Leaders Under Construction

| | Personal Leadership

PardonOurProgressProgress is inherently messy.  Yet convention seems to pull for us to always look like we have it all together.

What if we didn’t have to “look good” all the time?

While visiting the Atlanta Zoo I walked by a sign: “Pardon Our Progress”.  Of course I have seen signs like this before, but something struck me about this particular one.  Instead of being posted on a fake wall or some other nice looking temporary façade, this was posted to a chain link fence with the construction in progress visible.

Their progress was not very pretty.

The reality is, whenever you are bringing something new into existence, the process is not likely to be neat and tidy.  The same is true when we are developing ourselves as leaders.

Our leadership is always “under construction”.

Whenever you deviate from what has become “tried and true” for you, you are probably going to stumble a bit.  You will make mistakes.  You may even look bad to those around you on occasion.

Yet unless you actually extend yourself beyond your comfort zone into new ways of doing things or seize an opportunity that stretches you, meaningful and satisfying progress is not likely.

Is having to look good, maintaining a façade that you have it all together, keeping you from really stretching yourself and becoming the leader you aspire to become?

If it is, here are 3 simple strategies for getting the support you need to successfully navigate through the messiness of progress.

1.  Know Your Why

Unless your reason for changing and growing is significantly more compelling than the comfort of staying the same and feeling in control of how others see you, you won’t risk doing whatever it will take to make progress.

2.  Create Your Personal Network of Support

Choose 2-5 people who you trust and who believe in you to share your aspirations for your leadership.  Be very selective.  Make sure these are people who will stand for your growth rather than be threatened by it.

3.  Get a coach.

Have you noticed that world class athletes always have a coach?  A great coach helps you stay clear and focused on your end goal in spite of the inevitable messiness you encounter.  They will also guide and support you through the more challenging periods of growth on your path to becoming the leader you want to become.

Coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance. Atul Gawande

What about you?  Are you willing to risk hanging out the “pardon our progress” sign?

One last thought…We say we want leaders to be more authentic.  Perhaps being willing to risk revealing even just a bit more of the messiness of our progress is a step in the direction of authenticity.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like more information on how I can support you as a coach in taking your leadership to the next level.



Enter A Comment

Lolly Daskal   |   27 June 2013   |   Reply

I loved your post

And I agree with all that you wrote, I feel it is important to know your WHY, and just as important is know your HOW…

How will you react to your why
How will you act with your personal network
How will you accept what your coach has to say…

How is the element of our character.

Thanks FOR your great post.


Susan Mazza   |   30 June 2013   |   Reply

Thank you Lolly! Knowing your “how” is important indeed. The way you distinguish the how’s has me think of another important element – compassion for ourselves and others along the sometimes messy journey!

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Cheyserr   |   27 June 2013   |   Reply

So true! I’ve always thought that we all are under construction. Not just our leadership I guess but our totality as individuals is always under construction.

I’ve worked in a corporate world for quite a while and leadership among our organization is an ongoing issue. The problem sometimes is that we have bosses instead of leaders. But no matter how much effort we put to train them, help them, and instill a value and culture that promotes inclusive leadership, some just remain blind. The longest question I have in mind is how can we open the eyes of those people who refuses to see the reality? Or is it time for us to let them go?

Susan Mazza   |   30 June 2013   |   Reply

A common problem in today’s organization. There’s a saying that comes to mind: “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink!”. Training and coaching will make no difference if the person being trained or coached has not chosen they want to be a leader vs. just a boss. For as long as the choice to be only a boss is an option, many will choose the status quo rather than put in the effort required and risk changing. My question is who is going to lead those bosses? By that I specifically mean support them in discovering their why from a personal point of view and from an organizational perspective clarifying the choices they have and must make regarding their leadership or lack thereof.

Thanks for your comment Cheyserr. This is a big challenge and great topic for further conversation.

Brenda Siara (@Siara)   |   27 June 2013   |   Reply

Learning begins with owning up to one’s ignorance. Not many are courageous enough to admit that they’re lacking in some area, especially when they’re the boss. That’s why the higher we rise up the ladder, the harder it becomes to learn.
We forget that the victory in a story is only half as inspiring as the details of the struggle. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

Susan Mazza   |   30 June 2013   |   Reply

You make some excellent points Brenda. You point to what I think is one of the major flaws in the design of many “corporate ladders” – the higher you go the more there is to protect instead of the more incentive there is to produce.

Shannon   |   14 July 2013   |   Reply

I enjoyed this article and found it to be very helpful. Im ” under construction” in my journey as I write. I’m healing from major trauma and its definitely messy. I found your website tonight and feel excited about reading the helpful articles.Thank you! SHANNON

Susan Mazza   |   16 July 2013   |   Reply

Hi Shannon, so glad you found your way here and hope you continue to engage. I hope you continue to heal and find your way quickly back to wellness. Please do share your insights as you face this challenge in your life along the way.

Tammy Schaefer   |   21 July 2013   |   Reply

Love this post Susan! Yes, why is very important when we are stepping out of our comfort zone. We will run into the naysayers and if we don’t know our why it will be easy to run back for comfort. Love the analogy of the work in progress sign. Need to get one of those for myself!

Susan Mazza   |   23 July 2013   |   Reply

Our why is indeed essential fuel for maintaining our courage! Thanks Tammy

Danielle E. Aaronson   |   09 September 2013   |   Reply

Thank you Susan! In the feedback rich environment I work in, it feels like the “pardon my progress” sign is ALWAYS hanging out. Luckily I am surrounded by people who look at the progress and see bright spots and successes- people who take the time, and the care, to help you along that progress. Still hard, but being in a healthy environment makes it just a bit easier!

Danielle Elizabeth Aaronson

Susan Mazza   |   10 September 2013   |   Reply

Excellent points Danielle – a safe environment is key. You raise a very interesting point that in a feedback rich environment your “Pardon My Progress Sign” is always hanging out. The kind of feedback we need to grow is often the kind of feedback that is hardest to hear. If we don’t feel safe what may be intended as constructive criticism can occur like an assault. A good reminder for all of us that as leaders we must be responsible for creating a safe enough environment for people to grow.