Leadership is something you learn – and it’s something you CHOOSE.
And I don’t think anyone is born knowing how to lead. A situation comes up, and in that moment, you can choose to lead. From there, it’s a set of skills you develop over time.
I didn’t always know this though – I had some struggle along the way to figure it out.
It didn’t seem obvious in the beginning. Post college I followed a traditional career path – graduating with an undergrad Applied Math degree from Yale, working in management consulting, and then moving on to a PhD program in business at UC Berkeley.
With my newly minted PhD, I went renegade and started my own business.
From the beginning I worked hard – very hard. And the business grew (Our revenue was in the seven figures). The correlation seemed obvious to a math geek like me: “hard work = business success.”
Then the recession hit and business began to slump. Suddenly the equation didn’t work anymore. I was working just as hard, maybe harder, and owning the business felt constantly draining. I spent late nights on the computer and worked every weekend. My kids thought it was normal to have a distracted Mom with a continuous appendage (aka iPhone) attached to her hands.
One morning I was working at a café before going to work (yes the irony of getting more work done before going to work is not lost on me). As I peeled my hard-boiled egg and flipped open my laptop, I had this moment of clarity – I didn’t have to keep going this way, I could make a different choice.
This moment of insight was my first step towards understanding true leadership.
Leaders make choices about our true priorities, how we manage our impact on others and on our company, and even how we enroll others into a shared vision.
When I awakened to my true role in my company – the CEO – I went from running the company to leading it. Instead of spending my time working on my never-ending to-do list, I trained my staff – not just on how get the work done, but how they could think like leaders to make their own empowered decisions. I created a company culture where I could work less while cultivating a loyal and motivated work team.
Our company went from running just to keep pace to leaping ahead of our competitors. As our competitors fell behind and defaulted on payments, we were carefully investing to gain the trust and business of their former customers. During the next year many of our top competitors who had been in business 30+ years shut their doors, while our profits were steadily climbing.
Personally, I went from working 7 days a week to working 4 days a week. That was transformative. I finally felt like I was back in control of my life, instead of just running to keep up with it. I had more time for my marriage and my family. And I had the space to realize my true calling was developing other leaders.
So I sold my successful business.
(Even during the recession, there were 4 offers for the business within one month)
Now I spend my time consciously creating better work environments by cultivating true leaders and successful work teams.
I work with motivated senior managers and leaders who are ready to have more impact and faster career growth in their organizations. I help them skyrocket their career by becoming a confident, influential leader who inspires others with their vision and effectively motivates their team to brilliant results.
I work with companies and clients to do this through one-on-one coaching, leadership groups, and facilitated team trainings and meetings. If you’re interested in learning more about the services I offer – someone to write my research paper.
~ Jo Ilfeld – Executive Leadership Coach