Personal Challenges In Professional Leadership

Personal Challenges In Professional Leadership

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My partner here at Grow Great, Lisa Norris, is currently navigating some challenges. Personal challenges. But not to worry. She’s doing well and holding up nicely even though these are weighty days for her. 

As we grow older life presents new and different challenges. Our families change. Kids enter the picture. They grow up. Form families of their own. Meanwhile, our parents grow older, and more feeble. We all face personal tragedies, sorrows, difficulties, and adversities. Don’t think Lisa and I are immune. None of us are.

“Leave it at home,” is an admonition I heard from the bosses of my youth. I continued to hear it. Repeated with such frequency you’d think they believed if they just continued to say it, then one day it might actually become reality. But it never did. And it never will.

We’re people. Humans with real problems. 

Yesterday I’m sitting with a city manager. A director who reports to him politely knocks on the door, quickly apologizing for interrupting our session. A phone call from school about an injured child has disturbed mom’s day. Mom is a director in a city government. Being a good leader and boss, the city manager quickly tells her, “Go!” At that moment, her focus – rightly so – is on her child. Instantly I thought – “What kind of director would she be if her child weren’t the priority?” We don’t often enough consider such things. 

I can assure you Lisa is such a leader, working hard to lead by example. She’s at the helm of a high-performing team, a team that daily produces an extraordinary amount of work. The conveyor belt that is their collective to-do list is never-ending. Often fraught with difficult deadlines. And it continues to be completed on time, accurately and vital to the benefit of the employees, the organization and the entire community they all serve. 

Are they perfect? 

Of course not. But they are always improving – a topic Lisa and I will address in the coming weeks. 

Here at Grow Great, Lisa and I have defined leadership as a triad:

  1. Influence
  2. A focus on others
  3. Doing for others what they’re unable to do for themselves

Compassion is defined as “a focus on others.” You can’t be a true leader without it because compassion and leadership are so focused on the same thing – others!

High performers are not excuse-makers. Neither are great leaders. This isn’t about those among us who seem to always have a drama-filled excuse for why work isn’t completed. Or why inaccuracies seem the norm. 

High performers are people who find a way to consistently achieve well above expectations. They get it done. Time and again. We can count on them without fail. No, they’re not perfect, but they’re always excellent. Even in recovery when things don’t go as planned. They’re the people we most want by our side because they are reliable, trustworthy and competent. 

Even when the phone rings alerting them of a sick or injured child. 

Even when they need to care for an aging parent. 

Even when personal challenges disrupt their day, week or month. 

No matter what high-performers and great leaders bring such high value that compassion and grace are easily offered to them. It’s the support they need in order to maintain their high value. It’s the service they deserve to continue their quest to be high-performers. It’s also the wise, smart thing organizations do to foster individual and collective growth and improvement. 

Leadership isn’t about perfection. Or being constantly trouble-free. It’s about how well we do under the pressures of difficulties. Even if those are personal. 

We must never let our difficulties define us as excuse-makers. Rather, we need to leverage them to propel us forward so we can become even stronger – more resilient – in our work. The value we bring is largely the result of those things learned when the storms are raging. It’s been said that great sailors learn to sail when the seas are rough, not calm. So it goes with all high-performers and great leaders. The best – most effective lessons of our lives are learned when we’ve been knocked to our knees and realize we need help getting to our feet. Great leaders help us up. They dust us off and encourage us in ways few others may be able to. They instill faith and confidence in us to get through the storm because they know the stuff of which we’re made. 



No excuses. 

They love us enough to do for us – in those most challenging moments – what few others can. They lead us out of the adversity by trusting us to do our best – to do the right thing. And we love them for it. 

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

The work is about achieving unprecedented success through accelerated learning in helping leaders and executives "figure it out." 

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