Unknowingly, I made a comment to one of my teammates that was taken as offensive. Thankfully, this person had the professionalism and courage to come talk to me about it. It was a difficult but fruitful conversation. In addition to coming to an understanding, the lesson I learned is that when leaders learn from mistakes we do it in front of those we are leading. There is no hiding, you take full responsibility, and you make things right.
This is growth.
Going through this process of trial and error, failure, misunderstandings, and bonehead decisions as a leader can be demoralizing and embarrassing. As a leader you go through this process in front of those relying on you not to do those things. It exposes your imperfections and makes you question whether you are cut out for the role. You are shown plainly that you are not the fully-formed leader you’d fashioned yourself to be.
In addition to all of that, it makes you defensive and self-righteous. You build up walls to deflect the criticism and doubt. It makes you question other’s loyalty, motives, and performance. It makes you feel really lonely.
The remedy is humility.
Owning our mistakes and submitting ourselves in love to those we lead is not a sign of failure but an acknowledgment of and proper step toward success. It redeems the cause and repairs the broken parts obstructing the way. It lights the way. Growing in front of those we lead, while grueling, sets the example that growth together is not only preferable but the goal, in and of itself, of a mission-oriented team.
That my teammate came to me in transparency didn’t show a lack of loyalty but absolute dedication. It didn’t reflect distracted performance but a desire to cast away distractions so that performance could flourish. Our courageous and challenging conversation exposed that we should never assume motives but talk plainly about how particular actions make us feel so that we can honestly address them, heal, and move on.
Growing together is hard but it is what is necessary for excellent outcomes. This is why we push each other toward a higher standard, over communicate about what’s in our way, remind one another about our passion for mission, and are accountable to one another. If we didn’t, that would be the biggest failure of all. A leader who has teammates who don’t push them to be better is in big trouble.
Growing in front of my team is teaching me that I need to serve them more and better. I have to admit that I need to improve on this front. I also have to own my authority as the lead servant on our team.
Servant leadership isn’t about leading from behind but about better understanding and giving what your team needs most to succeed. Sometimes a leader must rely on his team to tell us the truth about our leadership.