Brad's Essay on Leadership

Recently, I have come across the book "Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow". Unlike other books, this book seems to be more of a practical workbook on building leadership, specifically it appears to be a set of exercises, like drills to practice leadership techniques. The reason I say "appears", is that I am only at Exercise #1 which is to write an essay on what leadership means to me and why I would possibly want to be a leader?

When I left university, all I wanted was to be a computer programmer. I attended university with the goal of getting a degree in computer science so that I could spend my life writing software programs. Programming will always be a huge passion to me and forms a large part of my core identity, but my first job was far from "just programming".  I was encouraged to become the companies "quality manager", and I had no idea what that would entail. The job had a lot of challenges, in particular I had to learn to "lead" even though I wasn't really in charge. I didn't have my own team to manage, but I their were a lot of employees in management positions and it was my responsibility to work with to create our teams Quality Management System. The whole experience completely changed my life, the way I look at the world, and I am very grateful to have had that opportunity. Leadership to me is not about a specific job title, but a way of working with others toward a common goal and establishing trusting relationships that allow everyone to reach that goal.

During my time at my first full time job, I became very involved with reading management style books. The company I worked for had a very large library of books and audio that providing an amazing learning opportunity for me after university..  One of first books I came across was called "The Goal" by Elijah Goldratt. This book is classified as a "business novel", it is a fictional story that is both an enjoyable read and at the same time provides practical advice.  This was my starter book which lead me on path to a wide variety of these types of business novels. It wasn't long before I started observing some central themes. Many books give the same messages - one of the biggest was the importance of your company being based
based on a foundation strong shared values among all employees. A second recurring concept was on understanding yourself, what your goals are, what you want to accomplish, and how your personal goals tied into the goals of your company.

I was fortunate, to find myself with lots of opportunities to try these ideas, test them out, and see how they work in practice. I even started exploring the idea of starting my own consulting business using my unusual combination of experience in information technology and quality management. I was completely hooked on learning everything I could about leadership, and living to my fullest potential.  When my time with that company did come to an end however, I now had very young children, no job, and  and zero conference in trying to branch out on my own. I worried no one would take me seriously. I had some experience but it was for  a very small business and while grateful, I was not naive enough to believe I knew everything!

So while searching for my next job, I came across and advertisement to work, for CGI. I had no idea who "CGI" was at the time, but when I visited their website, and I read about the CGI dream, the shared values, and I remember thinking... "Gee, if the employees really live up to these values, what a cool company this must be to work at". .I questioned though - would i really get hired, this was a huge company of > 20,000 employees [much more now], but I put in my resume and applied, and after a couple of interviews, I was hired..still a bit skeptical about whether they were really committed to the values they displayed on their website and very curious to find out if it could be true!

But I wasn't disappointed, the message on the website does reach down to that little Fredericton office where i was hired. I was excited to learn that many of the people that I worked shared the same beliefs and values as I did. Sometimes, it felt like I was working with a bunch of different aspects of myself.  The job I was hired for, however, was not all that exciting at first and for the first year or so but  I was just happy to have job and be able to pay the bills for my growing family.

Fortunately, it wasn't too long before I got my first taste of leadership at CGI. I was given the opportunity to become the teams release coordinator. It was my job  to schedule and maintain the releases for a particular client that our team was assigned. I found myself with the opportunity to practice many of more of the ideas learned from books like The Goal, Good to Great, and Zapp! to name a few.  I successfully implemented project schedules based on the theory of constraints and critical chain concepts. Although technically still not a manager, I saw the team as "my team" . Team members would come to me with questions, and ideas  and I would work to remove any obstacles keeping team members from being successful.  Every release had a "driving issue" led by a business analyst, releases were completing on schedule and we all worked together wonderfully. My leadership was setting schedules, motivating others, following up and reporting to the client on how things were progressing. To say I felt on top of the world would be an understatement.

I think Leadership can be a bit like a drug!  When you are working with others, visioning, guiding, consulting, and building it is a feeling like no other. I couldn't get enough of it. I wanted more..I wanted to be a "real" manager, not just a 'coordinator'. Don't get me wrong it's not just that I wanted the title 'manager'. In my mind I was already a leader. People around me held great confidence in my abilities, and I believed in myself but I felt like I had reached a plateau - I wasn't really advancing in my career, and I just wanted to grow, to have more and more experiences.  For a while it started to feel that I was going backwards, I was loosing confidence in myself and I slowly starting moving away from the person I just knew I could be.

I'm not going to lie, when I look around today, and I see others leading teams, managing I do feel jealous, and a sense of loss, maybe like Icarus I tried to fly too close to the sun too fast.  I can't be the leader that I know I can become by looking around 'wishing' for the opportunities that others seem to have. Looking at my present circumstances from this perspective is what holds me back today. I have no one to blame but myself, and blaming myself isn't going to get me anywhere either. NO! -  to move forward I need to change my outlook and adopt a mindset of resilience and strength. I know I can get myself back to that "on top"  feeling like the amazing feelings I once felt in my seat as a release coordinator....or even BETTER!

Don't get me wrong, leading and managing is not all chocolate and ice cream everyday. It involves hard work, it is stressful. You don't always know if you are doing the "right" thing. You make a lot of mistakes (and you learn from them). It's not like someone hands you the title of team leader or supervisor or 'manager', and then suddenly you are endowed with some magical powers and instant respect. I know that as I continue to move in my leadership journey I will stumble again and again and I accept this. I know the value of learning from mistakes and how it can only lead to growth. At the end of the day, helping others grow and achieve their OWN vision is one of the greatest feelings in the world, it forms a key part of my vision for myself and that is the core of what leadership means to me.

So now here I go again !

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