Just at the end of a six month tenure with the official title of “Project Leader,” I am feeling a great deal of pride, relief, exhaustion and wonder. As part of a volunteer organization, I had the pleasure of leading a fantastic group of 8 professional women. In total we represented 8 different nationalities and our charge was to undertake the process of re-branding our network.
Now that we have celebrated our accomplishments with a culminating event, I feel compelled to look back and try to capture my very personal gains from the process, especially in experiencing myself as “the leader.”
- I was invited to lead the project.
An invitation is a powerful thing. I had the power of choice. I enjoyed the sense of trust and confidence which others were willing to place in me. As a result I felt honored and pleased and eager to serve. Think about that for a moment: eager to serve. I could find no other response beyond “yes” – a “yes” expressive of the desire to contribute primarily because I was asked to. And because the requested contribution was not for money but for my time and skills.
- I am no expert in marketing or branding. I do have a good grasp of team building.
Knowing this freed me from having to pretend like I did know and opened me up to investigating the diverse and multiple talents and skill sets in the team. Getting to know my teammates was by far the most rewarding aspect of the whole enterprise and that felt like my strength: finding out what others were good at, learning how each wanted to apply her talents, and locating that sweet spot between task, talent and availability for each of us.
- As the “leader” I got to set the tone.
And the tone I decided to go for was fun, personal, and optimistically realistic. I kept reminding the team and myself that we were all volunteers. We were electing to take on these tasks out of the goodness of our hearts. Therefore I put a high premium on making sure that as much of our journey together was enjoyable and productive.
- I value other people’s time like I value my own.
We kept face to face meetings to a minimum – 4 all-team meetings in the whole 6 months. Intra-group communication worked really well using a teamwork platform, Glip.com. When we did meet, we chose comfortable locations with a suitable selection of beverages. I planned interactive meetings to insure that all voices could be heard and a variety of ideas expressed. Several teammates commented on how much they enjoyed and looked forward to our meetings!
- I have a great deal of faith in humanity in general and gladly placed a huge amount of trust in the women with whom I shared this project. (As they also placed in me.)
Trust means that I believed people when they told me they would complete this or that task by a certain deadline. Trust means that when we wondered about our capacity to meet our final deadline in mid October, I emphasized my belief that we could accomplish the necessary tasks in time. And I assured everyone that our best in mid-October would be our best in mid-October – meaning that we would get as much done as possible by focusing completing the non-negotiables to the best of our abilities and worry about what’s left after that. By the end of our project and leading up to the finale, the degree of mutual trust and cooperation showed up in every e-mail, each phone call. We felt like a real team.
- Optimistically Realistic
I need to say a little more about this. While the tasks before us seemed formidable – a website redesign, a whole slate of new graphic design products, strategies for communicating the change – they also struck me as doable within the frame of trying not to do too much. (I will say that our graphic designer had already prepared most of the elements in line with our global umbrella organization, so that gave us a significant head start on the remainder of the graphic tasks.)
That said, I lacked the experience to estimate exactly how much time it might take us as volunteers to build a new website and populate it with updated, fresh content. In the end, the team put together an informative, engaging and user-friendly website complete with all the essential pieces and some added features to boot. I like to think that that was possible in part thanks to a shared capacity to stay optimistically realistic.
- I was able to test my theories about leading by example, with heart and head.
I wasn’t the boss of anyone and didn’t need to be. I did make some decisions for our group along the way and delivered on the promises I made. While I had many jobs on this team, one of the most valuable was the ability to tie up loose ends without resentment. I had the benefit of the overview (mostly) and understanding how to use that to lighten one person’s load here or boost someone else’s involvement there seemed to make a positive difference in how members experienced their individual roles and impact. In my mind, I could only expect and ask of others what I was also modeling: meeting deadlines, keeping appointments, sharing information freely.
- Questions get great mileage.
My favorite questions were: How can I help? What do you/we need?
- It struck me that saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ sometimes matters more than the actual content of the request or statement.
- My most effective leadership tool turned out to be: (drum roll, please) Showing up as myself.
After the many tomes, pamphlets and essays I have read on leadership, what served me and our team best proved to be the gift of daring to be myself. I fell in love with my team, with their individual enthusiasms and desire to be a part of something positive. I felt tremendous gratitude for their trust in me and used as many opportunities as possible to express that in word and deed. We had a great time with each other and when we celebrated at our culminating event, ours was a shared victory.
It’s fascinating to me that this all happened within the frame of volunteering within a women’s organization which boasts its many opportunities for members to gain valuable leadership experiences by getting involved. As a relative newcomer I suppose I was waiting for the magic to take its effect. With the completion of this project, my learning has been significant and the spell has been cast. All the language around empowerment, initiative, growth and support which appears widely in our publications has now been evidenced for me in a deeply personal way. The network works and the process helped me see ways to indeed “advance the way we work together.”
What still amazes me in this process is how much I enjoyed both the role of leader and the opportunity to enact it in ways that felt authentic, effective and joyful. “Chief Enthusiasm Officer” might capture how I experienced my role much of the time. My enthusiasm for the project was only outdone by the enthusiasm I felt in working with my team of dynamic and accomplished women.