Respect authority, don’t take risks, avoid conflict, keep your head down and work hard, and DO NOT FAIL. These are some of the early messages I received that I’ve continued to carry with me throughout my life. It wasn’t until participating in the EDI Leadership Discovery program this year that I started questioning the impact these messages and values continue to have on my behavior and how that behavior is perceived by others who make judgements based on those perceptions.
For me, this was one of the biggest takeaways from EDI. What it ultimately boils down to is that intent does not equal impact. We might have positive intent and exhibit behaviors that stem from our values and personality, but those behaviors could potentially have a negative impact on others or even ourselves. For example, not speaking up in meetings because it’s been ingrained in you to sit back and listen or because you are afraid of saying something wrong, can be perceived by others as not being interested or even knowledgeable about the subject being discussed. Or, failing to make a decision in a timely manner because you get caught in the details, don’t want to make mistake, or don’t want to upset people, can result in decreased productivity and loss in trust from others. Thinking about things in this light conflicted with my lifelong thought that as long as I’m true to myself and have positive intent, that’s all that matters.
What we learned throughout this program is that leaders at their authentic best, intentionally align intent and impact (authenticity and effectiveness). They balance being true to themselves AND flexing to meet the needs of others. In other words, they adapt to different situations while remaining authentic. This is something I know I will continue to work on throughout my career.
Another key takeaway for me from this program is the importance of giving back to the community. Giving back is one of the most important things we can do, but is often one of the most overlooked things. I’ve overlooked it for much of my life, but this program has inspired me to be more consistently involved and makes me want to instill in my children a desire to get involved as well. There are always other individuals, groups, and organizations in our community and beyond who are in need of support. As Ebony Frelix from salesforce.com described, “Volunteering in all shapes and forms strengthens our communities, brings people together and provides us with valuable experience and insight. And selfishly, when I give my time and energy to others, I just feel better — about myself and my community.” One of the projects my group, Team Moon, participated in, involved teaching cooking classes to middle schoolers, who primarily came from refugee families. Some of the kids said it was the highlight of their summer and even rated it 1000 on a scale of 1 to 10. We taught them how to cook a few dishes, had great conversations with them, and told them about our careers. What they didn’t know is that it was also one of the highlights of my summer. Plus there was the added benefit of me actually learning how to cook a few dishes too.
A third major takeaway for me is the importance of risk taking. Taking risks helps us get out of our comfort zones and grow, personally and professionally. Embracing risk also helps us overcome the fear of failure. Even if taking a risk results in a form of failure, it usually results in a valuable learning experience as well. Speaking of risk taking, it only took me six years from first hearing about the EDI Leadership Discovery program to gather the courage to actually apply for it. Only six years. Clearly I don’t like to reach outside of my comfort zone or take risks. However, I can’t adequately describe how thankful I am that I finally decided to take that leap. While in some ways I wish I would have done it sooner so I could have applied what I learned here much earlier in my career, I am incredibly grateful that the timing worked out how it did. I cannot imagine having gone through this program with anyone else other than my incredible classmates who I truly learned so much from, in addition to our amazing instructors and program coordinators. So thank you to all of you, and also thank you to my supervisor who supported me in doing this. And a special thanks to my Team Moon for attempting to teach non-cooking Christina how to cook. I look forward to continuing to develop my authentic leadership style, including balancing my intent and impact, taking more calculated risks, and giving back to the community. I hope to keep in touch with all of my classmates and hear about how everyone’s leadership journey is going as well.