I gained a deeper understanding of Leadership while working on an assignment at a financial services company that serves the military and members of the military community. Like many people I thought Leadership means that the person in the corner office does the right thing for the benefit of the organization’s mission and for all, while giving clear direction. I thought Leadership meant that Leader had personal integrity and could be trusted. I learned the military professes we are all Leaders. We demonstrate our Leadership every day in our actions, our decisions, and our interactions. In today’s competitive, ambiguous, fluid and transparent world personal Leadership skills are increasingly important.
As a consultant, there are times, when I’m asked to weigh in, in confidence, on the behaviors of those I work with. I take the responsibility seriously and give my answers thoughtfully and carefully. I know that my answers have the power to help the person we are discussing succeed or can sometimes even influence their exit. I personally believe that every person comes to work every day to give the greatest contribution that they can. If, for some reason, they are not doing the right things, they have not been given the proper direction or support. They may be working with broken processes. When I’m giving tough love to clients I’ll tell them “you get what you build”. If your employees are cynical and not contributing to their best ability –” you built that.” If your employees are motivated, engaged, and contribute beyond your expectations, “you built that too.” If you want different behaviors, you must conduct some critical self-assessment and ask yourself what you and your organization can do differently.
A manager brought me in his office to ask about one of the employees I was assigned to work with. The employee did not acknowledge my emails, if he showed up for meetings he showed up late. He was often un-prepared and un-informed although this employee was pleasant, knowledgeable and well-liked.
Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:
“Alicia, what do you think of John? Is he pulling his weight on this project?” (I hear the subtext here, the manager is not asking an exploring question, he’s leading me to validate his opinion the employee is not pulling his weight)
My response, “John is very bright, he has a lot to contribute, I do, however, think he can work on his leadership skills.”
The manager leans forward, not expecting this answer. “John’s not the leader on the project.”
I reply, “True, however he’s an important team member. Emails are often not consistently answered in a timely manner, if at all. He does not regularly attend meetings. If he’s absent from meetings, he does not send a delegate or ask for meeting notes. His input is critical. We won’t be successful without him. By raising the bar on this behavior, we will run a more efficient project and manage resources more effectively.”
The manager leans back in his chair with a new awareness and is now armed with information to better help his team member achieve greater success, through improved leadership skills.
We are all leaders. We demonstrate it every day in all we do.