Leadership Advice: Don’t Give Up on a Dumpster Fire

Leadership Advice: Don’t Give Up on a Dumpster Fire

“I’m Jenny, a project manager for 9 Clouds, and to be honest, the last year was kind of a dumpster fire.”

That’s how I introduced myself to a group of 25 women — strangers — at the first session of EmBe’s Women’s Leadership Program.

What an introduction, right?

9 Clouds’ CEO, Sarah Carnes, is somewhere shaking her head at that first sentence right now. The “dumpster fire” line definitely wasn’t an inaccurate description of my life at that time, but I’m sure it wasn’t what she anticipated I’d tell this room full of professional women the first day I met them.

Fortunately, this group embraced me — foul mouth, flaws, and all — and guided me through a year of confidence building. In that year, I learned that Sarah taught me the biggest lesson in leadership by sending me to this program: it’s not about you — it’s about them.

“Leadership is about mobilizing and engaging people with the problem rather than trying to anesthetize them so you can go off and solve it on your own.”

Ronald Heifetz on NPR’s Hidden Brain

Sarah is the Queen of Empowerment, whether she realizes it or not. She engages our team to solve our own problems, and she steps in when we ask for her guidance.

You don’t have to be the CEO of a company to empower those around you, though. Here’s what I’ve learned about acting as a leader from my bad-ass boss and the other strong leaders surrounding me.

Your Attitude Determines Your Path

I won’t pretend to give advice on being the best leader in the world (after all, it’s pretty new to me), but I can confidently say that the path to leadership starts with attitude.

My experience is this: good leaders reinvent; everyone else is content.

If the status quo works for you, that’s perfectly fine; you’re just not in a position of leadership. (Sorry to break the news.)

This doesn’t mean everything needs to be reinvented every three months, either. But having the ability to see opportunities is where leaders set themselves apart.

Sometimes leadership requires you to refresh your thinking. A year ago, problems with clients or friends were dramatic. I handled stressful situations with my emotions. Now, I see mistakes or problems as learning opportunities. Conflict provides a chance to develop a better understanding about my coworker, my client, or even my best friend.

It’s certainly easier to wallow in the negative, but a good leader won’t take the simple route.

I’m not advocating for you to give up emotions entirely. I think empathy is a valuable quality. But rising above the primal emotions and looking for a way to reframe the situation is what will ultimately make you a strong leader.

EmBe Women's Leadership Program | 9 Clouds

Image credit: EmBe

Strategy Leads to Evolution

In the past six months, the 25 other women in my leadership program have made major changes in their lives. Career transitions, salary negotiations, cross-country moves.

None of these changes was made without a thoughtful strategy.

Personal strategy is just as important as business strategy. This, I’ve learned, is how leaders bring about evolution. Otherwise, change is just a shot in the dark. True leaders put thought behind every decision, even if it’s a risky one.

So how do you develop personal strategy?

Set goals for yourself. Our founder Scott advocates for annual reviews to really take a look at your life and plan for the future. Find a mentor to keep you accountable for those goals you hope to achieve. No great leader made their way alone.

Without the strong leadership of my CEO, Sarah, I wouldn’t have grown into the position of project management director this year or even joined the Women’s Leadership Program, let alone thrived in it.

And I’m feeling very fortunate to guide my team, my community, and my clients into the future, because as every good leader knows: it’s not about me — it’s about them.

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