I was 32 when I was named the chief executive officer for Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield. I received the call after a 5-month interview process. I was so overwhelmed, proud, validated and ready. After the shock wore off, I shared the news with my husband, Spencer. He held me as I cried in a parking lot, and he whispered, “You did it. I am so proud of you.”
words + photographs BRANDY HARRIS
I remember thinking to myself, ”Actually, WE did it.” I was reminded of the very moments leading me to this one:
The call I received after moving away to a new community and applying for 62 different jobs. It was the local Boys & Girls Club offering me a position making $300 a month. Spencer supported the decision and supplemented our income with that stellar graduate assistantship stipend.
The moments I spent advocating for kids that triggered personal trauma. I would come home a wreck. Spencer would try to support, redirect and encourage me.
The complete imposter syndrome that consumed me when the CEO interview process began. Spencer would remind me I was capable, ready, and valuable. He would give me pep talks before each round.
This was not my success. It was our success. So much of what I was able to accomplish was because I has a person who supported me and believed in me.
I would be in meetings and not speak because I was worried about how my words would be perceived by others in the room.
During my first few months as CEO, I would spend hours perusing Pinterest, searching things like, “How does a CEO dress?” “How does a CEO act and talk?” “Who are female CEOs?” Most of what had been modeled for me was the exact opposite of who I was both internally and externally. I spent so much time searching for what I thought a CEO needed to be I completely (repeat completely) lost myself during the process. I would be in meetings and not speak because I was worried about how my words would be perceived by others in the room. Would my contribution to the conversation sound CEOish enough to be taken seriously? I would dress in clothes mimicking the photos I would find after searching “strong, professional woman.” I would constantly doubt my ability to do the job. I would constantly think about all the other people who could do this job better than I could. I would ignore the kind comments and stew over the critiques and negativity. I would blame myself for everything that went wrong. I would assign all of my value and worth to my productivity. I became the job. The job became me. I was miserable.
So, here is the part of the story where I would love to say something like, HERE ARE 10 TIPS FOR BEING A GREAT LEADER AND NEVER STRUGGLE WITH ANYTHING, EVER. But, that’s not really how this works. Leadership is hard. Some days are easier than others. All I can really do is share the things that have worked for me. These are things that made leadership a bit more manageable, understandable, fulfilling and attainable for me.
Get a therapist.
People often say, “It’s lonely at the top.” I NEVER understood this until about a year into my tenure. It is. And remember all that stuff I shared at the beginning of this? You might have read it and thought, “Wow, Spencer is amazing for supporting her so much with this job!” And yes, this is absolutely true. However, a trained counselor is a much better fit for these types of needs. At times, your partner or friends can be people you vent or process with, but healthy relationships must maintain healthy boundaries. Therapy is life-changing and every single person can benefit from it.
Don’t believe everyone’s ideas, including mine.
I spent so much time trying to mimic other leaders. This is not to say there aren’t very valuable leadership tips out there. I just ask you to find something meaningful for you. And then use that thing to enhance who YOU are as a leader, not to replace who YOU are as a leader.
Be the best at the job you have.
People always ask me, “What’s next for you?” I try really hard to stay present and focus on the job I have. When we are always looking for the next best thing, it’s more difficult to be great at the role we are currently in.
Find helpful ways to measure success.
When you are a leader, it is difficult to get the same kinds of feedback you provide for your direct reports. You might not always get feedback from your Board, regular check-ins or development strategies as much as you would like. Develop ways YOU can measure success. This is not for anyone but yourself. Not only will it help you seek out the feedback you need, but it will also help ensure that external validation voices are not the only ones you listen to.
This can be as simple as, “Did I complete my quarterly check-ins on time for all of my staff members?” or “Is there more engagement on our social media pages than there was last week?” or “Did I make someone’s life better or easier today?” or “Did I listen without intending to respond?” BH
Brandy Harris is the CEO for Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield. She is a wife, dog-mom, and irrationally passionate advocate for kids who need it most.