As the myth goes, Icarus’ father made him a set of wings so he could flee Crete. The wings were made out of feathers and wax – at once powerful and incredibly vulnerable. We know the ultimate fate of Icarus – he lost his life by flying too close to the sun. The part of the story that’s not often told is that his father didn’t just warn him about flying too high – he also advised him that the dampness of the sea would clog his wings if he flew too low. Super frustrating. “Thanks dad. Couldn’t you have built something a little less temperamental?” What does this story teach us? Some might say that complacency and hubris are equally as dangerous. This is also a story about leadership. That, as leaders, we are at once powerful and incredibly vulnerable.
Every leader has a ‘leadership edge’. What is a leadership edge? We all have natural strengths we’ve been blessed with. You have an incredible collection of strengths which set you apart. These strengths are like Icarus’ wings. They are powerful enough that, if used with intention and wisdom, will allow you soar! They are also vulnerable enough that, if taken to an extreme, could cause collateral damage. Your strengths have a ‘sweet spot’ somewhere between the sun and the sea. That is your leadership edge. If you want to have the impact you know you’re capable of you must know your edge, name it, and create daily practices that keep you soaring!
Let’s start by identifying your leadership strength. Maybe you have a gut sense of your strength. Maybe it’s on the tip of your tongue. Write it down! Now! And maybe you’re not sure. Maybe you’re wondering where to start. Try answering these questions: What brings me energy in my day to day? What am I amazing at? What is the compliment I hear most often? The answers to these questions hold the key to your leadership strength. For example someone might say “I get energy by being around people”, “I am amazing at giving informative and engaging presentations”, and “Others often tell me I am a good listener”. What is the common thread running through each of these answers? It could be that this person’s leadership strength is clear communication. It could also be that they are a very empathetic leader. Whatever common threads you find in your answers, pick the strength that is most true for you.
Okay, so now you know one of your leadership strengths. Feels great, right? This is what sets you apart and makes you a powerful leader. Powerful, not invincible. Enter your leadership edge – the vulnerable part of your metaphorical wings. To find your edge, you can answer these questions: Is there common feedback I receive from my boss or peers? What do I need to do more of/be more of to grow as a leader? At what point does my strength stop serving me? If we use the example from above, this person might say “I often get the feedback that I don’t speak up as much as I should. Empathy is my strength but that can become a liability when I shy away from having difficult conversations for fear of hurting someone’s feelings”. Identifying and naming your leadership edge is a huge step. If you do this, you are already miles ahead of many leaders.
You might be thinking, “Great. Now what? Icarus knew his limitations too. How can I make sure I don’t plummet to a gruesome death?” First of all, you won’t. It’s just an anecdote. AND there’s a crucial step Icarus missed. He didn’t have a way to check-in along the journey. He didn’t have a daily practice that could keep him in that sweet spot. What is the one minute practice that you can do everyday to keep your leadership edge in check? It’s important that this practice is specific and simple. For example, our empathetic leader noticed that she has a difficult time holding her team accountable. Her daily practice will be to ask “Who is responsible, by when, and how will I know?” for each action item that comes out of the team’s daily standup meeting. This practice creates a feedback loop that allows her to continue being the empathetic leader she is while also practicing being more direct and holding her team accountable. In addition to a daily practice, ask who can support your success or what specific feedback you will ask for. We encourage you to share your leadership edge with your team or a trusted colleague. Maybe you know someone who is amazing at the thing you want to learn; leverage their knowledge and skills. Icarus tried to do it alone, you don’t have to.
When you do this, you are giving yourself and your team an amazing gift. You will be a better leader, equipped to handle challenges and achieve your professional goals faster and with ease. When you open up to your team and ask for their help, you are building trust which is the foundation of a high performing team. Many leaders bypass this leadership edge practice. And it makes sense, it takes immense courage to look at our limitations, name them and ask for help. Icarus gives us such a beautiful and tragic example of how power and vulnerability are one and the same. However, we don’t have to look at Greek mythology to illustrate this. We can probably all name real world examples of the negative impact powerful leaders have when they lack courage and vulnerability. Let’s demand more of our leaders. Let’s demand more of ourselves and role model the change we want to see. It can be as simple as sharing one, intentional daily practice that allows you to work on your leadership edge, while also leveraging what sets you apart and makes you the incredible leader you are.
If you’d like to dive deeper into this topic, here are some extra resources for you to check out!
The next Women in Tech Coaching Circle, “Creating/Leveraging Your Bench Strength” is sure to be another fantastic discussion! Check out the link and reserve your spot today! Are there any leadership topics you’d like covered in our blog or at our Women in Tech Coaching Circles? Send us a message and let us know!