What are you most proud of?
Grab that thought that just appeared in your mind. That’s right, the very first one that appeared when you read the question. For me, the answer has little to do with achievement, and much more to do with a time where I was able to contribute beyond what I originally thought I was capable of. In my mid-20s, I became the Senior Project Manager for a large retailer. What was supposed to be a temporary journey to lead several of their new construction projects, turned into a multi-year, amazing adventure.
The most profound times of our lives are the situations and challenges we couldn’t have planned for; yet choice-by-choice and effort-by-effort we ended up making it through better off than when we started.
The key to surprising yourself with what you’re capable of is to stay open to discovering more on your journey. When faced with a challenge, don’t default to “I can’t.” Instead, center on what you can work towards. The reward is the richness of experience and the awareness that your capability often extends far past what you imagined being possible.
I’ve seen many examples of leaders (in the news this year) stepping up during the pandemic to work towards achieving more:
The manager who made the ask of her greater department to donate leave for an employee who needed extended time off to recover from COVID.
The coach who expanded his team’s roster to take on more players so more kids could have the opportunity to play and exercise during online school.
The senior manager who went without pay for three months to retain junior team members.
The boss who would not accept a parent’s resignation so she could provide childcare for her kids; instead, he worked to create a flexible schedule for her to get through until schools reopened.
Each of these leaders approached challenges with an eye for how they could be of service to others, finding a way to make things happen, even when it meant sacrifice or extra effort. When you face a challenge, focus on the work towards mentality: the first step you can take to overcome it. Then, keep stepping, knowing that with the most difficult matters we face, the value is in the experience not the outcome. And, through it all, look for ways you can contribute to supporting others. That’s leadership.