Monday, November 14, 2011

On Leadership

(This post has originated as part of an interview for a summer school on the topic of leadership)

When I think about my leadership experiences I would say that probably there is none that may qualify as out of the ordinary if seen from outside. I would say that the most difficult battles I have fought were within myself. From outside, it is an everyday process of being there, standing for something, not quitting and encouraging others to continue when they are about to quit.

I have not experienced myself major acts of bravery, I have not saved lives, I have not taken life or death decisions. I have not seen anyone doing this around me. I have experienced though moments of triumph and set backs, I have experienced fear but also pride, I have experienced self confidence, self doubt, attacks, challenges, failures to lead and moments of courage. I have failed my team sometimes but I’ve also managed to inspire them some other times and keep them focused on shared goals. I have learned that being there for them feels good even if it means giving bad news or signaling difficult problems. I have learned that, although sometimes extremely scary, being true to yourself is the only way to feel peace inside. And I have seen others going through the same processes.

When I think about leadership the first thing that comes to my mind is the phrase “keep on going”. In this context, if I were to pick a single most relevant leadership experience I had I would pick a tough project when, although we were able to keep it afloat and ship it within the deadline, I made two mistakes: I forgot that leading meant not only ensuring product acceptance but, above all, people and relations and, secondly, I was too eager to meet the deadline at any cost, tramping upon my values. What followed were six months of “what if”’s, of soul searching. I had to rebuild team’s confidence in me. I had to be humble to compensate for my former arrogance. I read books, I met people, I asked for advice. Although emotionally challenging, it was one of the most transforming experiences I had and the hardships did not stop me.

When I had the chance to return to project leadership I promised myself that things will change. I believe that there’s nothing more intrinsic to leadership than constant learning - either from past mistakes, either from others.