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I sat in bed rubbing my eyes, trying to wake up. The clock read 6:29 am. Europe was well into their day. After navigating a tricky conflict the day before, my energy tank was dangerously low. I longed to stay in bed but five urgent issues loomed in Slack. I lumbered out of bed, slipped into a pair of pants and a nice sweater, forcing mental exhaustion to the back of my mind. Pushing back my own concerns was just part of leadership. This was one morning but it could have been any number of them as a leader.


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Leadership is not for the emotionally fragile. It can shatter you into a thousand pieces if not you’re careful. Leading has a way of revealing our biggest weaknesses. Many leaders didn’t realize how much it makes you confront your own personal failings. How much of leadership is having a mirror held up to your face. Even more challenging? That mirror and your reflection is in public. There’s no where to hide those uncomfortable truths about ourselves. We have to confront our mistakes, our humanness in front of the team. This is hard stuff.

Being responsible for the work and well-being…

You don’t have to be a relationship expert to have better ones

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Picking a major in Psychology was easy, figuring out how to use it was far trickier. After college I careened from one low paying job to another doing a stint as an activities director at a nursing home, then working for the Girl Scouts where I wore a scratchy and uncomfortable uniform. My personal life was equally chaotic. I moved four times in 16 months and found myself resolutely single as the rest of my friends got married.

Hoping new surroundings would kick start my life I moved across the country from my squarely midwestern town in Michigan to San…

How to find balance with this complicated behavior

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We stood in a room that looked more like a cozy living room than the office of a growing startup. We were chatting after grabbing hot drinks — chai for me, coffee for them. I was mentoring a group of leaders, many of them in their first role. We were talking about the role of a leader.

“The biggest part of my job is protecting the team. I’m like a bouncer.” one of them said with absolute certainty. Others nodded their head.

I remember where I was standing. I remember breathing deeply, assessing how to respond. I understood the instinct…

Using emotional contagion to get the right kind of momentum

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The sun was shining, Santigold was playing and a grassy field stood empty when Colin Wynter decided to start dancing. By himself. Not just a side to side sway. No, this was a dance of abandon. Flapping about in a decidedly awkward manner. He danced uninhibited, flapping about in a decidedly awkward manner. Finally someone else joined. They danced awkwardly while others sat on the ground looking on. Then a third guy joined the revelry. That was the tipping point. The energy was infectious. Within a few moments a small crowd formed. Soon it grew into a throng, people joining…

Spotting the difference between black holes and open spaces

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Leadership voids are common. In a survey of senior leaders, 32% took the role to fill a void. It’s not surprising. Companies are dynamic entities so their needs change over time including the kind of leaders required for current conditions.

Leadership voids are gaps that no one feels responsible for or they’re land whose ownership is in conflict. Let’s start with the positive aspect to this organizational phenomenon. Leadership voids can be openings where emerging talent enters. Folks with capacity and latent talent for leadership can fill cracks, providing much needed momentum for the team and their own career. This…

You don’t have to wait until 90 to get clarity.

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I’d just arrived in San Francisco. I was 2,403 miles from home and was alone in my adopted city. I didn’t have a single friend. I had $800 to my name, an apartment lease and no job. After completing grad school, I needed to leave my home state of Michigan. I was impossibly young, hopeful and ready for a fresh start. I didn't have big dreams. Mostly I wanted to carve out a small plot of independence for myself.

My life will change in San Francisco I intoned to myself.

I packed just the essentials (clothes, a stash of books…

A surprising leadership lesson from Jenna Lyons

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Former J.Crew boss Jenna Lyons has a devout following for her distinctive and enviable style. Her reality show, Stylish with Jenna Lyons, promised a glimpse into her world. That legendary style was on full display. The revelation was her leadership chops, especially in episode six — “Open House and Broken Hearts.”

In this episode, following a flood, the five remaining candidates were tasked with restoring Jenna’s formerly musty farmhouse for sale. There was a tight timeline. The candidates were all trying to prove themselves in hopes of landing a coveted spot. The house was a reminder of Jenna’s failed relationship…

A hidden reason leaders burn out

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I felt watched. Every small decision, scrutinized. At times it felt like surveillance.

Being a COO was like constantly being on stage. Wherever I moved, a permanently affixed spotlight followed. I wasn’t used to having an audience watching every twitch, every sentence, every decision — and having an opinion about it. At times, it threatened to paralyze me. It lured me closer to my perfectionism tendencies. Imperfect decisions and divided opinions made these urges nearly unbearable. While some applauded decisions privately, the criticism was loud and public.

Where my goal was to empower the team, some saw me as dismissive…

What leaders told me about their experiences

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While we hold leadership up as something to attain, it’s one of the toughest jobs out there. Leaders are criticized far more than they are thanked. They make decisions while facing a myriad of obstacles, ambiguity and shifting conditions. Making mistakes is hard for everyone including leaders who often make them publicly. My own experience as a COO was equal parts wonderful and challenging.

I wanted to understand why leaders sought their position, how the role differed from their expectations and what kept them up at night. I also wondered about their priorities during the pandemic. To get a sense…

Suzan Bond

Leadership coach for new technology leaders. Fast Company contributor. Former COO Travis CI. Twitter: @suzanbond

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