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Exploring the Art of Leadership

– This article is the first in a series by Lee de Lang, Managing Partner at Big Red Oak Inc., about his learning experiences in leadership.

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately. Now, I may be completely wrong, but I’m starting to sense that a lot of people are just figuring things out as they go along.

I’ve met people who really seem to have it all together; they’re confidently guided by a bulletproof plan that they’ve set out for themselves and their teams. I’ve also spoken to people who candidly confess that they are in a perpetual state of exploration and discovery and learning as they go.

Running a small business is very exciting, partly because every day is different. But the challenges and questions are brought forward in so many areas. Do we hire this person … and what role will they play? Do we pursue this new business opportunity; and, if we do, what’s the strategy to win that business? Do we buy this piece of gear? Can we try out this new motion graphics plug-in? Why is the WiFi dropping out? And who’s going to fix the wobbly toilet seat in the bathroom? It runs the gamut.

Even when you’re backed by a fantastically talented, committed and supportive in-house team, as I am, it can sometimes feel very lonely. People expect you to be in the driver’s seat for direction, ideas, motivation, leadership … when, really, you’re just trying to figure it all out, too.

Not totally sure? Gut check. Still not sure? Okay, let’s try it: maybe it will work!

So, what to do? I decided to try to find the direction, ideas, motivation and guidance to help me meet the challenges. I’ve started to follow other leaders, read their posts of wisdom, listen to podcasts, study leadership books. And this is when it occurs to me: I’ve been learning and discovering, and it’s been right under my nose all along.

Working with our clients has always been fulfilling. We build great relationships, and we enjoy supporting them in the amazing work they do. But I now realize that I’ve also had the benefit of seeing them lead. I’ve watched our clients work with their teams and observed how they communicate to their stakeholders, both internally and externally. I’ve seen the plans that they develop and execute, while we play our role in creating the strategy and content to support those plans. When I stepped back and took a look, I recognized that I’ve been educated and influenced for years by all of our clients through their business decision-making and the experiences we’ve shared through our work together.

To process all of this, and then put it into practice, I’m planning to make regular updates on “What I have learned from the people that we’ve met.” Through this exercise of exploration and discovery, I hope to gain the confidence to develop my own bulletproof plan. And, as for the wobbly toilet seat, I can fix that.