Alison Poulson, Executive Director for Better Health Together, recognized that Hadley Morrow, new to her role as Director of Engagement, would benefit from coaching support to accelerate her success. Alison turned to me because we’d worked together in the past. And, she had already benefitted from my leadership coaching. She asked me to help Hadley grow in her management abilities and cultivate her own authentic leadership style.
A Young Manager with Promise
Hadley grew up in Spokane dreaming of making a difference in the world. While earning a degree in International Studies at the University of Denver, she spent a semester in Rwanda doing research. After graduating, she moved to Seattle and worked for a variety of nonprofits before returning to Spokane for a job at Better Health Together.
Hadley was quickly promoted into a management role. She became responsible for new programs funded by a $70 million grant. She had proven herself as a talented public speaker and someone who easily brought people together. Yet, she discovered that her youth was sometimes an issue with coworkers (formerly her direct reports) as well as important business, social, and political leaders in the community.
Hadley found herself grappling with an issue many Millennials face. Her age affected people’s perception of her leadership and management ability, regardless of how qualified she was to lead the people and new initiatives.
Her coworkers were at the same time supportive and not so supportive of her success. “They challenged me in ways I didn’t expect,” Hadley reflected. “Sometimes they just ignored my direction.”
“I also run a lot of public meetings and there were times when community members or healthcare leaders were 20 or 30 years older than me,” she added. “I felt like I wasn’t being respected and I didn’t know how to command leadership in my new role.”
That’s when Alison decided leadership coaching would be a good long-term investment in Hadley as a new manager with incredible promise. That’s also when Hadley’s personal history became an integral part of her leadership story.
Owning the Past to Inform the Present
When Hadley started working with me, she talked about the specific challenges in her first management role. She also shared little-known details about her life story. “I was kicked out of my house when I was 16,” Hadley said.
“My mom suffered from severe mental illness and alcoholism. I could have graduated high school couch surfing, trying to figure out things on my own. I was so fortunate to have the help of a teacher and my community to create a safe place for me to stay throughout and graduate from high school.”
“This experience absolutely made me who I am and
why I’m motivated to do the work I do today.”
Ever since, I’ve been humbled to see how life hides some of our greatest opportunities in the darkest places. When I think of the darkness, I am reminded of what cruel drivers of fate shame and loneliness can be. Had I continued to carry my burden alone I fear the direction my story could have taken. Instead, I get to hold this moment with gratitude, because it is also the story of how incredible kindness from others helped me forge a better future for myself. – Excerpt, Morrow Personal Leadership Statement
In the past, Hadley had viewed this part of her life as an embarrassing secret to keep to herself. Throughout the coaching process, Hadley realized that her personal story could help brand her leadership identity and build her confidence. We worked together to weave this difficult time of her life into a succinct and compelling Personal Leadership Statement.
A Personal Leadership Statement is an internal reminder and external statement of who you are. It’s the story of why and how you got to be where you are both in your life and your career.
When you share your story appropriately, this statement becomes a powerful part of your leadership brand. It helps set the stage about who you are when working with new people, so they can respect everything you bring to the table.
Hadley’s story had all the makings of a powerful personal leadership statement.
As Hadley crafted her Personal Leadership Statement, she realized how her early experiences inform her current passions, values, and leadership style.
“My experience defined my passion for healthcare, and my passion for working in Spokane, the community I was born and raised in,” said Hadley. “Now that I’m giving back to it, I can’t ignore how my story drives my dedication to the nonprofit and service world.
Learning Leadership from Horses
Hadley also learned more about her fears and strengths during a power coaching session with horses, which was part of her coaching package. Horses are incredibly intuitive creatures. They can teach humans how energy and body language affect confidence and the ability to lead in a way humans can’t.
“We focused on body language and the physical establishment of leadership and confidence”, Hadley commented. “I would walk with the horse and say my Leadership Purpose Statement and leadership values out loud. It was amazing to see the reaction of the horse as I talked. Whenever I struggled with something, or if I had to think before I gave an answer, the horse would pull away and lose a bit of our connection.”
Hadley learned it’s not just your words, but the way you carry yourself when saying them, the way you physically own your presence as a leader. Of the horses, Hadley said, “I don’t think there was any other way I could have gotten that kind of immediate feedback.”
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
We also looked at why Hadley sometimes experienced a crisis of confidence in her new leadership role. “I suffered from imposter syndrome. I felt like I didn’t belong in the leadership world,” Hadley said.
As she talked through her fears and insecurities with me, she realized she’d earned her place in the organization. She deserved to be in that leadership role.
We also discussed different workplace situations Hadly faced. Over time, she gained skills in and grew more comfortable with ways to handle conflict. By aligning solutions to her leadership story and inherent skillset, Hadley implemented those solutions with greater confidence.
“After working with Amanda, I feel more confident, either pushing back when I didn’t agree with something or sharing my opinion. In the past I would have assumed it wasn’t wanted or wasn’t of value,” Hadley said.
Recognizing Strengths and Weaknesses
Hadley also identified some of her blind spots. She realized she’s a big picture thinker who’s not good with details, and how that can affect critical decisions.
“Previously, a lot of the folks I worked with and supervised were also big picture thinkers,” Hadley said. “That made a lot of sense when we were brainstorming big ideas and going out and talking to the community. But now we have work to do that requires coordination and focus. I realize surrounding myself with other big picture thinkers means we don’t get anything done.”
Hadley now knows she needs people with a different skillset to complement her own to be successful. “I’ve learned so much about my style of supervising, and my strengths and weaknesses” she said. “Now I can build a comprehensive team that relies on my strengths while shoring up my weaknesses.”
Integrating Personal and Work Stories
As we continued to work together, Hadley’s management style matured, and she continued to gain confidence in the value she brings to her role. Perhaps most important, however, is the work Hadley did on her Personal Leadership Statement. Hadley’s past experiences do inform her present capabilities.
As a leader, I hope to inspire others to be fearless in the face of uncertainty. I let the following values drive my work, to honor the lessons I learned from those, like my teacher, who helped me grow beyond where I thought there was room for me:
Connection – Placing a high value in building authentic relationships with awareness, vulnerability, and honesty.
Heart – Leading with compassion and drive, being deeply committed, and holding loving space.
Openness or Flow – Accepting life’s impermanence, a willingness to be deeply moved, high comfort level with the unknown. – Excerpt, Morrow Personal Leadership Statement
“I now have the confidence to share a little bit of my story when it’s appropriate, and when there’s a moment where I can see how it would add depth to whatever relationship I’m building or message I’m trying to get folks to pay attention to,” Hadley said.
“That’s been a big turning point for me, feeling more confident as a leader and more integrated in my personal and work life.”