I served as the executive director of a fine nonprofit organization for 13 years and recently retired. (See my bio here.) I put my heart and my soul into the work. It became my identity, my quest, and my passion. I believe (ok, I know!) we did some pretty good things in those 13 years.
But that is not the point of this post. The point is the many good things that happened in the last month as I said goodbye that provide important lessons for leadership.
So many people sent me inspiring notes or said nice things about me and to me during this time. They said what I have meant to them. They told me that I had an impact on who they are. They reminisced about the experiences we shared. They even gave me an award or two. As you can imagine, it has been quite gratifying. I cried big ugly tears more than a couple of times – and I am not a crier either.
Here is what I learned about leadership in this process of letting go.
- We should tell people when they have had an impact on us – when it happens. They will feel super – and so will you! And tell them again (and again) if the opportunity arises.
- You just never know when or how what you say will affect someone. People pay more attention than you think they do, and the words you say today may stick with them for years to come – for the good or the bad. Choose your words, but don’t be afraid to voice them.
- Conversely, “clearing the air” with nasty comments is never helpful or wise. It won’t make you feel better, and will make your target feel worse. Don’t do it.
- People are always watching their leaders for clues. They see when you do or say kind things. When you set the example. When you stand up for what is right. Or when you don’t. They see and they mimic or they see and they judge. Make a difference with your actions.
- Finally, enjoy the moments that bring you satisfaction. Too often during my career I have not taken the time to celebrate, appreciate, and yes, even bask in the successes. In the end, it will mean much more than you can ever know in the moment.
Many people said to me that I have been tough. I challenged them. I held them accountable. Yes, yes, and yes. But they also said I was fair. That I made them better. That they are better leaders because of me. That they realized that they could achieve their dreams because of ways I encouraged them.
Talk to people. Set the example. Do not be afraid to be tough. Do the right thing, even when it is the unpopular thing. Then hold your head high and lead.