Igniting Leadership: My Journey

5 August 2015 By Mike Pottenger, program participant

Three main themes from the first day? Learning new ideas is hard. Doing things differently is stressful. And making a big change in your life or career is terrifying.

Out of context, these might seem like reasons to stick to what you know, do things the way you always have, and avoid change at all costs. In context, it's a provocation. A clear and direct challenge to push yourself, but to do so with a careful self-awareness of your limits.

Like a performer recognising their nerves and turning them into energy, a good leader can take the difficulty of new ideas, the stress of a new approach, or the terror that comes with complete and utter uncertainty and harness it. More importantly, a good leader can identify these factors in their peers and encourage and support them in doing the same.

The first day was not just about how to make yourself a better leader, but an exercise in thinking differently and deeply about what leadership really means.

Like any theoretical framework, if used crudely, these ideas could be stretched beyond recognition. If we think it's important to help people work outside of their "comfort zones", then what's the difference between simply assigning someone a task you know they'll struggle to complete, or working with them to identify something they think they'd like to improve on?

The first day gave us a chance to think and learn about these and other questions through direct application, and the tools were used to structure the work we did. Our facilitator, Louise, drew us out of our comfort zones with clear rules and a mutual understanding from all the attendees that that was what we were there to do - we could trust each other. It anyone felt like they were being flung out on a trapeze, they could be reassured that Louise had carefully checked the equipment and everyone else was holding the safety net.

With this support, people tried new ideas on for size. They tested out new ways of thinking about questions and executing tasks. And while no one undertook any complete life or career changes during the session, they tinkered with the notion, and imagined themselves doing it. I wouldn't be surprised if they did sometime soon. I know they'll be more confident in handling it when they do.

- Mike Pottenger, Igniting Leadership Series 3, 2015.

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