How "Old Strength" Leadership Nearly Broke Me
Old, outmoded understanding of strength depended on exerting power over people in a zero-sum game of dominance contests, oppression, and exclusion. This kind of "strength" is all too familiar. You’ve probably worked in teams led by insecure bullies, aloof neglectful supervisors, or saw mysterious decisions being made by members of the old-boys-club. Or perhaps you notice yourself relying on it when you're stressed out or insecure.
Years ago, I was promoted to a top leadership position for which I was just qualified for. The combination of my drive to do well and my fear of failure caused me to drop everything I knew about collaborative, servant leadership. I became demanding, rigid & aloof. I was a drill sergeant when I should have been a mentor. This top-down approach sabotaged my relationships with my direct-reports and their performance plummeted. Instead of investigating my role in the dysfunction, I doubled down on my power-over, oppressive leadership and while feeling more and more frustrated, lonely, and scared.
I came close to ruining the organization and my career.
Fortunately, my board believed enough in my potential to give me some feedback and get me some transformational coaching. With deep introspection and support, I discovered that beneath my fear of failure was powerful passion for the work. That passion gave me the courage to ask my team for help to become a better leader. Over the next few years we thrived and succeeded together.
Here are my key learnings:
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