Stepping Up To Lead

By Dr. Mary Kay

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

A transformative experience in my leadership development was with a client that dismissed me from his organization.

Here’s What Happened

Several years ago, I was conducting a leadership program for a prominent ad agency in the United States. It was clear to me once I started working with the senior leadership team that they did not believe in the concepts, core values, and principles we were discussing.

In other words, they really needed help with their leadership skills, working as a team, and creating a team culture in which they could productively do business. This organization was losing money, and the new VP of HR knew the solution was real leadership.

After two weeks into the training, the “old school” CEO of the company got up in the middle of the training session and berated me in front of his managers.

He felt that the training was “too touchy-feely,” “not aligned in the real world,” and was not appropriate for his male managers. He told me we were done. I was in such shock that all I could remember was feeling physically sick.

Lessons Learned

The lessons I learned from this experience were transformational, although it took a few days to transition from “rubbing up against the world” to “stepping up to lead” (George & Sims, 2007).

First, I made a commitment to myself that I would never be in a situation like that again. Specifically, I would never again fall apart like a $2 suitcase. This meant that I needed to toughen up, thicken my skin, and hold true to my convictions.

Instead of becoming personally hurt or victimized, I transformed into becoming a leader that would respond by staying professional, asking questions instead of telling, and focusing on the needs of the participants.

This leadership experience was a huge “teachable moment” for me as I personally learned to transition from “Me” to “We.”

My Leadership Style Shifted From

  • Anger to understanding
  • Arguing to influencing
  • Hurt to enthusiasm
  • Victim to freedom

The whole experience was my “greatest crucible,” which provided me with a foundation for encountering and effectively working with difficult people.

Today, my passion is helping complicated and rough people transition toward becoming confident, positive contributors. Now I am known for developing CEOs and managers by showing them how to smooth their rough edges and become highly effective leaders.

What has been your greatest leadership moment? Please take a moment and tell your leadership story.

Are You Stepping Up to Lead?

If you have ideas that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and co-founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Chris Merideth says:

    I hope you elaborate on how your style shifted? I think the reflection by itself was critical to start that process. Thinking about influence, I have had a hard time selling others on projects that are important to our organization and had to learn to develop relationships first,then ask for help to sell my ideas. It reminds me of a story I read about George Washington. Before attending the constitutional convention, he gathered intelligence on who was attending and their position on the subject. He was able to put forth ideas at critical moments when he new the crowd was in his favor.

  • Mary Kay Whitaker says:

    Thanks Chris for adding to this discussion. Great idea to elaborate on how my style shifted enhancing my leadership skills. I think that would make a great article.

    Gathering intelligence and doing your research is a great point too!

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