I heard once that when someone believes in you enough to give you a chance, it’s an insult to deny their faith in your abilities. That statement sums up why I accepted the offer to lead the ColorComm Dallas chapter when it launched in summer 2017. I was seven months into running my own business, filled with self-doubt, and I had just finished my first contract. The national team saw something in me, and I wasn’t going to tell them they were wrong.
Over the last 10 months, I have gotten some aspects of leadership right and some (quite) wrong. We all know that everyone ain’t for everybody, I strove to make sure my intentions were right in every decision I made. Since I believe in sharing your knowledge, I’m selecting five things I’ve learned in my first year of leadership that have been on my mind.
1. It’s not always your message, it’s how you deliver it
It’s well-known that written communication can get us in trouble when folks make interpretations without the filter of auditory and body language cues. As a person who delivers messages in email or text format without much in the way of exclamation points, smiley faces, or language that softens an ask, I shot myself in the foot a few times. Where I thought I was respecting people’s time by directly requesting what I needed, it read as bossy and demanding. After realizing I wasn’t getting what I needed, I had to reassess where I could make changes, and it began with the tone of my messages. While I wasn’t trying to be rude, someone’s perception is their reality and more influential than my intentions. I helped myself by writing and re-reading (at least twice) my messages before sending.
2. You won’t be everyone’s friend and that’s okay
My approach to leadership is that I’m here for the work to get done and if we vibe on a friend level, that’s icing on the cake. I will always be respectful and polite, because that’s the basics of interacting on a human level. For me, I needed separation to create a chapter from the ground up. Make no mistake: this is all volunteer leadership and I’m not in control of anyone’s paycheck or livelihood. However, I feel responsibility on the level of a manager (albeit unpaid), which influenced my step back from friends to friendly. As everyone grew into their role, I learned to let down the guard I've put up a bit.
3. Give guidance and move out of the way
The best leaders I’ve experienced helped me discover my skills and then, most importantly, got out of the way to let me perform. The blessing, and sometimes curse, of starting a new chapter is that there were few must-do rules; Dallas’ culture would be a guide in how the city operated. In the first year, I didn’t vet the leaders as one would usually do in an executive director role. We were all interviewed by the national team and introduced to one another via email. Over time, I had to learn what motivated each one of them, how they preferred to communicate, and what they wanted from their time with ColorComm Dallas leadership. Once I knew this, I was able to provide big picture goals and move out of the way to let them achieve those goals in the way that worked best for them. Micromanagers irk me to ninth degree, so once a deadline/timeline was established, I communicated that I was available to talk through any sticking points. After that, I left it alone. I did end up running into some issues with lack of communication until the last minute, but we managed that together with grace and understanding.
4. Reach out with no preconceived notions
Cold outreach is one of the scariest things to do in networking. I made a goal of tapping at least three to four people on the shoulder every week via LinkedIn or email to talk about ColorComm, the organization’s mission, and what we were building in North Texas. I didn’t discriminate; everyone from newly minted graduates all the way up to agency leadership and independent firm owners and entrepreneurs got contacted. As an adherent to not taking things personally, I didn’t get a chip on my shoulder when I didn’t get a response. My number one goal was spreading awareness, and if they at least read the message, I had achieved my goal. What I didn’t want to do was use my role as executive director to strong arm my way into the upper echelons and inboxes of the most well-known female marketing leaders in Dallas. Remaining humble and genuine in creating connections has helped me make real friendships rather than strictly transactional relationships.
5. Make kindness your starting point
We join the leadership ranks of an organization for our own reasons: networking, professional growth, as an avenue for increasing business contacts, or to further a cause. Whatever the reason, there will be times that our multiple responsibilities, between work, family, and other obligations, will pull us in as many directions, and you have to tap into your “why” to remind yourself of the reason you stepped up to lead. Over the first 10 months as executive director, I had to check in with myself about my “why” when faced with challenges. My “why” is bringing kindness. As a yoga instructor, I get to do that every time I enter the studio, and it’s dope. Networking is hard, and creating lasting relationships is even harder; as ColorComm Dallas executive director, I want to facilitate those connections for people and help them and I knew it started with kindness. Not nice, because everyone can play nice when it serves them, but kindness, which starts with your intentions, your spirit, and your central values. If I make the starting point of my leadership kindness, I know I’ll make the right decisions, speak well, and place the best people in charge with me.