Staying with the theme of “Garden bridge,” it may be interesting to review a few basic steps in building an actual bridge. This is a rather simplified version of the actual process but I think you’ll get the idea. If you try this at home I’d suggest employing the services of a real engineer! Let’s see how long we can stay with this metaphor!
In the original post of the The Leadership Path We’re On: The Arganzuela Footbridge Model, I suggested that the Arganzuela Footbridge in Madrid, captured the essence of a leadership path being a transitional move from one location to another, typically over some sort of a gap. In our case, we’re exploring the transition from the operational to the strategic. I’m not sure what “gap” you might experience, but we all have something we’re traversing, whether it’s personal or institutional or otherwise!
The bridge metaphor is about forward movement from one place to another. The Arganzuela Footbridge not only suggests a leadership “path” but also various dimensions (like the spirals wrapped around the structure) around us as we progress. Not only are we at different points on this walk, we also have very different local ‘topographies’ to navigate. Each of us encounters and deals with our own spirals or aspects on our walk.
Let’s take a look at the steps described in the process of building a small footbridge. How do these steps related to our own leadership “bridge building” experience?
Determine a location for your bridge. The foundation of the bridge must be on solid, dry ground. Measure your space and buy materials.
For some of us this may be easier said than done. There may not be a defined “location” for the ending point of your bridge. If you think back to our IELOL Primer session, Ray asked questions about your desired outcome and encouraged you to think about where you might want to go on this path. Ray was trying to get you to think through the anchor point of your bridge on the leadership side.
For some, their postings defined a rather specific leadership positions that may be in the offing. Others were looking to develop their own leadership abilities within a current position. Having an idea of where and how you intend to develop your leadership skills is critical to beginning the construction of your bridge.
Place one pair of concrete pier blocks at each end of the bridge location. Dig down or build up in order to ensure that the blocks are level with each other.
Once you have determined the direction and potential outcome of your leadership walk, whether an institutional impact or more personal development, establishing a base of solid skills and principles is critical to the process. Although we are all on a journey, these anchor points help to secure us along the way. Wayne and Cynthia both spoke of the personal dimensions of leadership that define who we are and what we believe. These dimensions may become refined over time and certainly will be tested but they serve a vital role of stabilizing your leadership path.
What are your “concrete blocks?” What principles anchor you in the way you do your work and more importantly how you interact and deal with relationships? The word “level” in the description of this step is also interesting. Are your concrete blocks “level” or balanced?
Connect beams to the pier blocks. Place the pier blocks one length of beam a part. Attach the beams using metal straps.
Now comes the fun part. By engaging in efforts that help you expand your experiences you are in essence connecting the two anchor points. These “beams” are different for all of us. The IELOL program is designed as a beam that will help you traverse the gaps. Mentoring programs are other devices that help you migrate form operational to strategic. Certainly taking on an active role in a leadership initiative or contributing to someone else’s project can aid in constructing that Garden bridge beam.
As we lay down these beams (experiences), keep in mind that they may not all contribute at the same level to bridging the gap. I can look back on my career and identify specific “opportunities” that I engaged in (OK, sometimes I was drafted), that helped me along this path. At the time I may not have recognized it but I was adding to the layers of my “beams” that, years later, have benefited me hugely. I decided to post a brief video with a story of one of my “beaming project!”
Construct railing posts for each side of the bridge, if desired. Carefully measure the height of the posts to make sure they’re even. Set the posts in incremental spacing to ensure that the railing is supportive and strong.
I see the post in our metaphor as lateral or maybe opportunities to practice our leadership skill development. Perhaps these are work related and maybe they are community, organizational or even family-based experiences that help us strengthen our beams. These experiences are unique to our life story but each experience serves to reinforce the stability and strength of those connecting beams.
Lay planks across the beams to form the treads of the bridge. Cut the planks to a length that allows them to lay fully over each beam but not too far over the sides of the bridge.
In my mind, the planks are the specific skills we develop through each leadership experience. Whether it is developing a more empathetic approach to staff, or determining when to negotiate or when to dig in your heals, we lay these planks down on our bridge and they form the treads for our walk. I have to say that I don’t believe all treads are equally strong. I know that I carry with me treads (behaviors) that are not as healthy or productive as they should be. With some help and self-reflection these can be addressed and improved over time.
Although the bridge metaphor sounds as though it does suggest a “destination,” I think if you talk to any real leader you will hear a reflection on continual growth and learning. I believe this is a trait of good leaders. They are constantly seeking to improve those behaviors to improve their leadership ability.
Attach hand railing to the railing posts. Measure the proper height and mark each railing post with chalk as a visual guideline, then firmly attach each hand railing section.
What are the “hand rails” on your leadership walk? Do you have trusted colleagues, friends, or family member that you can turn to for support and encouragement when needed? Do you have a supportive work environment that allows you the ability to learn from mistakes and grow? Have you established a network of peers OUTSIDE your organization (Gary taught me the importance of this step) to bounce ideas off of and get genuine feedback?
Make sure that as you seek and establish your railings that they are truly interested in supporting and encouraging your leadership path. It is about establishing trust and confidence in another’s perspective AND being willing to reflect that back to others when needed! I am fortunate to be surrounded by a great team for the IELOL program. For me, Bruce and Gary have been the railings I turn to for another (often different) perspective. It is their willingness to engage, challenge and push me that has helped this program become better over the years.
Stain or paint and seal the bridge. Use a sealer specifically for use outdoors to prevent dampness from ruining the wood and destroying your bridge.
This part of the “building a bridge” metaphor is an easy one for me. Without constant care and attention, the leadership bridge can weaken and fall into disrepair. The “sealers” we can use to ensure the bridge stays strong are the full arrangement of resources we have to continually improve. Great books and readings (ask Wayne or Marie for their reading list!) on leadership issues can force us to rethink and challenge our basic assumptions. Participating in professional development programs add new layers of leadership knowledge and broaden our worldview.
Whatever technique, resource or method you use, ENGAGING in opportunities to enhance and protect the strength of your bridge is critical to the journey. We have shared many and I am sure there are many more. As with so many aspects of your personal leadership walk it is what you make of it. In our rapidly evolving world of online learning, there are no shortages of opportunities to build a path for a graden bridge that moves you further along on your leadership path.