Young Executive

DISCLAIMER: Not a normal post. Written about my professional journey.

This is written to younger generations but I think there is great value for everyone. It is in no way intended to be offensive but it does portray my true thoughts and feelings toward my role and growth over the last three years. I hope this can spark conversation or perhaps help, either someone dealing with similar circumstances or those that interact with a younger generation.

My Role: Executive Director for Jackson County Habitat for Humanity. Staff of seven and governed by a Board of Directors.

Happy Anniversary, Me!

This week marks three years that I have been with my organization. I would have never thought that I would be in this position three years later. It seems harsh but I didn’t see it. I couldn’t see this far. A commitment to me, then, was working for a whole year. That seemed like an eternity at the time. Now, looking back, three years have flown by and it seems like real work is just now getting done. Change is just now visible. While it was happening consistently for three years it has taken that long for processes and mindsets to evolve, mine included. I have taken some notes in my last few years, not a lot but some that are impactful to me.

-Admit when you are wrong. Take credit for missteps that happen under your leadership.

            Here’s what I’ve learned since recognizing this. Yes, admitting fault is key to leadership. Too often a leader will use their position to cast blame instead of own it. The thing that I have learned to be careful of is taking the blame for too many things that were not my fault. I have learned and ultimately been taught that a healthy leader takes credit for their part in the breakdown and then assists those around them to understand their fault and potential corrective action. I said “my bad” and “that’s on me” way too many times. In the moment it was the path of least resistance. I did not want to engage confrontation so I simply took the blame and we moved on. I have since learned that doing that is taking the easy way out. The stronger, healthier position is to understand where I could have done better, realized it, and then allow space for others to own their mistakes. I frequently rushed through the discomfort and did not allow a situation time to breathe and be a learning experience for more than just me.

-Make an effort to be an equal. Recognize the age gap but don’t let it intimidate you.

I struggled a fair amount with being “the millennial” everywhere I went. Since day one I have been the youngest one in the room. I thought that I was okay with it and had it figured out early and to some extent I think I did. While not letting the age gap intimidate me was a positive, I did carry animosity for those, virtually everyone, that had something negative to say about my age. I carried the weight of a whole generation into every meeting and felt the need to defend us or at least not do a very good job of hiding my discontent with certain conversations. I have come to understand that every generation blames the next and trust is to be earned not demanded. Being 26 years old means that I have to prove myself but also learn to value the skills that I bring to the table regardless of age.

-Own your skill sets.

A trait that I want to hang on to is humility but I have learned to celebrate my talents in a way that honors them but does not seem boastful. In saying that, I am really good at seeing the big picture. I’m good at seeing a problem and working toward a solution. There are things that just makes sense to me and I’ve learned that not everyone sees things the same way. What I find to be practical and obvious, others don’t see at all or if they do it’s after unnecessary dialogue. I am growing into my strengths and learning to celebrate and lean into them. My advice is to not let a false sense of humility blind you from what you were meant to do. If you think you’re good at something and positive results continue to happen, move closer to that thing. Don’t let age or experience keep you from speaking up or moving to action. We all have certain gifts and our job is to find them quickly and work to use them in a way that builds up those around us.

This has turned into an essay but I’ve learned so much in the last few years, about myself, other people, how I interact with other people, organizational dynamics, politics, community nuances, and many other things. I want to leave you with one last thing, though. Place high value on your time. It’s easy to get sucked into the way of the world and be the person that works all the time, checks email too early and too late, never takes a real vacation, never spends QUALITY time with loved ones, etc. Something I did from the very beginning was establish boundaries around my time. Understand that the work will be there the next day and you don’t have to be Super(woman/man) all the time. I know that not every situation is the same and not everyone gets to dictate their own time but that’s why boundaries are important and they need to be established from the start. Don’t let someone else control your time, because they absolutely will.

I’ll leave you with this. Growing as a leader means growing as a person. The more I have come to understand my motives for action or inaction, my reflexes and tendencies, the better I am to lead my organization. More than that, I am better prepared to be a better husband, son, brother, and friend. Work on you and those around you will benefit.

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