“What would you tell your younger self?”
It’s a popular question in leadership panels and interviews, and it always makes me smile. Every time, I give the same answer — an honest answer — and wait for the confused looks.
It’s true. I wouldn’t tell my younger self a single thing. Not a single helpful hint.
Not because my decisions are flawless — or because I’m a glutton for punishment. There is power in every twist, every turn, every single success and failure. They define who I am today. They’re as much a part of me as my DNA.
In third grade, my family moved to the United States, and I took my first steps alone — onto a big yellow school bus, with nothing but a Swedish-English dictionary. I can still remember the sweat on the palms of my hands, how my heart raced. Staring at the rows of new faces, I remember wanting to disappear.
Last month, I watched a similar scene unfold, dropping my daughter off at a soccer camp in Sweden. The clincher? She doesn’t speak a word of Swedish. There was so much I wanted to tell her — to guide her through, step-by-step. But in the end, I took her luggage out of the car, gave her that same worn copy of the Swedish-English dictionary, and wished her well.
She took a deep breath, gathered her courage, and walked across the parking lot to the group of girls, already in matching uniforms.
Moment by moment, we’re learning more about ourselves. About the people around us. About who we want to be and how to get there. The more experiences we endure, the more we understand — and it’s a slow, sometimes painful process. It comes down to grit, and this is the one and only way to get it.
In life, we may be tempted to guide the people we care about through the bumpy spots. To intervene when they’re faced with challenges or save them from their mistakes. But sometimes, the key to great leadership is doing just the opposite.
Support them as they create their own stories. Let them live and thrive in these uncomfortable moments — heart racing — just as you have. If you give them the chance, they will find a way to level up. And their path may just surprise you.
When your people come face to face with a challenge, here’s my advice:
- Ask, “Will it break them or the business?” (If the answer is no, continue.)
- Lean out and watch them lean in.
- Be there to listen. Let them know you’re only a call away.
- Help them process what they’ve learned.
- Challenge them to keep upping their game.
At the end of the month, when I picked my daughter up from camp, she said it was the best adventure of her life. She couldn’t stop talking about it.
Someday, when it’s her turn to lead, I hope she’ll have the strength to say Nothing.