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Leadership lessons from a father

The neighborhood feels alive and full of energy. There has been a lot of movement but not the normal hustle and bustle of the day. Cars are parked and people are on the move in different ways. Families are spending time in parks or on greenways, laughing, flying kites, and playing ball. COVID-19 has allowed the family to reconnect in different ways.

On my walk last night, a family of four pulled up to the stop sign on their bikes. They caught my attention because of the bright colored lights on each of their front tires. I watched as they were making their way across the street and it reminded me of leadership efforts through change.

The father made it to the stop sign first. As the rest of the family made their way to the stop sign the father watched the traffic over the four-lane road. They all waited patiently until the traffic had passed. The father was the first one to leave the stop sign. He didn’t dart across the street as I have seen in the past. He slowly went out into the street not yet crossing the median, while his family started pedaling across.

The father meandered in the first two lanes. The son, who appeared to be the youngest, was the last one. His father encouraged him as his little legs, feverishly pedaled to get across the street. Once the son was almost to the median, the father road behind him as they all safely crossed to the other side.

Leading change can be like riding across a four-lane road, with challenges coming from multiple directions. Here are some insights I gathered as I watched my neighbors disappear into the night...

During change, leaders have to be cautiously optimistic. This father knew that his family was capable of making it crossing the street. He was, however, cautious. While his family rested, he was alert and attentive to what was going on around them. Observing their adventure, I could tell that he was prepared and aware of what was coming and going.

Change is always coming and going, like the traffic on that four-lane road. Like this father, leaders have to have the right vantage point to see what is going on around them. Knowing that change will have a harmful impact on the entire team if everyone is not adequately prepared for what is to come.

A leader has to be well-positioned, assessing the risks, and adjusting quickly if needed. They have to know when the timing is right. When it is, they are able to encourage everyone to move in the same direction and at the same time to ensure that the team is successful. In addition, he/she must be confident in the situation and its outcomes while maintaining readiness for any obstacles the team might face.

A leader does not always have to lead from the front. While the family was crossing the road, I witness the exchange of responsibilities. As the father fell back, the mother led the group to the other side of the street. The father could have easily shouted, “let’s go” and pedaled all the way across and encouraged his family from the front. Instead, he protected his family from the rear.

Your team members have different capabilities that can be leveraged during change. Being a leader does not mean, we have to always be the one out in front. Yes, there are times that may require it. However, we can lean on others and allow them to use their strengths to lead also.

Here are some ways to apply that: You can allow your team to lead meetings that you would normally lead, become the point person for a project, or even make decisions without needing your approval. This will help them hone their strengths, and in return, you would be growing your influence.

Additionally, by taking a step back, you have a different vantage point. You now have the ability to see how your team responds with or without you at the helm. This builds future leaders, trust, coaching opportunities, and learning environments.

Great leaders are there to protect their team. What I valued most is that the father positioned himself in a place where there was the highest vulnerability. In doing so, he was able to cover his entire family. I watched as the father circled around in the middle of the street. He was ensuring that he could see his family but also see the cars that were approaching.

It is a leader's responsibility to protect and strengthen the team. If you are always leading from the front, it is difficult to see the needs of others. How do you know if you are leading from the front?

  • You give your team the go-ahead, but you are not circling back around to ensure that they are okay.

  • You are in your office or in meetings all the time and you are not visible to your team.

  • Challenges are occurring but your team is always the ones putting out the fires and getting blamed for what goes wrong.

Be present and visible. Set aside time to check-in with your team. Don’t hesitate to circle back around with a team member, especially with those who you know may be struggling in a certain area. Empower them to make decisions and always be open to accepting the most vulnerable position that will enable you to protect your team.

What we know is that like traffic, change will come and go. COVID-19 has caused the world to reset. It has created new ways to connect with and lead those around us. Change continues to remind us that we are stronger together.

As you adapt to the new normal that is forming around you, especially as things normalize in your organization, ensure that you are like this father by remaining cautiously optimistic, lead from a place of vulnerability, and always remember to always look for ways to protect and strengthen your team.

Angela R. Garmon is the founder and business strategist at ARG Coaching & Consulting Group. She uses her 20 years of change management experience to help her clients build organizational performance and increase profits by focusing on three key areas: enhancing leadership effectiveness, building team cohesion, and improving processes.


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