Exploring Leadership: A Personal Journey Part 5 – Interview Question: What do you wish you had known or prepared for ahead of time?

Shannon Wealther

This blog is part of a series. Last year, I embarked on a personal development project with the aim of discovering what skills I would need to become the leader I had always looked for. I identified successful leaders from nonprofit, corporate and education backgrounds and asked them the same series of six questions, the results of which are shared in this 8-week series. Use the arrows at the bottom of the page to navigate between the related posts.

Each individual has their own unique skills and life experiences. Therefore, everyone has their own unique personal and professional journeys as well. When asked what they wish they had known or prepared for in advance, the leaders’ responses were based upon these individual journeys and often very personal. Rather than sharing each unique story, I instead want to share the nuggets of wisdom imparted by this group of leaders who were willing to be vulnerable and reflect on some of their hardest learned lessons.
Here’s what they had to say (paraphrased from interviewee responses):

1. Leadership is HARD! If I had known how hard it was, I would have gone in with a little less
confidence and more humility. I do not know everything, and I am not always right. I should
have asked more questions.

2. Self-care should be a priority! Leadership is challenging and you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Self-care is more than just a single spa day; it should be a routine that re-energizes and inspires
you. There is no manual for self-care and it looks different for everyone but it should always
include setting healthy boundaries, both personal and professional.

3. Don’t get caught up in the BS! The energy you expend fighting meaningless battles could be put to better use elsewhere. Sometimes you have to let the work speak for itself.

4. Accentuate the positives but realistically, you are not going to please everyone! Truly accepting this is much easier said than done.

5. Continue to learn how to best lead and support your people! When I started, I didn’t know how to discern where people are in their role and how I should show up to meet their needs and promote their development. I led everyone the same way and what works for someone just learning doesn’t work for someone who is experienced and highly competent. I understood that different employees need different supports; equality does not always mean equitable. However, I wish I had known and understood more about employment laws to better balance equality in the workplace and each individuals’ needs. I had to learn how to let go of people, both the continuously underperforming and those who had outgrown their positions. I always wanted my staff to be successful and would take it very personally if they weren’t. It was hard for me to admit that, if someone is not willing to learn or grow, or take advice (from anyone, it didn’t have to be me), they may not be the right fit. I also had to learn to celebrate the indispensable employees who chose to leave to move closer to their own goals.

6. This one is especially important for younger professionals: You are not going to do one thing your entire life! Passions change as you age and your skills grow. If I had known this, I would have paid more attention to opportunities to build my skills and spent more time learning to recognize my own strengths and how to foster them. If I knew what I know about myself now, I would have spent a lot less time in positions that caused me a lot of pain.

How many of these can you relate to? I’m sure you’ve also had some of your own lessons learned along the way. The thing is, we all start somewhere in our leadership journeys and we will also never have all the answers. Leadership is hard! So find a supportive community where you can learn from other leaders and their experiences. In the 7 th part of this series, this group of leaders shares what they found to be most helpful in their development, so stay tuned!

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