Ashley Zurcher
Ashley Zurcher
Associate Director, Content Marketing, Wiley

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Capable and Reliable

You know those people that roll up their sleeves, dig in, and get to work? That’s me. A former manager often referred to me as “Martha” in that I wasn’t “Mary,” the one who spent time at Jesus’ feet. In the Biblical story, Martha was so concerned about her to-do list that she missed out on spending time learning from her guest. I would have been the person behind the scenes making sure that the moment, day, life was going smoothly while everyone else was enjoying the actual moment. Capability and reliability, those are my currency, and I can’t help but notice that “ability” is in both words, too.

 

Early Success Via To-Do Lists

Early in my career, I found that being capable and reliable translated to success and additional responsibilities. Every new opportunity came with a different to-do list full of items that could be efficiently and effectively tackled and completed (by crossing it off with a brightly colored Sharpie for added excitement and creativity).

 

New Team, New Opportunities

Fast forward a few years, and an opportunity to create and lead a new team emerged. No team members, no technology, no workflows. What I did have was a supportive manager, colleagues waiting for us to work with them, and instructions to “go make something great.” Not one to shy away from a challenge, I jumped in full force. I tackled the life size to-do list, checking off items one by one, added some fantastic team members along the way, and in what felt like an instant, I became the leader of a team, people, and projects.

 

Is There A Check-Box for Leadership?

Like any team leader, my to-do list didn’t go away. Rather, it grew, multiplied, and took on a life of its own, and for someone who historically was rooted in “ability” words, leadership was at odds with my own personal daily agenda to get everything accomplished on my list. Getting things done was more comfortable and familiar than focusing on the fluid needs of team members. Leadership wasn’t something that could be checked off, even with the best Sharpies.

 

Soon, I found myself fearing I was losing my edge and that I wasn’t cut out to effectively lead a team. I remember having an end of the day conversation with my new manager after an average day full of meetings where my to-do list had grown all while having to continuously turn my attention to team members’ individual and collective needs. I voiced my internal conflict of accomplishing versus serving and asked for help prioritizing. Instead of a more prioritized to-do list, I received one of the best bits of advice in my career.

 

The Perils of the To-Do List

“Ashley, your team’s to-do list is your to-do list. The lists aren’t separate. At the end of the day, if you get your list done but your team is waiting for answers, direction, clarity, advocacy from you – for you to lead them – you’ve failed.”

 

Good stuff, right?

 

Lessons Learned

I’d love to say that those magic words changed everything in a moment. Instead, little by little, my focus and priorities shifted, and I went from being the capable one to leading capable ones and quickly learned that our team’s collective abilities outnumber mine every time.  I learned the power of enabling others to act while trusting that they are equally as invested in the work we do together. My priorities and lists started to reflect what needed to be focused on to move our team ahead rather than a series of items to be checked off. The benchmark of success shifted from what I had accomplished to what we accomplished together. Ultimately, I learned that my first responsibility and priority is leading and serving and that together we are a force far greater than my own individual efforts.

 

Leadership will always be a work in progress, and I remain early in that process with years of learning and growing in store. To say that I don’t have it all figured out is an understatement. Still, there are days when I stop and watch team members lead and serve and am reminded how grateful I am to have been given those words of advice. As a learning leader, it is those that walk alongside me every day that teach and inspire me, far more often than the reverse. They hold me accountable, are gracious with me in the learning, celebrate the wins, fill my Sharpie collection, and ultimately make me a better team member.

 

What About You?

As Wiley Exchanges celebrates Early Careers week, we’d love to hear from you about the journey you took from the first days on the job until now. Share your thoughts in the comments below, and best of luck as you begin your own career.

 

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