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The Evolution of a Leader

Healthy Leaders

The Evolution of a Leader

Adrian PeiAdrian Pei

I have yet to meet a leader who hasn’t doubted him or herself at some point in their lives.  Yet so often, we can feel pressure to have things “all together.”  Or when we make the same mistakes again, we feel we should have learned our lesson already.  We feel we should have “arrived.”

But is the journey of a leader really on a straight line?

There are many helpful books about the stages of growth in leadership, including The Making of a LeaderThe Critical Journey, and The Ascent of a Leader.  I recommend them all!

However, I’ve found it helpful and fun to also look at examples of leaders in popular culture and media and see what they can tell us about growth in leadership.

For instance, I watch the popular AMC series The Walking Dead, in which the protagonist is an ex-sheriff named Rick Grimes.  What I love about his character is just how much he’s changed and evolved throughout the seven seasons of the show as he’s wrestled with the responsibility and stewardship of leadership.

He starts out as a relatively self-assured, bold leader ‒ with the initiative to lead by example and a strong moral compass.  However by the end of season two, the challenges of leadership have turned Rick into an insecure dictator.  During season three, personal tragedy causes him to become completely broken, isolated, and incapacitated.  In the following couple of seasons, Rick then comes to accept the realities of the world and embrace the difficult and beautiful things he must do as a leader.  He’s evolved into much more of a listener and a team-builder.

It strikes me as I watch the show just how much Rick has changed in his view of leadership and of himself.  His journey is definitely not simple, nor is it on a straight line.  However, because we get to see his doubts and process, it connects us to him in a very personal way.  Who can’t relate to things like insecurity and times when we’ve felt broken or isolated?

Another example is professional basketball player Jeremy Lin who created a stir in 2012 with his stellar play with the New York Knicks, generating much excitement among the Asian American community.  A little while ago, I listened to an interview that Lin gave with a fellow athlete and the most interesting part was his description of his personal journey.

Lin shared about how when he first started to play well and get media attention, it was exhilarating ‒ and he was happy as could be!  Soon after, however, he became scared and overwhelmed with the magnitude of the spotlight and the pressure to perform and represent himself well.  It became burdensome and he began to experience mistrust and even feelings of self-pity.  Over time, however, Lin described how he’s grown to appreciate and embrace his platform and influence.  It’s become a “badge of honor” for him and he talks with enthusiasm about all he wants to do to impact and serve people around the world.

I found Lin’s interview to be inspiring as I reflect on my own leadership journey.  I recall my experiences leading teams and how I’ve felt those feelings of fear and being overwhelmed and burdened.  I’ve also experienced the resulting growth that led to gratitude for the opportunity to make a difference and to serve people.  Now I can see so clearly how normal it is to have such a variety of these feelings in leadership!  I see that there is hope when I feel stuck, remembering the past and how I’ve changed, and I trust that I will continue to grow on the journey of leadership.  As I’ve learned to be open and honest about these feelings with my teammates and friends, it’s helped them to draw closer to me.

No matter where you are in your leadership, or where you serve, you are not alone if you are wrestling or struggling.  There are many stages in our evolution as leaders, and as a person of faith, I believe God is there with us along this journey to guide us even when we don’t see or feel it all the time.  And when we are able to let others into these struggles, it can strengthen our bonds with those on the journey with us.