Failing into an Inspirational Leader
Article written by Kerri Lewis
Having been a leader of people for more than 24 years now, I can say that to inspire a team means achieving success rather than facing failure. It means creating a culture of engaged and passionate people working to bring your vision to life rather than people just showing up and doing the bare minimum just for a paycheck.
Leaders who inspire create a culture that unifies, empowers and elevates their people, effects positive change within the community they do business and realize a success unparalleled to their competition. And while I know all this to be true now, there was a time when inspiring anyone, including myself was the last thing on my mind.
Stumbling into leadership at the young age of 17, inspiring people was the last thing on my mind when taking on the role of leader. At the time failure was not an option and so it was with this thinking that I found myself leading with an iron fist. Having no real knowledge of how to lead, I held my team and myself accountable for achieving unrealistic expectations and used fear as motivation to get the job done. While I achieved results, it came at a cost. The mental health and well being of myself and the people I led. I created a culture of yes people rather than creative thinkers who were empowered and could propel the business to new heights.
Despite meeting all measurable goals, I knew something had to change. I was tired of being tired all the time. Tired of having a team that I knew feared me and only did as I asked so that they would not lose their job. I was tired of seeing the look into one of my employees eyes and saw fear when they made a mistake, worried they would be reprimanded. Really I was just tired of working with people who I knew had big hearts and amazing stories but who would not share with me because they didn’t trust me.
I knew that in order for things to change, I had to change and because I was tired, that is just what I did.
While it took me more than 10 years to fully move from fear based leading to leading with the lens of empowerment, I eventually became the leader I strived to be and soon found that I was achieving far greater success.
It was my constant pursuit of excellence for both myself and my people, owning my mistakes and sharing key learnings with my teams and constantly learning new ways of leading that created environments where people not only thrived but strived to do the best job they could for the betterment of the whole team and company. Now that’s what I call inspired action.
15 years into leading I became known for building cultures that achieved results through inspired action, inclusion, empowerment, collaboration and compassion, making me highly sought after to take on more challenging leadership roles. I soon found myself in a position that would require me to inspire other leaders to lead through the same lens of compassion and empowerment. Not an easy feat given many of the leaders I would be overseeing were young and just as naïve about leading a team as I was when I first started out.
Having failed so miserably as a young leader, I was determined to see the next generation of leaders do it differently, do it better. Do it inspired. And so it is that I spent the rest of my leadership days, encouraging and nurturing leaders, teaching them to lead by example, listen with their heart as well as their head and to never forget that words can be used to uplift or tear down.
My hope is that each of my leaders always chooses to lift others higher.
Truth be told, I’m not one who struggles with regret. I truly believe that everything happens as it should so that we can learn the lessons meant for us. This said, the years spent leading through fear aren’t my proudest moments. Despite this, I know that I would not be the leader and entrepreneur that I am today had I not stumbled so badly in the beginning of my career.
My failure pushed me to do better, be better and in doing so taught my team to do the same. As I look back on my careers I know it is because of my unwavering commitment to always do it better that affected the most change and taught me to be an inspired leader.