Looking Back to Lead Forward


For a number of years I’ve written an Ode to the New Year replaying events of the past year. But this year felt different. As I make my way in to the New Year I’m just not inspired to write my annual ode, instead I feel compelled to revisit some of the moments that reminded me learning never ends. If I stop learning, I stop leading. Leadership and learning go hand-in-hand.

During 2022 I was able to create and grow Benedictine University’s women’s leadership program I also started working more closely with our university development team sharing new and exciting ideas. Through volunteer work, I recognized how much little things we do can have such a big impact. And most recently, being asked and stepping in to serve my community reminded me about the importance of commitment to community through action. Leadership played a role in all of these experiences. I learned how I lead continues to evolve. Here are some of my take-aways from 2022.

Recognize the role of self-doubt. No matter how old I get, there are still moments of self-doubt. At this point in my life I know who I am, but sometimes I question if I can do a project as well as I think I can. The minute I let self-doubt sneak in too far, I start questioning everything. My vision becomes distorted, and I’m stuck. However, self-doubt can serve as a great tool if my ego is pushing too hard. Am I biting off more than I can chew because of perceived accolades?   In order to keep self-doubt in check I’ve learned to stop and listen to what self-doubt has to say. Why it feels the need to show up now? I look for the happy medium. I make sure my ego isn’t creating unrealistic outcomes, while acknowledging I’m capable of developing and delivering a quality project. If I give self-doubt too much room, it can sabotage my potential.  Conversely, if I ignore self-doubt and let ego take the lead, I may find myself in a position that doesn’t serve anyone well because it’s more about me versus we. 

Listen to learn. One area I really focused on last year was conscious listening. I thought I was doing a pretty good job until my granddaughter caught me in the listening to speak act! We were playing a game and I was clearly not listening as well as I thought when my granddaughter said, “Vavoa (Portuguese for grandmother) you’re not listening to me!” For a six-year-old to recognize I was not truly listening got my attention. I asked, “Why do you think I wasn’t listening?”  She responded with the best answer ever, “Because I can just tell.” Yikes! How many times have my colleagues or teammates had that thought? They can just tell. Be it body language, my vague response, did they know when I wasn’t fully engaged? Since that moment, when someone is talking to me I make sure I’m in, 100%. If you’re half-listening others will be able to “just tell”. If that’s what team members walk away with, trust and success fly out the window. I stay committed to better listening because I know that listening well speaks volumes. 

Differences create rich conversations and outcomes. When I started my leadership program at Benedictine University, I knew I had to create a great advisory board. I needed talented people to guide me in developing and implementing a leadership program for undergraduate women. I intentionally sought out leaders who thought differently, who had different perspectives, life experiences, skills, and asked them to join the team. How lucky I am to now be surrounded with such an incredible group of diverse and brilliant women. The difference in how we think, our unique views of the world, our varied leadership experiences have contributed to some of the most meaningful conversations. There was no rubber stamp when it came to implementing new ideas. We became a team of changemakers because we all agreed that with differences in thoughts and ideas, collectively we could create more meaningful outcomes for our students, our future female leaders.  

Every generation has something valuable to offer. I confess, technology and I do not always get along. The speed at which technology advances continues to challenge me and I’m guessing I’m not alone in my thinking. However, since I didn’t grow up with technology, navigating it isn’t intuitive like it is with my kids. But my lack of technology prowess doesn’t hold me back, I just learn differently. This is true for all generations. Whether it’s a boomer, Gen X, Y, Z or millennial, everyone has something important to bring to the table, they just bring it differently. I work with college students, and I am constantly inspired. I learn things I would never have picked up if I didn’t spend time with them. I’m hopeful they feel the same. In my previous position, I had the privilege of working with varied generations. It was an enthusiastic team who never (at least not that I witnessed) rolled their eyes at someone’s naïveté or someone’s years of experience and insight. We all knew that each of us had something of value to bring to conversations. It worked because we all worked together and knew we ALL had something to learn from each other.

Life is never a straight line- If anyone would have ever told me in my youth that eventually I’d be working in higher education and serving my community, I would have laughed out loud. These roles never passed through my mind as I set career goals. One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Jobs, “If you look back at your life and connect the dots, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.”  Darn if he isn’t spot on! I think of this quote often. I have always kept my options open and tried not to hang on too tight to where I thought I was supposed to be, but open to where I could be. If I look at my trajectory it is far from a straight line. I believe if we hold so tight to who we think we’re supposed to be, because everyone else has told us so, we miss out on discovering our true potential and maybe even who we are meant to be. Look back, connect the dots and realize that all of these connected dots lead to a greater purpose, one you may not even realize. Trust your talent, trust yourself to know that staying open and committed to learning may lead you to a role that you never thought possible but is simply meant to be. 

Here’s to who we’re meant to be in 2023.

Thinking Out Loud,

Nicki


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