2023 Honest Leadership Year in Review

Achieving Goals, Leadership Coaching, Mindset & Mindfulness
12/18/23 - Nicole Wood
Nicole and Foram speaking at the Ama La Vida Chicago office

Becoming a leader reminds me of bringing your first baby home from the hospital. You can’t help but think, “Shouldn’t there have been more training for this? You’re trusting me with the well-being of this other human?”

And even once you get your feet under you, leadership is not for the faint of heart. You are endlessly wedged between seemingly contradictory forces pushing you to drive performance while also supporting each individual’s unique needs. It can be confusing. It can be exhausting. And it can also be so meaningful and rewarding.

If you’re lucky, you can think of that great boss you had who inspired you, challenged you, and made you feel seen. This person may have even changed the trajectory of your career. We each have the opportunity to be that person for someone else.

But the path to get there isn’t always clear. That’s why personalized leadership coaching is so critical. The support, feedback, and guidance that you need to be a great leader is undoubtedly different from what your peer requires or what I need.

And it’s also why we here at Ama La Vida launched the Honest Leadership series. We have access to some top leaders and brilliant minds in the leadership space, and we want to download the lessons they’ve learned over time into our own brains. You don’t have to navigate through leadership alone, and this event series is a great way to connect with other leaders, take some of the insights shared by these experts, and apply them to your own work and leadership style.

In every single interview I conducted this year, I had ah-ha moments that I took back with me and integrated into my approach to leading Ama La Vida. I’m a more confident leader and Ama La Vida is a better place to work as a result.

Here are some of those highlights for me:

Kelly Balch – Celebrity Photographer and Author

Be intentional and maintain your energy throughout your various life seasons. I loved when Kelly thoughtfully corrected me for asking about “managing” burnout (which in and of itself sounds like a burden) and instead reframed it to maintaining energy and passion. They explained how the various seasons throughout the year impact business and allow Kelly to be in a headspace that matches the need. We chatted about how it’s okay to have seasons in your life and career beyond business seasonality where you shift more to certain aspects of your life over another.

You can attract the types of people you want to work with and that makes all the difference in terms of your well-being and how much you enjoy your work. What ****you put out in the world is what you get back. That’s why it’s so important to be clear on your truth and what you stand for. It’s not your job to manage other people’s reactions. Your job is to share authentically. The people who engage are your people, and working with them will be fun and joyful because they are already friends.

Natalie Franke – Bestselling Author and Head of Community at Flodesk

No two people experience the same event in the same way. It is always put through a personal filter which might lead to two totally different conclusions about what occurred. Keep this in mind when building connections, especially with your team. There is no universal truth. There is only each person’s truth.

Building connection starts with vulnerability, which has inherent risk involved; you’re opening yourself up to both good and bad reactions. It has a disarming effect, and the other person typically starts to let their guard down too. Their response is not your responsibility. Your job is simply to share a piece of you and open the space for them to connect with what you’ve shared. You’ll be surprised that people connect with your emotions even if not your specific experience.

Atarah Styles – Award-Winning Plus Size Wardrobe Stylist

Treat your internal monologue like a soundtrack. I love how Atarah mentioned that when you listen to something over and over, it sticks with you. You remember the tone and the cadence. The same is true for how you talk to yourself.

Small rejections strengthen you for higher stakes. It’s inevitable that rejection will come at some point in your career. If you aren’t getting small doses of it along the way, it might crush you when it comes at a high-stakes time. Keep track of the little rejections you receive and see how you evolve over time. Things that really hurt years ago won’t even make you flinch as you continue to strengthen that muscle.

Jill Eid – Executive Director of Girls on the Run – Chicago

You don’t have to be the expert to be the leader. In fact, challenge yourself not to be. When Jill stepped into her first official leadership role with AmeriCorps, she had zero experience with the activities her team was tasked with. In not being able to rely on having the answers, she grew her leadership muscle to build team camaraderie and tap into the expertise of her team members. She learned how to lead with and through versus spouting out answers from the top.

Create space for humanity. It’s not just right, it’s good business. I completely agree with Jill that human-centered workplaces where people can bring their full selves and feel safe to do so are ideal. But I had never thought about it as also a means of efficiency. It takes a ton of mental energy to try to mask who you are or be someone you’re not. Being exactly who you are frees up your brain space to focus on the task at hand.

L’Oreal Thompson Payton – Award-Winning Journalist, Brand Storyteller, Author and Speaker

We’re all walking around doubting if we’re good enough. From Michelle Obama to your writer idol to your absolutely incredible best friend, we all have self-doubt. You don’t have to wait for the doubt and fear to subside to take action. Taking action in and of itself will help quiet the doubt.

Be the writer. Your job in life (regardless of what your job technically is) is to be the writer, not the editor. Inevitably your ideas, your work, and your art will get shaped and molded over time. Your job isn’t to get it perfect on the first try. Your job is to get it out into the world.

Donald Knight – Chief People Officer at Greenhouse

Your career trajectory depends on PIE: performance, image, exposure. Performance is only 20% of the equation, so don’t over-index on it. How you are perceived and what you get exposed to often matters more than the quality of the work you do. As you move up and around in your career, there may be times when the realities of paying the bills force you to make quick decisions. But when you have breathing room, be selective. Not every organization is deserving of your “time, talent, and treasure.”

Don’t try to break down walls. The goal is to be invited in. Many people who seem closed off have been harmed in spaces where they thought were safe, so they have intentionally built walls to protect themselves. It can be easy to attribute this resistance to you, but you don’t know the history someone is bringing to their current situation, even if you are the most welcoming leader. Instead of trying to break down the walls, spend time with the person, and little by little you will be invited in.

Foram Sheth – Co-Founder and Chief Coaching Officer at Ama La Vida

It’s a plan, not a promise. Your team wants to know that you have analyzed the situation and have a thoughtful plan in place. They don’t, however, expect you to have a crystal ball. People don’t need all the answers; they need communication. Communicate clearly, “Here’s the bet we’re making, and here’s why,” and then keep the team apprised as things unfold. Remember to tap into your empathetic side and keep in mind how fearful others might be and what baggage they are bringing to the situation from their past experiences.

We’re all a work in progress and will always be in progress. As much as it pains me to say, we won’t wake up one morning feeling fully wise and knowing. We are all walking around this earth wondering if we are good enough, wanting to feel seen but also feeling immensely vulnerable. Letting go of the expectation that you will have an arrival of confidence and wisdom allows you to see that you actually have learned, grown, and evolved along the way.

Whether you’re a new manager or a seasoned executive, we can all benefit from taking some time out of our days every now and then to pause, reflect, and learn from others. I’m so grateful that you all have taken that time this year through Honest Leadership, and that these experts were so gracious with their time and wisdom. When we care enough to make this kind of investment in ourselves, there is an undeniable ripple effect on those around us.

One of our Culture Commandments at Ama La Vida is “Give a Shit,” and we often say that if you forget the rest (there are 9) but remember to do this one, that’s enough. Thank you for giving a shit about your leadership and your teams. You are making change for the better.

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