A while ago, my daughter decided that she wanted to try knitting. I should have known that this would mean that she really wanted me to do it with her. I never had an interest in knitting, but many people in my family have a gift of crafting with their hands. Things like sewing, doing calligraphy, crocheting, cross-stitching, painting, etc. all came naturally to them (or so it seemed). Not me, but my child wanted to do it, so I went along for the ride. After watching a few YouTube videos, buying bamboo sticks, and choosing our favorite colored yarn, my daughter and I started practicing the graft. We learned to make a slipknot, to cast on, create stitches, and then bind off. Day in and day out, my knitting became longer and longer and some days it actually became shorter. At one point, I accidentally picked up my bamboo stick the wrong way and an entire row of stitches slipped off. My stomach turns just thinking about it, but eventually I finished my first knitting project. Hooray!
Was it easy? Absolutely not! I’m pretty sure that I yelled at the innocent yarn at one point and threw the bamboo sticks to the ground a time or two. Scratch that- I know I did. Even my daughter wanted to quit at one time. When I noticed her frustration to the point that she wanted to stop something she just started, I knew that I had to approach this endeavor differently. I told her that I was going to start over with my knitting (after I lost the entire row and had a fit). New slipknot, cast-on, knits, and eventually bind-off. Every day, I set aside time to knit, and everyday my daughter watched me improve bit by bit. She became my cheerleader. Then she got back to her knitting project, improving every day. Soon, my knitting became easier as well. I found a way to hold the sticks and guide the yarn so that I wouldn’t lose any part of the knit. Eventually, my hands figured out their own working rhythm. Knitting was no longer this thing that I was trying do, but something all my own. I completed my first knitting project and it felt good.
What’s the point?
While I’m very proud of my knitting experience, this really reminded me about the role we take on in leadership and how complex it can be. There were many similarities between learning to knit and growing as leader.
- You initially have no clue what you’re doing: My examples for knitting were YoutTube videos and a few booklets. My goal was to emulate these knitting pros, and I failed. Like new leaders, we often try to copy the leaders that we admire. While this isn’t a bad idea at first, it’s also not a good idea later on. A leader should be genuine and authentic. Regardless of the “style” that’s chosen (transformative, servant leader, action oriented, traditionalist, etc.), what makes the style work is putting your own flare on it [who you are at your core] and making it your own.
- Be ready to deal with fails: Just like the day I yelled at my yarn after not being successful, there are times when you will fail at being a leader, and yell about it. Remember, failure just presents opportunity to make change. There will be days when you’re not motivating or empowering others. On those days, you may just be frustrated, putting out one fire after another when you really had other plans. There are other days when you’ll just not feel like leading. You instead want to be left alone. It’s all normal and part of growing, but here’s the thing: those days usually come when you’re stuck (personally or professionally). The opportunity is that there’s always a solution to the challenge. Take a step back, breathe deep, and try again. What you need will come to you.
- You’re always setting an example. Was I happy that my child saw me get angry at an inanimate object and have an adult tantrum? Yes, because it didn’t stop there. She saw that emotions such as anger and frustration are real and that it’s okay to feel them. She saw me talk through my problems. Then, she saw me get back to business. She saw me work through my frustration and figure out what worked best for me. Then she cheered me on and got back to knitting herself.
Your team will do the same thing. You can either set a good example – feel the emotions and push through them in order to find a solution to the challenge – or a negative example – get angry and completely give up. Your team will follow your lead, so choose wisely.
- You’ll succeed together. With the support of my daughter, I was able to continue knitting until I finished my first project. When I finished and showed her my final bind off, she yelled for joy as though she completed the project herself. Then she said, “I’m so proud of you!” She truly wanted me to be great and I let her know that her encouragement kept me going.
The same thing happens when you’re over a team. Their support, ideas, trust, and encouragement will keep you going. It’s what keeps you fighting for them and working with them to make something great. In the end, success is truly a team effort.
I wish I could sum up leadership in one sentence, but the truth is that’s it’s constantly changing. What I do know is that, like knitting, there’s excitement, experiments, epic fails, start overs, learned lessons, and then success with the support and help of others. If you can find a way to make leadership your own and take it day by day, the reward will be worth the effort.
Keep leading and be safe,