be in those moments this morning and that I was going to try to do better next time.

He said “That’s alright. Our life isn’t set up right now for you to get to be the person you want to be in those moments. Let’s spend our energy thinking about how to change that instead of spending all our energy trying to just ‘be better’ at everything.”

As I continued on down the stairs of the Q train I physically felt lighter. That one statement felt so freeing. I could stop obsessing over every moment where I felt I failed and shift my focus and energy on partnering with my husband to cultivate an environment in our home that allowed me to be the mom and wife I want to be in future moments. Instead of responding to that morning’s situation by saying; we need to get up 10 minutes earlier, I was now asking myself why is it so hard for us to get up 10 minutes earlier? What needs to shift in the larger rhythm of our home?

Kathleen's daughter

As this was mulling around in my head on the train ride into work I realized that this idea is the very same one I will be walking away from our Leadership and Listening class with. As a leader in my job I am now more actively asking myself to do the same thing. When I observe something isn’t going as we wanted or someone isn’t doing a piece of their job in an effective way I understand that I have a choice. I can focus all of my attention on what individual mistakes the team is making and solely have conversations with each of them about that. Or I can listen longer and take a step back. Instead of looking at the teams actions in isolation, I am challenging myself to look at the larger narrative their collective actions is communicating to me about whether or not what I am doing as a leader is working. I can ask the team and myself if the systems in our office and the messages I am conveying as a leader are working for them.

Now, if no one in a meeting is speaking up, my first response isn’t a command; everybody speak up more. My response is to ask myself and my team why people aren’t speaking up. What is it about the setup and structure of the meeting that makes it hard for people to participate? When someone has participated in the past how have I responded? What did that response communicate about participation?

This is what David’s Leadership class has given me. A shift in perspective. A pause before action. A new lens to look at my team.

Like with my family, my attempts at leading a Summer Search team are often a little messy. I’ve realized that all the teams I’m a part of in my life are these constantly evolving works of progress and I don’t often get the time to take a step back and think about what I want my role to be in that evolution. I am so grateful that Next Jump gave me the opportunity to take an hour out of my week for the last 12 weeks to work with David to do just that.

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