JKWhitehead & Associates

Lessons Learnt

Lessons Learnt

In my previous post I recounted how I learned some important lessons from my personal search into leadership. I talked about how a number of years ago, I had become the “golden boy” within my organization. Everything was working for me, the region I was managing was the number one region three years in a row, and staff turnover was nonexistent. I was given additional roles and my responsibilities more than doubled. People throughout the organization were asking how I had done it. I went on to explain that I had no idea, it had seemed to just happen. Last week I described how this led to my journey of discovery of how and why I did what I did. Here is the rest of the story.

The best advice I have ever received.

While I was in Ottawa visiting family I took the opportunity to visit our Ottawa office where I spent some time with one of the organization’s senior managers. He offered the observation that throughout his career he had discovered that everything moved in cycles: In business, in the economy and in politics. That I should be prepared for things to cycle in my own world, as undoubtedly they would, and be ready to deal with it. I never forgot that conversation.

Of course, it happened.

In a confluence of events, some controllable but others not, and with the benefit of hindsight on what should have, or should not have happened, the cycle started its downward trajectory.  Over the next couple of years the region became the worse or next to worst performing region in the country, turnover was horrendous and finding new staff became a nightmare. This while the economy tanked and businesses in general started to contract.

I crashed.

Here’s the thing. In the situation I found myself in, I was unable to resolve the issues that had mounted up. It was going to take too long to turn it around. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, and the organization couldn’t wait. Our relationship ended.


What I had learned about why I was a good leader hadn’t changed. The “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” as laid out in The Leadership Challenge (Jossey-Bass) were still valid. But, whereas before I recognized what I had been doing to be successful, I could now see what I was not doing, that was leading to the reverse. Due to the scope of an expanded role, I was unable to be “present” as much with my direct reports, which led to a disconnect and the inability to be consistent in “Modeling the Way” and “Inspiring a Shared Vision”. Most importantly I was unable to connect as much to “Encourage the Heart” (Kouzes & Posner, 2012).

Lessons learned:

  • When one door closes another opens.
  • Stay focused on what you know works, and if it doesn’t, at least you can say that you did your best.
  • Having to move on isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is just the right time to “get off the bus” (Collins, 2001).
  • Maybe I have something I can share with others, my experiences, lessons learned?
  • Shared personal experiences, backed up by research, are a powerful tools. Interested in learning more? Contact me.



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