2016: The Year Of Crazy Making

some of my crazy making

I know, 2016 ain’t over yet, but am I alone in feeling like 2016 has been a really tough year? The election didn’t help. It turned the entire year into something of a death march. But it’s more than that, at least for me. 2016 has been one of the most challenging years of my life. Certainly on a professional level. I have been tested in many ways.

I kicked off 2016 by pushing my company SmallBox off a cliff. We’d been a web marketing company for years but it was time for a change. It wasn’t where my heart was and much of the team felt the same way. We wanted to create transformative experiences, not just drive more leads.

The roots to this change go back several years but we had reached a crossroads. We couldn’t serve two masters anymore. Would we be organizational consultants helping business evolve or would we be marketers? We went with consulting. It was where the energy was even if the money wasn’t quite there, yet.

It’s been a rough ride. I often compare it to changing the tires while you drive the car. We had to transition numerous clients, invest heavily in our team all while meeting payroll and defining new services. I have to say I’m proud that we have kept our heads above water financially and not taken on any new debt, but it’s been tough. I could have prepared us better in many, many ways. But there is no going back.

As a leader I’ve made numerous unforced errors. As we moved into new services we have also examined, continuously, how we work. I have struggled with how to lead SmallBox as it transformed. How hands off versus hands on. I began to identify and wrestle with core tensions within the business and my role as the leader. I often wander off into metaphysical contemplation of what it means to be a leader.

At SmallBox we are committed to a “people-centered” workplace. How this plays out is often very messy. It can lead to a consensus culture which outputs in decision paralysis. I often leave things vague and open while still “pitching” my idea. This frustrates the team. Sometimes they see my approach as manipulative. And they are right. I have come to accept that I’ve been guilty of playing politics at times to push my agenda. Trying to lead through influence I ended up inviting unnecessary drama into the business. I’m lucky tohave a team that is willing to call me on my bullshit.

One thing I have done right this year is persist. I’ve stuck with it. Even when it has seriously sucked. There have been days I wanted to give up. One day I had to call in “sad” after receiving some particularly brutal (and completely on target) feedback from a senior team member. I spent the day riding my bike up and down the Monon trail. The next day I was back at it, a little tender but ready to learn and grow again.

I know, I know, you have to go through the crap to get to the good. And I have been in business long enough to know how this works. Change is always hard. The bigger the change the more it challenges you. But I also knew that if we wanted to help our clients change the way they worked we better be get comfortable with it ourselves. I’m not sure we are there just yet, but we are getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable and that’s a good start.

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