If you have children or have experienced watching children grow, you have witnessed their progression through different stages of development. Literally starting on milk (or some kind of nutritional supplement) they, very early in life, begin to utilize the nutrition they receive to physically grow in a very visible manner. They take this nutrition without knowing it or acknowledging what it does for them. When they become a little bit older, they progress to solid foods and begin to develop specific tastes for foods. They start to put up a fuss about nutrition as they link it to taste. Taste becomes so important that it trumps the nutritional value of what they are eating. As they progress from milk to eating only what taste good, parents can feel the need to start adding supplements to their diet. This is done in various ways; ever hide vitamins in cheese sticks? Then you know what I am talking about here. The physical change in children is miraculous to watch as they go from being dependant on milk to feeding themselves and seemingly one night driving off to college. While there is not any one specific book that can teach a new parent exactly how to navigate through this maturity processes there are books and other resources out there that can help along the way. So in some sense there is a path that can be followed to help raise a child from milk to maturity. If this is true for raising children, is it true for raising leaders?
The idea of milk to maturity came to me from a biblical reference as the apostle Paul was encouraging some early church leaders to step up and quit doing what immature people do. As I was reading and thinking about this, I started to look at it from a workplace perspective and asked myself how I got from milk to maturity as a professional and how can I help others go through this process? What do you think of when you think about going from milk to maturity from a leadership perspective? I think about maturity in this way: An immature person is led by their emotions, a mature person leads their emotions.
The last several weeks have presented many opportunities to practice maturity in leadership, the most prevalent being perseverance. “I don’t feel like it,” has rattled my cage several times over the last few months. Instead of keeping this to myself and trying to muscle through with brute force, another leadership maturity opportunity presented itself to me, vulnerability. Practicing vulnerability is difficult, but it is my responsibility as a leader to show this so others can hopefully learn through the process as well. I shared this attitude with a few leaders on my team. What they thought inside I will never know, that is the hard part, but the reaction impressed me. One of them shared with me a time in his life where he had to persevere through some very difficult circumstances. This conversation was tough for both of us but has deepened our relationship and as a result has improved the way we work together.
No leader is perfect as they trudge the road to continued maturity. How we handle the challenges will determine just how much we mature as leaders more than the challenges themselves. By being vulnerable and sharing struggles with perseverance, I sort of hid the vitamins in the cheese stick. The example led me to greater maturity as a leader and allowed others to mature through the process as well. To be honest, I didn’t feel like writing this, thank goodness I had the courage to share that with a friend who encouraged me. Leading your emotions doesn’t require perfection, it just requires awareness and willingness.