The Unashamed Truth About Leadership

Aaron McHugh

Pacific Ocean meets Columbia River
Pacific Ocean meets Columbia River

It’s difficult some days to know the way to the right path.

It’s a challenge to know what the effect is of the conversation I just had with an employee.  I used a coaching and sports analogy to attempt to communicate my idea.  But maybe I just sounded like another chowder-head using a sports analogy.

When I took the car away from my 18 year old today, was that the right thing to do?  How much patience should I extend and how firm should I make the boundary in the sand?

I don’t know.

Learning to lead without feedback

I had a few glasses of wine last night with some good friends and we talked about this idea of stepping into what we call “Young Kingship”.  Yes I’m entrusted with a lot to manage, care for and grow but the truth is that it is an experiment.

It is an experiment in outcomes.

Science experiments usually consist of a couple of key factors:

  1. Try something different
  2. Give it some time
  3. See what happens

I run experiments every day at work, in life and at play.  Yet it’s still an experiment, an unknown, and a risk as we wait for the outcome.  Will the employee(s) that I lead embrace the invitation for action vs. in-action?  Will my son understand the lesson is about respect and not about a clean car?

Most of the time I don’t know what will happen.  Most of the time I move forward in spite of a clear distinctive path.  I used to wait, pause, ponder, poll the room and then decide what to do.

Leadership is lonely

I would wait around for a real-time poll to measure the audience’s reaction to my leadership.

I wasn’t leading.  I was trying to build fans.  The irony was that they weren’t willing to follow me, as they could smell the fear in me.  Now I’ve learned that the more I lead, the more lonely it becomes out on point.

No “good job”.

No “thanks dad”.

No “thanks so much for doing that”.

Instead I hear crickets chirping.

Lewis & Clark

I often picture Lewis and Clark on their epic adventure trying to unlock a pathway to the Pacific Ocean through local waterways.

Can you imagine how lonely they must have felt?

Two years of stumbling, mumbling and fumbling their way forward.  I bet they couldn’t recall if the mission was a mythical story or reality.  They must have felt crazy some days and heroic an hour later.

They nudged their way west as they experimented with another dead-end, another shortcut turned foolish and a second winter stuck sipping whiskey waiting for the river to thaw.

Dollar Cost Averaging

If I judge my parenting, career performance or leadership on any specific day, I might just throw in the towel.

The experiment process allows us the time to await the results over a period of days, weeks, years and decades.

Lewis and Clark found the passage to the Pacific Ocean in two years.  It took them another two years to get home to tell anybody about it.

My children’s children will likely be a better measurement of my parenting success and shortcomings.

For my employees, I am leaning on the idea that the best judgement of my effectiveness should be measured over the course of their entire career.

I have to remind myself not to pull out the grade card and tally up my score each day.  The unashamed truth about leadership is that we don’t always feel confident about what we’re doing.  We should keep moving forward in spite of that uncertainty and counting on Dollar Cost Averaging to make up for the bad days.

Keep going