Susan MacKenty Brady is a leadership expert, and recently joined Simmons University to lead the new Institute for Inclusive Leadership. She shares a way to think about starting a new professional adventure.
For the first time in eight years, I am “the new employee.” As it is for many professionals who make job changes, I didn’t take lightly the decision to leave my old familiar world and start in a new one. The stakes are particularly high when you exit one organization and start in another as a senior leader or as an executive. When asked by friends or family early on how it was going, I became fond of saying “I am a stranger in a strange land.” With more than 100 days under my belt in my new role, the tools and practices of leading with self-awareness that I have been a student and teacher of and many of which I wrote about in my latest book Mastering Your Inner Critic have come in handy.
In the hardest moments of my transition thus far, I’m deeply grateful to have not a critical or doubting inner voice, but one that whispers loudly in my head, “You are the right person for the job at hand,” and “You are needed here.” No different than what I have said to the many executives I have coached over the years, I remind myself that in a role like mine I was hired for my judgement as much as anything. I need not have all the answers, or be right, yet I do need to trust that my experience and journey has brought me to this next leadership endeavor with all that is needed for success. That success begins and ends with knowing how to tap the wisdom of others inside and outside the organization in order to help get us to where we want to go. Oh, and knowing that as I learn, to trust my judgement and also expect to lead imperfectly.
Until this week, I have been seeking to understand by asking lots of questions and getting to know people. I have begun to formulate some conclusions about how to move ahead, and enrolled others in these activities. I am grateful to those around me who have given me the space and time to navigate and learn. I have tried my best to do the things I coach leaders to do: Stay in curiosity longer than I am comfortable, ask questions without passing judgement, assume good intention, and most importantly, trust that any situation is more complicated than any one person can see. In essence, I should not take for granted what I still don’t see or understand. Much of this has felt like a pursuit of conscious discovery. I have been the leader of my learning. This has been at times exhilarating (like when I discovered so much brilliance in the people and content here and on topics like inclusive leadership and developing women to think strategically about their leadership potential – issues I have passion around). It has also been exhausting at times. And wrought with the expected feelings of vulnerability for being “new.”
So, you might imagine how refreshing it was to be presented with the gift of inspiration at a moment I wasn’t “actively seeking” to understand. This week, I attended the Simmons University Convocation. We welcomed the incoming class of 2023, we celebrated those who are beginning their final year and will graduate in 2020, and we awarded some distinguished faculty for their incredible accomplishments. At the end, Provost Katie Conboy gave a speech that woke up my spirit in ways I didn’t know I needed. She talked about starting a new adventure (for her, learning to play the Mandolin) and how humbling it is to be new at something and how it takes the combination of believing in self and improvising. Needless to say, she had me at “hello.”
With the metaphor of her mandolin music lessons in hand, Provost Conboy provided wisdom in her talk that summed up nicely what we “newbees” might consider using as our muse, but also, revisit long after the unfamiliar becomes familiar:
“Dive into the things that interest you. Take your passions seriously… Believe in yourself. And believe in each other’s vocations and avocations. Learn new tunes. Play your solo, but keep your ear tuned to the overarching harmony. Fine-tune your gifts and then share them: collaborate with others. Make a deliberate attempt to break with habit, to see people and situations in a different light. Be a beginner. Be an amateur again. Fall in love with something new. Practice your technique and hone your craft. Put time and effort into the small elements of your work, and set your metaphorical metronome to a challenging tempo.
And do the hardest part of the work. Improvise. Whatever your job or your course of study, take risks. Put your heart into your learning and learn some things by heart. Then listen hard to the way you approach what you know or do; test new strategies; find a little back-up crew; make it new…. Give it all you’ve got. Play like your beautiful and foolish life depends on it. Because maybe it does.”
Provost Conboy’s words reminded me of the opportunity that comes with learning new tunes, with those feelings of vulnerability, with the opportunity to practice the leadership lessons we have all learned over the years. I am reminded, and I remind you: When we play a new song and with others who are new to us, we never fully know the gifts that may come from the music we make.
Have you recently begun a new professional chapter? What tunes are you playing?