Tag Archives: leadership

Lessons in Leadership

My first team leader job was a Clinique Counter Manager position in my early 20’s; I was responsible for 1 full-time and 2 part-time beauty consultants. Back then, I could not have imagined that my entire career would revolve around various management responsibilities, or that learning about leadership would be a lifelong pursuit. My passion for servant leadership started a few years after the Counter Manager gig, when I accepted a position as Sales Manager for the Cosmetics department at a Rich’s store in a South Atlanta shopping center called Shannon Mall. It was the time I spent at Rich’s Shannon with 15 female sales professionals that ultimately became my foundation for  how to build a dynamic team and how to be a supportive boss.

Shannon Mall, sadly, no longer exists. It closed in 2010 after 30 years of business, and online pictures of the declining retail facility do not help me recall my years working there. The memories I cherish come from a folder I have kept since the 90’s, with photographs of my team, documenting a time when we created an encouraging work family. These are the women I grew to love, and for whom I would do anything to create a pleasant work atmosphere.

When the Store Manager of Rich’s at Shannon Mall offered me the opportunity to run my own department, I was initially uncertain. In an effort to help me decide, I visited the store and skulked about the cosmetics area to get a sense of it. I watched the women working there, who seemed to have a sense of dedication and camaraderie, and I could easily imagine myself in their midst. I accepted the position and the transformation began immediately. From the impressive individuals within that small space, I learned how to be a team leader. They taught me about building a culture, resolving conflict and communicating in a positive way.

 

There is a popular leadership quote: “people want to know how much you care before they care how much you know”. I approached the job with this in mind, in a position of humility, knowing that I was young and inexperienced and that they knew the business top to bottom. Once the team had a sense that I was more interested in offering support than disruption, they began to trust me and provided me with the tools I needed to succeed as their leader. The key, as is so often the case, is to listen for the answers, instead of forcing one’s own answers onto others.

I constantly asked questions and accepted guidance. I rolled up my sleeves to work with them. I was open to new ideas. I was not afraid to put in long hours. In exchange for this, the team rewarded me with not only their knowledge, but their kindness and their trust. They made grand gestures for my birthday (see photo of a money tree above) and they were committed to the success of our business. We worked hard and played hard and cared about one another. There were struggles and fights, much like any family, but at the end of the day, there was respect.

When I think of the kind of boss I am today, I know that I have these women to thank. I am not afraid to have the tough conversations with people, but I know that you have to do it with calmness and consideration. I am known to launch innovative projects, but I value process and protocol. I accept that there is a fine line between supervisor and friend, but realize that you can truly love the team members you serve and fight tooth and nail to make sure they are happy. All of this I learned from these 15 women, and my subsequent team members through the years can give them the credit (or the blame) for the type of boss I eventually blossomed into being. Although we only spent a few years together, it was a pivotal time in my leadership development, and an experience I greatly treasure.

7 Leadership Books for a World Class Culture

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It has been said that leaders are readers, but it is often difficult to find the time to sit down with a self-improvement book in the midst of life’s fullness. For many of us, reading is not only a reprieve from stress, but an inspiration to find new ways to do a job more effectively.

The books I most appreciate are the ones which resonate with my own experiences, especially as a self-described high maintenance customer. My bosses expect excellence from me, and I have been conditioned to demand it from the companies where I spend my money. As a consumer, I can tell instantly if a business cares about building long-term relationships. There are 2 big tests of an organization’s culture of customer service.

1-Are the employees happy? I am sure you have walked in to a business and instantly caught a positive or negative vibe about the place. This vibe is a result of the team culture, which is rooted in how the associates are treated by their team leaders. We cannot expect our employees to offer good customer service if we don’t show them exemplary support and common courtesies. I have 12 different responsibilities in my job, but the one thing that is the most important to me, and I can do nothing else until it is done, is making sure my team has everything they need to be successful.

We all know that sub-standard employee performance and high turnover can be the death of any business. There is no greater responsibility than to recruit the best, train them well, and SUPPORT them. I just had a team member celebrate her 10-year anniversary with my department. During that time, I have made a conscious effort to offer my ongoing encouragement and tell her that I appreciate her often. It is the ideal relationship of mutual respect, and one that allows her to foster that same loyalty in the team she develops.

There is no way that the team members will care about the company, the product or the customer if the boss doesn’t care about them, as workers and as people. It has been said that 90% of an employee’s job satisfaction is how they feel about their boss. The strongest leaders I know in building a culture of customer service embrace servant leadership, where the boss is willing to jump in and work alongside of the team, both to set an example of excellence as well as to show that they are willing to help. They ask about their employees, they know about what is important to them, and they are approachable if the employee has a concern. They say thank you…a lot. They ask for their input. They know their strengths, and are interested in fostering their development. For more on this topic, consider these books:  The Customer Comes Second by Diane McFerrin Peters and Hal F. Rosenbluth and The 12 Elements of Great Managing by James K. Harter and Rodd Wagner.

2- How does the company handle mistakes? The second test of an organization’s customer service protocol is what I call the Art of the Apology. There was a time in my dealership’s history when our customer service national ranking was 210 out of 220 dealerships in the country. During those years, I called myself the professional apologizer. I learned what to do and what not to do during an apology, enough to write a book of my own. But the essence is this: we are people, we are going to mess up, but how we handle it shows our character for the better or worse. Think about how your employees apologize to you when they make a mistake. What do you like to hear? It’s the same thing that your customer wants to hear from you: I take responsibility, I will make amends and work to minimize the chance that it will happen again. What bosses and customers do not want to hear is excuses, reasons, finger pointing. The customer NEVER needs to hear why something messed up. Even if they ask why it happened, I tell them I am focused on the solution and assure them that I will later work behind the scenes to fix whatever broken process caused the problem. The only thing worse than having to apologize, is having to apologize to the same customer more than once for the same thing. If you find yourself if this position, there might be some teamwork issues to repair. Thankfully we have since repaired our team issues and are back into the top 10 in the nation, but let me assure you, it was an arduous climb back to the top. Fixing a culture is difficult, but it’s the only long-term solution. If this is a focus for you, check out The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Many business books like this are presented in fable format, knowing that the busy executive only has the time and attention span for a helpful story-with-a-lesson. It makes for a quick read and a powerful testimony to the essential value of teamwork.

In addition to taking ownership, the other critical components of an apology include acknowledging the other person’s feelings and demonstrating sincerity. I put myself completely in the moment, give the apology my full heart and intention, and offer empathy for any frustration I may have caused them due to my lack of leadership. Let’s face it, if I had better leadership and processes, the incident would likely have not occurred in the first place. I am at the core of the mistake and should own that. People know when you speak from the heart, so mean what you say with your whole being. Acknowledge their feelings by saying “I know that must have been frustrating for you. I would feel the same way.” ONLY then can the relationship start to mend. For this topic, I suggest Legendary Service by Kathy Cuff and Victoria Halsey. I have had the honor of meeting Kathy and she changed my entire understanding of how to make amends with someone who is upset.

Here are a few action items to consider if you are dedicated to a culture of customer service.

  1. Create a personal mission statement-Life is short. Ask yourself what is your legacy. Do you want to be known as a nice person? A good father? A good boss? Your personal mission statement should infuse your actions at home and at work. Mine is to be a blessing to others. This mission simplifies my decisions and reduces my stress, because it guides my actions and demeanor. Consider the book Give and Take by Adam Grant as you craft your own. It may help you grasp why some people give more than others and why a shift towards giving is essential in business. If you are a giver in a world full of takers, it also helps you accept your less helpful coworkers better because you know they are wired that way.
  2. Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement and should be a part of everything you do. The only way to become a better leader and human being is to ask questions, read, take an interest in others and challenge yourself to learn from mistakes. The best title for this is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith: It’s chock full of readable examples of top leaders and how they had to learn to change their ways to reach the next level of success.
  3. Learn these two phrases and say them often. I am sorry, and I appreciate you. (customers and employees). Mean it.
  4. Focus on your people. Get to know them, absorb stress for them, let them have some fun once in a while.
  5. Read How Starbucks Changed My Life by Michael Gates Gill. It will just take just a couple of days but it will stay with you always. A job with a supportive atmosphere can be life-changing for your employees. What a way to be a blessing to someone, and how rewarding to watch them thrive and develop while in your care.

One extra last Title I recommend:

Everybody, Always by Bob Goff: If spirituality is an important part of your life, this is a compelling message on how to love even the most difficult people in your world.

Just Ask

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Addressing envelopes is one of my favorite volunteer gigs. In addition to improved penmanship, it gives me a productive but relaxing vibe, almost percussive.  I enjoy falling into the hum of a wandering mind while writing out names and addresses in whatever handwriting style I’ve adopted for the day. These cerebral meanderings take place several times a year, when I help Leadership Augusta mail invitations or letters to their alumni family.  There are over 1,300 past graduates of the program, at least 800 of whom are still within our reach to contact. The remaining have either passed away, moved away, become MIA, or asked to not be involved. Every year 30-40 new names are added to the books. We try to send correspondence to everyone we can, with the hopes of keeping the program sustainable.

I enjoy seeing the names of these alums each year. Some are good friends I know well, some are people I have met only briefly, others I have never met but feel like I know after writing their information on invoices and invitations so many times. I delight in seeing the new names, recent graduates with their alumni future shining brightly in front of them. I wonder if they will attend events, become involved in the community, encourage others to participate in this leadership program affiliated with the Augusta Chamber of Commerce, which has been in existence since 1980.

During this year’s dues invoicing, writing out envelopes led me to ponder how vastly different the LA experience has been for everyone who has graduated. We were all exposed to behind-the-scenes glimpses into what makes Augusta tick, hearing insights into such topics as criminal justice, healthcare and education. We were all encouraged to use our leadership skills not just within the bubbles of our own diverse industries, but also to venture into other territories in the community which might be in need of our talents. In the years which follow this grand networking adventure, however, the responses vary greatly. Many of us pay dues, attend luncheons, volunteer on future classes and serve on charitable boards, while others continue with their lives, unchanged. The range of involvement spans from the people whose lives are transformed, to those who contribute only briefly, to those who never offer their time or their financial support.

My personal Leadership Augusta story was one of the transformations. I served on the board, volunteered with the alumni committee, recruited new leaders to apply.  I consider my Leadership Augusta experience to be the best thing I have done professionally, one that enhanced my confidence at work, as well as brightened the stamp on my community service efforts. I am grateful to this organization for introducing me to the opportunities which gave voice to my talents, and ultimately, to my life’s purpose, which is, simply, to be a blessing to others.

Knowing what Leadership Augusta has meant in my life, and knowing that it has not been that for everyone, I contemplate the reasons for this broad spectrum of impact while I write on these envelopes. For my experience, I have 3 people specifically to thank. Had I not met these people, my Leadership Augusta experience would be just a pleasant memory from the late 90’s era. If they had not voiced their faith in me, I, too, would have sat shyly behind the scenes and lamented that I passed through the program, unchanged. In the 38-year history of the organization, I realize that I am in a small minority who can say my life was touched in a profound way. I indebted to the 3 people who bravely said, “I think this girl has something to offer.”

The first is Woody Merry, a graduate of the class of 1987, who nominated me to participate in the first place. Our interaction prior to that was minimal (perhaps serving on a political campaign together, if I recall correctly), but he must have seen some potential, and I thank him for that initial leap of faith. The next Angela champion, and the most significant, was Brenda Durant. She was in my class of 1999, and ever since then has been an awesome connector who throws my name into the hat for projects in the community. One of them, Celebrate 2000, was the catalyst for the creation of VolunteerAugusta.com, which connects charities and volunteers. Finally, Bryan Quinsey was the Leadership Augusta Coordinator in 2002 who recommended me to the Board of Directors, the start of a 12-year term of service. He must have seen something in me when we served together on the Red Carpet Tour during Masters week, and I’m forever thankful that he did.

Sometimes one person is all it takes. By nominating someone for a position or program, inviting them to join you on a project, or encouraging them to get involved, you can be the difference between a memory and a potential metamorphosis. During the interviews referenced in my last blog about Leadership Augusta ( Angela’s LA journey ), I asked a bank president why she never got involved in the organization after graduation. Her reply was profoundly straightforward: “Because nobody asked me to.” It only takes one person to reach out to another and vouch for their gifts, or let them know they are needed. We can make our volunteer organizations stronger and enrich one another’s feelings of connection and engagement. No matter how trivial the job might seem, there is a person in your circle of influence who would appreciate being nominated, who is hoping to be included. Take the time and just ask. I am indebted to my three champions for their initial encouragement, and to the current board of Leadership Augusta, who continue to reach out to me. I hope they continue to ask me to jump in, as well as the many other alumni members who are ready to get involved. For the meditative benefits alone, I would be happy to address envelopes for years to come.

Two Japanese Words

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Any time I talk about customer service, I have to break out two of my favorite Japanese words, commonly used in the world of Lexus: kaizen and omotenashi. Kaizen means continuous improvement, an ongoing passion for personal and professional development. It goes without saying that any conversation about customer service will require a constant pursuit of offering better service today than we did yesterday. We must read, learn, try new things. Omotenashi is a little trickier to explain, as I don’t know that there is a true English equivalent.

Omotenashi loosely translated means hospitality, but it really is a stronger version of it. Imagine that your favorite celebrity is going to visit your home: think about how you would put out your best dishes, purchase fresh flowers, and prepare their favorite foods. This level of service is anticipatory, offering amenities which the guest doesn’t even know they want or need. It is a hospitality level designed to delight the guest, help them feel at ease, and create lasting memories. For a company aspiring to the utmost level of the customer experience, one can easily sense that omotenashi is the ideal goal.

In thinking of customer service in this way, I am reminded of the motto held by the Ritz Carlton: We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. I love this phrase, because it conveys a sense of manners and graciousness. It implies that it is an honor to serve others (which it truly is). When I hear about a situation involving a heated debate with a customer or coworker, I think of this motto. Keeping a poised demeanor is absolutely essential, and the more that we maintain our decorum, the calmer the other person will pick up on our dignified presentation and respond in-kind.

In addition to these two concepts, I am unable to discuss customer service without mentioning employee engagement. I believe with my full heart that there can be no ongoing culture of exemplary guest service without a conscious commitment to the internal customer, the associate. It is not realistic to expect team members to be superstars of omotenashi and kaizen without a direct supervisor who embraces those same values. Of the 8-10 responsibilities I have at the dealership, the one which is my absolute priority is caring for the 5 employees for whom I am responsible. I cannot do anything else unless I know that they are ok, and that they have everything they need for the day. I work extra hours to accommodate special schedule requests, ask them about life events, keep communication lines open about their duties and tell them I appreciate them. As we have built our relationship over the years, they have rewarded me with a loyalty that impresses me daily. These amazing individuals provide anticipatory service to the Jim Hudson Lexus customers, seeing things that need to be done for them and jumping in without having to be asked. Ours is a relationship of the utmost level of mutual respect; we watch out for one another and safeguard a positive work experience. When guests comment on the friendliness and service extended by my department, I feel that it is a direct reflection on how they feel about their job.

It has been said that how one feels about their job is 90% related to how one feels about their supervisor. This is why I take my leadership responsibilities so seriously. Considering how much time we spend at work, I have the power to impact someone’s daily life in a significant way. I am sure that John Mackey of the Whole Foods organization concurs: “If you are lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have a moral obligation to make sure people do look forward to coming to work in the morning.”

The best way to fulfill this obligation is to lead by example. If I instruct my team to be punctual, well-groomed, polite, attentive, hard-working…then I myself must demonstrate those attributes in excess of the level I expect from them. If I am encouraging kaizen and ongoing learning, then I must pursue it, as well. My team and I help one another to be better employees, and by extension, better human beings. As we sustain an elevated level of courtesy and graciousness in our environment, that same optimistic attitude begins to ooze into our personal lives, with positive results. We become a blessing to one another.

Being a blessing to someone is at the core of everything I choose to do in my life. It has become my mission statement, informing every interaction at home, work or in the community. The cool thing about having a personal mission statement is that it simplifies decisions. Anytime I am overwhelmed or in doubt, I ask myself how I can be a blessing to the other person, and the answers and actions flow from that. Followers of my blog will recall how I came to discover this mission statement a couple of years ago, but perhaps do not realize how transformative it has become. Be a Blessing Blog By asking myself how to be a blessing to others, it brings personal significance to the customer service I extend. I want to bring the most beautiful aspects of omotenashi to the guest in front of me in each moment, and I am rewarded with a feeling of actually being in love with my job. I go home each night knowing that the work I am doing is my life’s purpose, and it is more fulfilling than any career I could have imagined for myself 30 years ago when I helped my first customer in my first job almost 40 years ago.

While there are still moments of incredible stress and frustration in my work life, I cannot imagine doing anything else, for any other company, as long as I am physically able to work. Customer service positions have to be the most challenging and difficult of any jobs today, but by embracing two small Japanese words and coming up with a mission statement that resonates for you, I can testify that even a job you have had for many years can become new, fresh, and amazing.

 

Angela’s 8 Meeting Rules

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1. No meetings longer than an hour without the introduction of alcohol.
At a recent budget meeting, it was starting to look like we would never get finished. The inherent difficulty of a budget meeting hinges on the idea that decisions to give or take money from a certain area means more philosophical debates regarding the value of that area. Those wanting increased funding are defending it, others are challenging the worth of the program. We all have our pet projects and opinions, and everything spews out onto the table willy-nilly. Time will elapse quickly before any hope of consensus begins to surface.
Then came that moment in the proceedings when heads were hurting and clocks were given more attention than a swimsuit model parading through a room of adolescents. We wanted to leave, but we also wanted to do so with the knowledge that we would not have to return for a second round. In that moment, the host of the meeting left, and returned with a handful of cold beer bottles. I’d never seen such a transformation before: sullen faces now beamed with enthusiasm for the task, and we had a balanced budget before the first bottles were finished. From then on, I was sold on the idea that if the meeting was inherently difficult or long, there should be libations available. You may call it a crutch or a consolation prize; I call it an essential building block to success.

2. If you break rule number one, be prepared for me to leave before the meeting is over.
I hate leaving a meeting early, almost as much as I hate being late. I don’t like anything that calls too much attention to myself. That being said, I will walk out somewhere around the 2-hour mark even if I have no other pressing plans. It’s really a matter of principal at that point. If the meeting leader cannot structure our conversation and respect the time we are giving, then I am not obligated to give them free reign with my attention. On one Board, notorious for chatty, long-winded meetings, I stayed as long as I could, out of a perverse curiosity to see how long they would keep us. They were still talking at the three-hour mark when I departed in disgust. I served on that Board for 2 more years, attended almost very meeting, and never once stayed to the end.

3. Every meeting should have someone in charge, and that person should follow an agenda.
If we follow the assumption that nobody really enjoys being in a meeting, then the person who called it owes the attendees a productive and cohesive dialogue. No matter how many meetings you have led, you need to know exactly what you want to accomplish and how you plan to do it. The only thing worse than a too-long meeting is a chaotic one. We’ve all been in enough of these gatherings to be able to recognize when someone is “winging it”. Don’t do it.

4. Whether you’re in charge or in attendance, remember that a meeting is not the place for problems that only apply to one person.
I’m always amazed when a person feels compelled to waste precious meeting time with a complaint that only affects them. They selfishly direct everyone’s attention to an isolated issue with no relevance to the group at large, one that could easily be addressed in a one-on-one conversation after the crowd disperses. Before you comment or pose a question, ask yourself if it really would be of interest and relevance to the others, or do you just have a random thought that could be held for the speaker’s direct attention after the meeting is over?

5. Do not talk to the person next to you when someone else is talking!
This one amazes me the most, and is very prevalent. People don’t realize how distracting and noisy the whispered “side conversations” really are. I am not above giving people the evil eye when I hear the vexing murmurings. If someone tries to engage me in conversation directly, I ignore them completely. If what you need to say or ask someone else absolutely cannot wait, at least write it down and silently share notes at the table. Even texting would be better. As much as we all know the etiquette behind a text-free meeting, it’s still better than whispering to your neighbor. There is no quicker way for a meeting to devolve into chaos than one or two side-bar conversations gone astray.

6. Be succinct.
I’m sure by now I have demonstrated the value of time, so I challenge everyone-leaders and participants- to edit their comments down to the bare essentials. Keep the anecdotes brief and relevant, do not repeat yourself, and do not monopolize the conversation. It’s a meeting, not a lecture or performance. A meeting implies participation by members, so let’s all be adults and share the spotlight.

7. Dont forget the power of the sub-committee.
If a conversation on one topic becomes too time-consuming and animated with a wide range of opinions, it may be a signal to form a smaller group built with the most vocal participants. These impassioned members can address the topic in a separate meeting and report back.

8. Finally, a gentle reminder of the fine art of listening.
We all have something to say, and we are all waiting for our time to say it. If we hope to accomplish anything with our time together, however, we absolutely must put our own thoughts on hold and really listen. I try taking notes when people speak, so that my ear is open to the main message. In the end, we can only expect the time to be valuable if the atmosphere was one of open sharing and equal exchange. If, as meeting leader, you are having difficulty getting your group to that point, don’t forget you can always excuse yourself and return with some bottles of cold beer.

10 Things I Would Tell Myself if I Could Travel Back in Time One Year

It’s been a full year. I knew it would be when I agreed to be marketing chair for the Miller theater at the same time I was slated to be board chair for Leadership Augusta, at the same time the dealership was embarking on our “World Class” campaign. As with all ventures, I will walk away smarter for my experience- I know how to take the knocks on my head and learn from them. The year taught me a lot about leadership, and even more about myself. Here are some of the take-aways from my year as LA board chair, written in advice form to myself, as if I could travel back in time.

1. Expect the unexpected. You will get some curveballs you did not see coming. Before you load up your own plate with all of your grand ambitions, go ahead and save a pocket full of time and energy for some unplanned drama.

2. It’s not all about you. Don’t forget that this year is also designed to help your vice-chair get a feel for the job, so make sure you include him in all of the activity. You will be glad when you can pass the gavel to someone who is as ready and excited to receive it as you once were.

3. Balance is your favorite word. Besides all of the work, be sure to get some rest, take good care of your health and keep up with the fitness. You will need your body to be strong.

4. Focus on what matters. You have a lot you want to accomplish, more than is possible. Look hard at your list of goals and pick the ones that are sustainable and will make a difference after you are gone. Let the others go.

5. Be prepared to have some honest conversations when you know in your gut that the train is de-railing. Someone you trust to do a good job will not live up to their promise of excellence, (or they define excellence differently), so be prepared to step in and keep the train on course.

6. There will be times when people delight you with how well they do their job. Savor it, celebrate it, and thank them well.

7. Don’t try to be anything other than the leader you are. Be gentle with yourself.

8. There will be people who will make your job much easier, and a couple that make it it significantly harder. Spend more time thinking about the former and give less consideration to the latter.

9. Set aside a designated time each week for your planning and assessment. Scheduling that time in advance will help keep you on track.

10. Enjoy the year and have some fun. Relish the small happy moments and know that in the end, it is going to work out just fine.

Quietly Leading to Win

The May edition of Fortune magazine featured an article titled, “How Introverts Can Be Leaders”. Showcased in the story is former Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant, who describes himself as a “born introvert”. I related to Doug’s experience when he told the story of the time he was offered the job of President of Sales for his company. His response to the CEO : “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m an introvert and I don’t play golf.”

In the end, Doug took the job, “his most challenging ever”, and got it done. He goes on to explain that although he isn’t the archetypal charismatic leader, his work ethic and directness won him the trust of his team and his leadership style got results. He would go on to even greater success, underscoring the point that one must never discount the power of a quiet leader.

I’m hoping this is true because I’m a quiet leader with a new responsibility much like Doug’s sales job: way outside of the comfort zone. On July 1, I am going to be the Chair of the Board of Directors for Leadership Augusta. Now that the start date is approaching, it feels like a recipe for an anxiety attack. Although there are no sweaty palms, I definitely have some heart palpitations and heaviness, similar to what one might feel after consuming a 6-pack of Mountain Dew and a bag of gummy worms. This year will definitely be a test of the quiet leader.

I know you think I should be a pro at managing these symptoms by now, and I truly should be. After the pressure of being a Dancing Star and a bride last year, surely this new role will be a breeze.  There is no reason to panic; it’s just a few board meetings and pep talks. So what’s the big deal? Why the extreme physical distress? I will tell you the big deal in one big word: expectations.

I can tell myself that the Board Chair position is just a few meetings and speeches, but I know in my heart that I expect much more of myself. This exceeds the stress of the Dancing Stars adventure because my goal this time is diffferent. Facing a crowded Bell Auditorium to perform the Tango, I aspired to make my instructor and supporters proud, and to avoid any serious mortification and/or injury. A couple of times the possibility of winning would pop into my head, and I would say, no, that’s the not the objective here. I was seeking survival over success. Survival was my success. I wanted to have a good experience, make new friends, learn something about dance and about myself. From these measures, the endeavor went beyond my expectations: it was an amazing experience and I am thrilled with how the final performance turned out. I tied for second place and doubled my fundraising goal. I didn’t win, but I was happy.

Some people who were there that night tell me I should have won. But they don’t know the truth. They don’t know that I played it safe. I didn’t do the tricky kicks  in the promenade around the dance floor, knowing that statistically the odds were stacked against me. The kicks would have given a tremendous ‘wow factor’ if I pulled them off, but the slightest hesitation or mis-step would cause a catastrophic tumble. I knew If I did the dance without the kicks, the audience wouldn’t know the difference. I could save face, turn in a decent performance, and live with my decision. I was not willing to take the risk, so I did not deserve the win. I can live with that.

This time, though, the stakes are higher. I don’t want to turn in a safe performance. I don’t want to just preside over some meetings and make a few speeches. My predecessors didn’t settle for that, and I don’t intend to, either. I want my year of leadership in this organization to be a year of progress. I want to leave my mark on the history of this impressive group. This isn’t just survival without mortification. This time I want to win.

In planning for my win, I have been conducting alumni interviews to determine what my best strategy might be. It has been a powerful and informative process, guiding me down a path that feels as right as that kick should have felt. I can imagine having a year of increased engagement, improved processes, fiscal responsibility and memorable experiences. The team is falling into place, the playbook is being finalized and the interviews are wrapping up.

So why the anxiety? Because it means so much. This organization has been important to me since I graduated in 1999. I have served on the Board for almost 10 years. I have been preparing for this role before I even knew I wanted it. And now it is time for the green flag. This is my one chance, my one race. I want to make it count. I’m willing to take the risks.

In one of my interviews, an alumni underscored this sentiment when she said, “Every day we must prepare for our finest hour, because we don’t know when it will be. Sometime during this year you could have your finest hour. Be ready.” I intend to be ready, but not because it could be my finest hour. I intend to be ready because that is the kind of year my team deserves and I deserve. A leader sets the bar for excellence, and it will not be said that I did not aspire to win, even if it is quietly.