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My leadership journey

We recently concluded the IT Leaders Program with the University of Minnesota IT Directors. This was my second time through the program. One activity that helped me as a leader was the leadership journey. This is a great exercise to help focus on the experiences we faced in our lives that had a lasting impact. I'd like to share my leadership journey with you.

To start, a leadership journey should be distilled to just those events that hold the greatest meaning. These moments can be either "negative" or "positive". I find that my leadership journey has the most to say when I focus just on the peaks and valleys:


Let me talk about a few points on the chart, and what I learned about leadership from each event:

You may not know that I started my university career with the military. As a high school student, I was appointed to West Point and the Air Force Academy. But I decided to attend the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Eventually, I realized that VMI wasn't the place for me (I wanted to study physics.) It was a painful choice to leave, but I learned that sometimes, you have to make decisions that are best for yourself, not to make other people happy. I transferred to the University of Wisconsin- River Falls, where I earned my degree in physics.

After graduation, I got my first job at a small company (DataMap) as a Unix systems administrator. One day, I made a huge mistake on one of our servers. Despite the urgency, my boss took a few minutes to do some coaching with me. That helped me to focus, and I was able to undo what I had done. My boss was very supportive, and I learned a lot from him about coaching and mentoring to develop staff.

Unfortunately, not every boss has been like that. For example, I had one boss where I learned what happens when you don't cultivate trust with those around you, and generally how not to manage people.

Later, I moved to the University of Minnesota, on the Web Team. Over time, I stepped up in the organization, eventually becoming the Senior Manager for OIT Operations & Infrastructure. Around this time, I had the opportunity to attend the IT Leaders Program (ITLP). I know I've become a better leader by having participated in ITLP. I've been through several "leadership" and "management" classes, but none stuck with me like ITLP.

That vertical line is interesting - that's when I learned I had obstructive sleep apnea. There's a lot to be said about sleep apnea, but I'll just comment that it was both the worst and best experience of my life. When you are sleep deprived, you take a different view of things. The key is that you sometimes need to rely on the advice of those you trust, rather than make a decision on your own.

Looking at the whole, I learned a lot just through these life experiences: coaching and mentoring, communicating effectively, building trust, relying on trust, making hard decisions, putting new skills into practice.

You can learn a lot about yourself by doing a leadership journey. I encourage you to take some time out, and reflect on the key events that taught you the most about leadership. The experience is wasted if you don't take away something from it. What are the lessons you've learned? How will you use these to further develop yourself?