Someone asked me recently how I ended up in leadership development when I started with an engineering degree.
The answer is simple, yet complicated and has to do with a key leadership skill. It is self-awareness.
Don't get me wrong, a lot of my self-awareness was based on hindsight and reflection! It was only later in my career when the true self-awareness hit me with an ah-ha moment. Ever since then, career decisions have been easier.
Here's what I mean.
My organization had four branches: research, development, engineering, and an operations arm.
My first ten years there was as a practicing engineer in the research areas of vehicle electronics and then (briefly) software.
I didn't enjoy embedded software systems very much, so I quickly took the opportunity to move to the development area, where I was doing mostly project lead work. I stayed there for eight years handling bigger and bigger projects until boredom and an ethical dilemma forced me to look elsewhere.
Enter my six years in the engineering arena, which had me largely helping sustain the vehicles that were already in the field. It was during this time that I was promoted into my first leadership position (a team lead) and shortly thereafter into a middle management position.
It was also during this time that I found my calling. You see, as soon as I was promoted into leadership, I found that my project lead skills just didn't cut it. So I started taking leadership courses. And I found I was sucking up that information like it was water in a desert oasis.
Instead of people being a hurdle I had to overcome, people became fascinating to me. In the six years I was leading a team of technical people, the organization thrived and I thrived.
Until the day I didn't.
One day, I woke up and realized that I was bored. I'd worked the same problems for so long, they were routine. The people were humming along nicely, but I had worked myself out of a job by being a good leader.
Here comes the hindsight ah-ha moment.
I loved what I did, but I needed to keep growing by seeking the next challenge.
When I reflected on all those changes I had made throughout my career, they were always instigated by me and always because I wanted to keep learning and growing.
Boom. Drop the mic.
Ok, you're thinking, what's so revolutionary about that? Well, until that moment I had been asking myself "what's wrong with me? I have it so good and yet something is missing? Why can't I just keep coasting along?"
So I actively sought my next position, and this was a hard one to attain. I wanted to join the Organization Development team and help other tech leaders to become good tech leaders.
That was a tough sell. I had very high-ranking people saying, "sure! If she wants to do it, I say let her! This organization needs all the leadership help it can get!" and an equal number saying "heck no! It's hard enough to get good tech leaders, why would we let her go into a non-supervisory position? It's a step backwards and bad for her career!"
It took nine months of lobbying, negotiating, and jumping thought hoops, but I finally did it and gained what would become my terminal position at the R&D facility.
My three-year developmental turned into an eight-year labor of love.
My final career change came with my retirement after 32+ years. I was only fifty, but my urge to keep learning and growing and impacting people reared its head and I knew there was more.
Coryne Forest, LLC was born and it will be the next chapter. Leadership development on a larger, more digital scale.
So strap in and go on this journey with me. Let me bring this full circle.
When leaders think of being self-aware, typically it's about things they are good or not-so-good at.
Stretch you mind and think deeper. What drives you? Why have you made the decisions you have made?
Do you need an ah-ha moment where you realize that challenge juices you and you just need to accept that about yourself?
Self-awareness comes in many forms.
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: Unexpected advantage of being in a company of one: it's really easy to be the employee of the month several months in a row!