Do What You Can From Where You Sit

This statement, credo, way of life was gifted to me over 15 years ago by a former boss. Without specifically naming him, I wanted to share how one person can change how you think about how you can leave your impact on the world...

I was doing what I do...working like a fiend! Burning the midnight oil.  Kicking butt on my day job of leading a complex business and team while also trying to launch a new diversity strategy for the company in my spare time at the request of my boss.    

The diversity work was important to me AND thankfully to him as well but not to many others.  We were making zero progress as we tried to influence change to an apathetic,  and in some cases, defiant audience.  

I couldn't get them to pay attention. His agenda was not their agenda. I'd go in to his office regularly whining about not being able to make progress; complaining about the invisible brick walls being erected around me.  I was surrounded by people who had no interest in being helpful.

On this one particular day, again there to report on the progress of our diversity efforts, he fiddled around the office as he listened to me speak.  When I paused for his response, he stopped, turned around, looked me dead in the eye and said...."Valerie, you are a phenomenal leader with the drive, skill and tenacity to do great things but you let other people frustrate you; you let other people get in your way.  Stop counting on other people.  Don't worry about what others think, do or say.   Focus on what YOU can control. Do what you can from where you sit.  Make a difference in the space that you own and others will learn from and begin to follow your lead!"

Too much to fully absorb in the moment, it took me some time to truly process all of the messages he meant for me that day. And his reference to "Do What You Can From Where You Sit...", no one had ever put it to me that way before.  

He had said so much but then again there was so much more that I felt he didn't say but intended for me to reflect upon.  As his words slowly sunk in over the following days and weeks they started to resonate with me.  I realized that he was absolutely right. There was feedback clothed in his words of coaching and guidance.  This was not only about how I approached the diversity work, it was how i approached ALL of my work. I would often get frustrated when I felt like others were getting in the way of progress. My type A personality wanted, needed to see progress to feel fulfilled.  No progress. No satisfaction. Set a goal. Make a list. Get it done. By any means necessary. That's ME!.  It never occurred to me that leadership was about more than my need to check items off MY lists.

I feel incredibly blessed to have had some wonderful and giving mentors, advocates and sponsors take me under their wings to help mold me over the years.  I was a lost, blank slate who has learned so many incredible lessons and I feel a duty to share as many of those lessons as I can with other willing, future leaders who have many years ahead of them still to grow and learn.

Here are a few of the unspoken lessons I took away from that experience and try to live each day:

  • Feedback is a GIFT!  It can come in many forms. Look for it. Listen for it. Ask for it.  Take it in any form you can get it. Reflect on it. Absorb it. Grow from it. Even if you don't agree with it!
  • I learned from that boss and experience to not stay frustrated.  You mustn't dwell in negativity.  We ALL get frustrated but you cant stay in that space.  While I still get frustrated (I'm human-:), I am also committed to waking up each day starting anew. If one approach doesn't work, let's think of a new one.  As my mother would say, "there are many ways to skin this cat"!
  • Don't nobody wanna hear your whining and complaint!  Stop talking, debating and analyzing what you want to do. Instead focus your energy and Demonstrate what CAN BE DONE.  You will influence others more quickly if you show them what success looks like and how to achieve it. Show them what's in it for them!
  • Rarely am I discouraged or deterred from a mission because in my way of thinking there is always SOMETHING that can be done to advance the ball forward; to demonstrate by actions and results what is possible so others can follow my lead.
  • Leadership is about bringing other people along.  Creating TEAM successes.  You can't beat people over the head to achieve your goals. No one wants to help the person who appears to only be looking out for themselves.

Because I listened to the feedback and changed my approach, together the team went on to create history for that organization.    We were able to do what many thought could never be done. We formed a Diversity Council of phenomenal leaders.  We introduced a firm wide diversity program. Hired a Chief Diversity Officer, the first in the firm's history.

So, for those of you who know me (and the many of you who don't), now you know why I will always jump at the opportunity to take on the tough assignment that no one else wants.  The thing that others think can't be done; the thing that hasn't been done in the past. It's because I believe in the ability to make the impossible, possible by working through and leading others.  To influence others to a win-win that works for ALL involved.

I'm leading a new opportunity just like that now and I cant wait to see what the team accomplishes together!