As 2009 comes to a close, many people find themselves pondering the events of the year. The economy (and its negative ripple effect) certainly proved challenging for all of us. As always, though, it’s never all bad. There were positive highlights, a-ha moments and wonderful surprises too! These are some of my greatest treasures of 2009…and the lessons I’ll take with me into 2010 and the years to come.
Have a Plan. Be Intentional.
If I had to choose a favorite word for the year, “intentional” is it! More than ever, this year I was intentional about writing a plan and intentionally going after it! There is something powerful that happens when you put something in writing – it somehow forces more commitment. Keeping those commitments top of mind (by having certain items posted in front of me!) motivated me to be more intentional with every action and word. The result? Exceeding the goals I had set for myself this year!
Having a vision and strategy are the critical beginnings of your plan. You must have something to aim for, or you’re likely to remain in the world of status quo….or worse. It’s still a tough economy out there, and it requires innovation, creativity and the best of what YOU can bring to the table. Think about what you can do and how you can accomplish it. Put your plans in writing, and be intentional about accomplishing them.
The Power of Identifying Strengths and Leading with Them
Late last year, with the help of StrengthsFinder 2.0, I identified my strengths, and as Marcus Buckingham suggests, I put them to work! It’s not that I learned something totally new about myself, but I did find it helpful to confirm and even re-affirm what I thought. In many ways, it was a confidence-builder that challenged me to push myself further by leading with those strengths.
I also discovered that natural strengths come fairly easy to you, but as such, you may not fully recognize them (because the assumption is that they come easily to everyone else too.) These typically are the “gifts” that most other people notice about you, and these are likely your best strengths.
It’s critically important to identify your strengths. Also ask what others’ perceptions are about your strengths – you may learn something about yourself! They key here is self-awareness, and it’s a necessary component of great leadership. You must know your own strengths, weaknesses, passions and values to build the best teams (and you should know theirs too!)
Twitter – An Education and a Community-Builder
One of the greatest surprises for me in 2009 was Twitter. What started as an “experiment” mostly driven out of curiosity, turned into one of the most impactful decisions I made this year. It sounds hard to believe, I know. I still can’t believe it either…but it’s true.
My strategy (yes, having a social media strategy is critical!) was two-fold: 1) Go beyond the Greater Cincinnati market to include experts, innovators and mentors in my inner circle of influence; and 2) Be intentional with communication that would be helpful, impactful and inspiring to those that follow me.
This strategy enabled Twitter to be become a powerful tool for me. Not only have I had the privilege of learning from experts that I wouldn’t otherwise interact with, but I have also met some amazing people and formed communities around particular interests. The interactions are personal, collaborative and useful in numerous ways…and they help me to be a better, more impactful person.
Lead Change Group….and LeaderPalooza (a sneak-preview into 2010!)
One community, which has a presence on both Twitter and LinkedIn is the Lead Change Group, led by Mike Henry. The group is focused on character-based leadership, and Mike (who I met via Twitter) and I have become friends and encouragers of one another, based on our shared leadership interest.
What started as a few tweets in early spring has turned into real collaboration, powerful idea-generation and mutual support. Together, along with what could be quite a large gathering of leaders, Lead Change group is creating a leadership conference (LeaderPalooza) that’s being cast as “Not Your Mama’s Leadership Conference” in February of 2010. There, attendees will be leveraging an Open Source format to create impactful content, ideas and deliverables, driven by a passion for character-based leadership.
Lead Change group is a virtual community. Mike and I, although we talk fairly regularly, have never met in person. Many leaders and practitioners who I’ve come to appreciate through this group have impressed me through phone conversations, blog articles, webinars and more….but we’ve never met in person. The energy has been building, and LeaderPalooza is going to be the unleashing of all these people coming together for the first time. Great things are going to result from this…
The Value of Blogging
The combination of creating and sharing relevant information is what blogging is all about. This, too, was another valuable and extremely impactful lesson this year. Not only did I start blogging (which is great practice for the book that I hope to write someday…) but I also identified several blogs that I read on a regular basis. These blogs are written by experts in their respective fields, and they share valuable insights, experiences and statistics that I learn from every day.
I read once that if a leader ever stops learning, then he/she should stop leading. Blogs, written by informed and educated leaders, are one additional way I continue to feed my intellect. I hope that what I write and share is valuable to my readers as well!
Authentic Leadership in Cincinnati
This group, started on LinkedIn, has proven to me that there’s a real thirst for great leadership that is focused on positively impacting people, as well as results. Authentic Leadership in Cincinnati was launched in late-Summer, and today there are more than 250 group members!
Authentic Leadership was born out of a call to action I heard at church over the summer. The speaker encouraged everyone to take action – don’t just talk about making an impact on your community – DO it!! I didn’t sleep well that night, and the very next day, I wrote the vision and mission for this group that would attract business professionals who would embrace character-based leadership to make a difference. The revolution began this summer…
With the help of an inspiring and highly-successful Board of Directors, Authentic Leadership in Cincinnati has had regular interaction on LinkedIn. We’ve hosted two well-attended and highly-rated in-person events this year, and we’ve only just begun!! The Board has some amazing ideas and plans to implement in 2010, and as the programming continues, Cincinnati will be able to demonstrate the powerful impact of leaders helping people reach their potential.
Lunch with John Maxwell
It’s not often that I’m “star-struck,” but I have to admit, I was more than honored to be extended an invitation to have lunch with John Maxwell. John is, in my opinion, a prolific author and speaker, and one of the leadership experts after whom I model my own approach.
During lunch, John was kind enough to openly answer questions and share his experiences with an intimate group of people. Many of his words continue to resonate and inspire me, and his direct communication provided encouragement to move forward with my purpose. Every day, I find hope knowing that, like him, I am working to further develop and empower leaders from a perspective that’s rooted in Bible. Keep it up, John! I’m grateful to have your example as a guide!
Surround Yourself with Good People
What a true blessing it’s been for me to be surrounded by friends, family, people willing to collaborate as well as those willing to hold me accountable and with proper perspective. This, I believe, is a necessary component of success for several reasons.
Perspective can be easily lost in day-to-day activities and challenges. I’ve been so fortunate to have good people to remind me of where I ‘really’ am and to provide alternative perspectives when I may not have seen other options. (Knowing this, I have been intentional to surround myself with smart people!)
The other great advantage is a sounding board. My own personal “Board of Advisors” includes people who know me well, speak the truth with love and have strengths where I may have weaknesses. Their advice has helped me to grow, learn and avoid mistakes I may not have even known I could have made. For all these wonderful people, and their willingness to be helpful to me, I am eternally grateful.
With Risk, Comes Reward
As a stereotypical “type A” personality, I have always thrived on a good challenge…and I really enjoy exceeding expectations whenever I can!! But taking on a good challenge is still different than taking on a risk.
In 2008, I thought I would be able to successfully launch a new company. 2009 is really where I had to prove it, though…and in a really tough economy. Some called this a very risky thing to do, since I left a stable job with a wonderful company to launch Sagestone Partners. I always looked at it as a “calculated risk,” and I tried to include everything in the plan to ensure that the company would take an upward trajectory…but, of course, I don’t know everything, nor can I predict the future…so, yes, there was a risk.
As I was researching my decision, one consistent piece of advice and encouragement I received from many other CEOs was that, in fact, THEY didn’t know everything, either. They knew what they needed to know, and they knew where to get help and support for the rest (see the point above on surrounding yourself with good people!)
So, ultimately, I took a risk, but 2009 has been a tremendously rewarding year! I have learned more than ever. I have met wonderful new people from networking in person and via social media. I have better balanced my personal and professional life. I have been blessed to see a positive impact I’ve been able to have on clients. I was honored with an amazing award for women business leaders. And more than anything, I’ve grown my faith…
You Must Believe
I saved this one as my last point, because it’s most meaningful, and I also hope it has a resonating effect with readers. Every person will eventually crush under pressure without a strong belief system. That systems needs to include three things:
- Belief in yourself, that you were uniquely created for a purpose that only you were intended to do.
- Belief in the people around you, that you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people who can be trusted and relied upon to celebrate the good times, comfort you in the bad times, and steer you in the directions that help you to reach your potential.
- Belief in something bigger than all of us, that provides greater hope than people can generate.
These are the things that I cherish from this year; things that will stay with me forever. What resonated with you? What unique experiences or lessons will you take from this year? How can you use this information to make 2010 even better? I’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment!
Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners, LLC. She is passionate about leadership and helping people and companies to reach their greatest potential. Please visit www.sagestone-partners.com for more information.