Revisiting My Top Leadership Lessons for 2020

We’re two weeks into a new year and a new decade, and like many people, I’ve spent time recently thinking about my goals for the future. I’ve even been participating in a daily online course by Mel Robbins about dreaming bigger and making this my #BestDecadeEver.

As important as it can be to set intentions for the future, I’m also reflecting on the past decade from a new vantage point. I’m revisiting lessons I’ve learned — asking what’s still relevant, what needs to be amended or revised based on new wisdom gained, and what can be tossed Marie Kondo style because it’s no longer helpful.

A few years ago, I was interviewed by the national (U.S.) magazine for association professionals, Associations Now, about the most important lessons in my career so far.

Heather Pownall shares leadership lessons with Associations Now in June 2017.At the time, I was leading a corporate education start-up team within a non-profit serving the accounting profession. Meanwhile, the organization was in the process of a global merger, beginning the work of unifying operating models across more than 40 offices and cultures. We were in the forming and storming phase of post-merger development.

I was in new terrain, at the steering wheel, and people were counting on me for vision, strategy, stability and leadership. The opportunity for growth was exciting, but there was also pressure to be successful out of the gate. And, as with any growth venture, no pre-determined roadmap.

These were the lessons I shared with Associations Now that were vital to me at the time:

  1. embrace a beginner’s mind and be confident realizing that your fresh perspective offers advantages;
  2. learn as you go by surrounding yourself with supportive mentors, and pay it forward by mentoring others (from whom you can learn also);
  3. it’s normal to feel uncomfortable when you’re outside your comfort zone, but don’t let that stop you from going after new or bigger opportunities. #doitanyway

Today, nearly three years after that interview, these lessons are just as relevant for me. Maybe they resonate for you as well if you’re in a new position or you’ve recently stretched outside your comfort zone in some way, personally or professionally.

I’m in the first 60 days of a new position with the Association for Women in Science. I’m once again in new terrain. Yes, even with 15 years of diverse leadership experience under my belt, in many ways I’m also a “rookie” getting my bearings on a new learning curve. Just as I was doing a few years ago, I’m actively nurturing my network of mentors and mentees. And almost daily, I find it helpful to remind myself that feeling a little bit of uncomfortable pressure in any new endeavor is totally normal. That simple affirmation helps me exhale more fully, smile more and enjoy the journey.

Reflecting on the lessons I shared in 2017, what especially stands out to me now in 2020 is the realization that lessons are not things you learn once and you’re done.

Instead, developing awareness of — and being able to articulate — the key lessons we’re learning is just a first step toward realizing their potential transformative power.

The next step is keeping those lessons nearby, reflecting on them periodically, and intentionally practicing the daily mindsets and behaviors that bring them to life. Doing that consistently can then lead to mastery of those lessons until they become second nature. They become who we are.

That’s my ultimate goal with my top lessons: mastery.

And there’s a fourth lesson I’m adding related to building capacity for courage. I’ll be speaking about courage in a keynote talk on March 6 to an incredible audience of women (and men) in North Carolina at the 2020 Durham Women Take No Bull conference. If you’re in the Research Triangle Park region, come join us for an epic day of positive energy and thought provoking conversations about advancing women in the workplace and society.

You can see my original leadership lessons from 2017 over at Associations Now. Or you can try reading the tiny print below if you like a good challenge. 🙂

Thanks for taking an interest in this post, and I’m curious to hear your look-back reflections on the past decade. What lessons were most useful to you? What are you still practicing and working on mastering as we embark on the new year and decade?

Heather Pownall shares leadership lessons with Associations Now in June 2017.

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