This post originally appeared on my personal blog at ryansmith.blog
I love the question, “What big idea have you changed your mind about over the last ten years?” I’ve asked it in countless interviews professionally and enjoyed hearing people answer it in numerous books and podcasts.
When I think about my answer I think about where I was and who I was ten years ago. Where I was in 2007, was Deerpark Middle School in Round Rock ISD moving into my first leadership position as an Assistant Principal. Who I was, was nervous. All of a sudden I had to tell people what to do and hope they would do it! I remember the first time I had to give someone critical feedback about their work. I think it went well, but who knows. The experience was a blur and I hope I’ve grown that skill set since.
Back to the question at hand. Here are three key ways I’ve changed my mind about big ideas as a leader in my organization the last decade:
It’s better to be transparent and vulnerable. This is always a work in progress. Earlier in my leadership journey, I was even more guarded than I am now — by design. I remember feeling that I needed to play the serious role at all times, never show any weakness, and never admit I was not the expert people were expecting me to be. Or at least I was telling myself they expected those things. But in reality, they wanted a real person. They wanted someone who struggled with the same things they did, has some insecurities and asked for help. I still struggle in this area of my leadership because I tend to be guarded and put on a strong front even when dealing with difficulty. The change though is that I am working to be more transparent and vulnerable rather than actively working in the other direction.
- My advice to new leaders: Lean into your newness and own it. I would have been more successful in my first couple years if I asked for more help from the people I was leading. Your team wants you to succeed. Let them help you.
My default answer should not be yes. Ten years ago I said yes to everything and cast judgment on those who did a better job of balancing work and home life. That mindset damaged my personal and even though I convinced myself at the time it was helping me professionally, it probably wasn’t. Choose your projects carefully. If you are not completely excited about the opportunity, learn to say no in a nice way. When presented an opportunity ask yourself two things: Is this going to allow me to build a relationship with someone I value? Is this opportunity going to provide me a significant experience or increased exposure which might directly lead to personal growth? Then decide if the value of the potential relationship or experience is equal to or outweighs the time commitment.
- My advice to new leaders: From day one, don’t be afraid to not say “yes” to everything. You don’t need to say “no” but rather redefine how you can contribute to a project. Maybe you won’t be at every meeting, but you would love to provide support the day of the event. Or, maybe you won’t co-lead a new workshop but would love to share some of your resources to help your colleague.
I’m not as important as I think I am. I remember the first time I came to work with a fever as an Assistant Principal. I was convinced chaos would reign during passing periods, teachers would show movies all day, and nobody else knew how to get kids on a bus at the end of the day. We think we are indispensable as leaders/managers because it makes us feel more important than we really are. Yes, we are important and I still believe that there are fewer people who either can or want to do what we do. But, let’s all agree that we are not as critical to day-to-day operations as we like to tell ourselves.
- My advice to new leaders: Don’t come to work sick and take a day off every now and then. It will be better for everyone and your team will respect you more if you Banking sick days is not a badge of honor.
I hope I’m not the same person with the same ideas I had a decade ago. Ten years ago I had no kids and still had my Thyroid. If I still believed everything I believed when I turned 30, then I would be doing a disservice to those I work with every day and those I’m building a family with outside or work.
Thanks for listening.