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Challenge and Change: 2 Takeaways from GLS 2019

Group Photo

Austin in August is hot, y’all. So why was it the best time to visit this year? Because it meant that part of our remote team got to be together—some of us for the first time! 

When Amber asked me to attend the Global Leadership Summit (#GLS19) I was excited because I saw it as an investment in me as well as our team. Our marketing manager, Emily Fisk, flew in from Boise. Our hiring manager, Michele Johnson, couldn’t make it to Austin but was able to participate via telecast as well. We attended with friends and family, celebrating our established and new connections and the diversity we found around us.

If you’re not familiar with the Global Leadership Summit, it’s easy to find. Backed by the Global Leadership Network and fueled by the motto “Everyone has influence,” the annual summit features a wealth of speakers, all at the keynote level. This year it was held in Chicago but simulcast around the globe. I have pages and pages of notes, and key takeaways from everyone who spoke. It was inspiring, challenging, moving…and did I mention hot?? After three days of 100 degrees and long hours of being around people, I had to retreat a cool, quiet place on Sunday and reflect. Here’s what I gleaned from my pages of notes.

Related: 3 Lessons for Remote Teams: It All Starts With Trust

Challenge Your Concept of Leadership 

I’ve never thought of myself as a leader. Sometimes I blunder ahead without a clear plan, usually because my heart gets in front of my head. Even though I’ve had “manager” titles it’s always been about projects and accounts rather than people and leadership. I wasn’t sure how much of this conference was really going to apply to me. But one line in particular resonated with me—”Be your own leader.”  

Being single with no kids sometimes means a lack of structure. A lesson that has taken me perhaps too long to learn is the benefit of intentionally creating a life that supports your best self—which I think for most people includes some sort of structure and discipline. After the leadership summit, I made a decision to focus on one area of my life to regain control—my eating habits. I decided to do a meal plan called Whole30, which is simply eating nothing but unprocessed, whole foods for 30 days. (Simply?!) No sugar, no grains, no dairy, no legumes—and no alcohol—for 30 days. You have no idea how good bolillos and French bread smell until you’re walking through the HEB bakery on day 22! 

My goal with Whole30 was to challenge myself, create an area of focus, and examine my relationship with food. It forced me to create structure and discipline—I have to plan ahead with menus and twice-weekly shopping trips to buy fresh vegetables. All of my meals are cooked at home, and my schedule is planned around when I’m eating—if I’m out for a social engagement, I will sometimes take a cooler with food if I can’t make it home in time to cook. After five days I noticed I was sleeping better, and after about two weeks I had better clarity during the day.

Making lifestyle changes that support our physical and mental health is an example of how we can be our own leaders. I’ve also viewed it as an investment in myself, and I’m feeling accomplished when I see the rewards. Being my own leader is turning out to be a tasty adventure, with dividends of confidence and accomplishment that I didn’t expect. 

Change Your Leadership Style

Recently I visited a home here in San Antonio that was probably decorated in the late 80s or early 90s and hasn’t been updated since. It sported heavily patterned wallpaper and borders, thick curtains held back by flowered fabric bands, and valances that only a Stepford wife could love! If anyone out there is looking for a movie location, this house would be perfect for a shoot.

Having just attended GLS19 the week before, it got me thinking about change from a leadership perspective. How often do we look at our leadership style and think about a refresh or a remodel? A complete renovation? Is your style of leadership still working for you and your organization?

I’m looking at my leadership “house” with new eyes—is it time to take down that wall paper? Get rid of that old dad rule of “Do as I say and not what I do”? At the summit, every speaker had something to offer—books, podcasts, digital downloads, etc. We have access to so much information, but the difference now is that much of it is based on science and research. We know more about what actually works, and what doesn’t. We know positive reinforcement and encouragement produces better and longer lasting results while maintaining a working relationship. I’m going to take advantage of what other leaders have already proven to update my approach—a leadership renovation! 

Last year I began following Simon Sinek, who was one of the speakers at the Global Leadership Summit in 2018. Through his posts I heard the term “Servant Leadership.” I was intrigued, and excited! What is this? This is certainly a new concept!

Well…actually…not so much. A quick Google search turns up resources going back to 1995. I’m excited that the idea is gaining momentum, and that there are so many books, essays, and seminars available as resources. It feels like a shift in the way we view our roles—in an almost counter-intuitive way. Instead of saying “How can I lead?” people are beginning to say “How can I serve those that I lead?”

The actual definition of servant leadership points out a difference between this philosophy compared to focusing on business growth. Based on my personal experience, I’ve seen businesses thrive either way—but who wants to choose a stressful, bottom-line culture over one of teamwork and true leadership? 

The world is changing, our values are changing, and now it’s time for me to change. From a new way of eating to redecorating, I’m ready to challenge my ideas of leadership to become a better leader—for myself and those around me.

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Amber Gray

Amber Gray is the founder and CEO of Trusty Oak, an Austin-based virtual assistant company providing administrative and marketing support to small business leaders, authors, and creative teams. A people-first approach to hiring, along with a scalable growth model have positioned Trusty Oak as a flexible, dependable, and affordable alternative to hiring administrative and marketing employees. In 2021 and 2022, Trusty Oak was named Freelancer Hiring Platform of the Year, and in 2021 Amber was recognized as Austin Business Woman of the Year.

Before founding Trusty Oak, Amber spent five years at a rapidly growing digital agency based in Austin, TX. Four of those years, she was responsible for hiring and leading both local and virtual teams while working closely with clients ranging from CEOs to bestselling authors to build their brand online. As VP of Operations, Amber helped lead the company’s growth to #15 on Austin Business Journal’s Fast50 List in 2014.

As a female founder and leader of a company that has quickly established a recognizably special culture within a non-traditional workforce, Amber has energized and empowered women from diverse professional and personal backgrounds to go against the grain of historically standard female roles in business, technology, and leadership. Trusty Oak provides an opportunity for experienced admin and marketing professionals to work independently as freelancers, but with a supportive internal network consisting of other ambitious and resourceful remote workers.