Lessons in Leadership

Do you aspire to a leadership role within your organization, but the climb up the ladder seems insurmountable?  Start with small steps!  Leadership doesn’t happen all of a sudden at the top rung.  Developing leadership style, skills and tactics begins on the ground floor.  Let’s explore how to lay a game plan that builds to successful leadership.

A high profile title is not a prerequisite for being a leader.  You can be a leader whether you are in an entry level job or somewhere in middle management.  The best place to begin is to master your job responsibilities and execute them with excellence and authority.  Executing with authority should show mastery of your skills, and does not refer to upper-handed or arrogant authority.  Consistently executing your job deliverables with excellence (and without drama or martyrdom) will demonstrate your ability to drive projects and business forward, which is a true hallmark of a leader.  In tandem, scrutinize your work process and how it flows into your organization and aim to identify ways to implement change improvements.  A combined, continued effort in delivering with excellence and aiming to refine processes will self-promote you as a leader within your group, no matter its size.

Look for opportunities to lead outside of work.  This minimizes risk as you are developing your leadership muscle.  Search for volunteer or mentoring opportunities that relate to your career path.  Investing time and talent in this way will both hone your professional skills, and build your experience base with credible examples that will translate into your work life.  For example, serving on a marketing committee for a non-profit organization, and helping to build their mission statement and guide the development of marketing execution tactics would be an impressive story to share during an interview for a promotion level position.  Likewise, mentoring a young college student or recent grad in your area of expertise would position you as a developer of others.

Reframe leadership.  Are you currently in a leadership role with subordinates (employees?) who are intimidated by or reluctant to receive authority?   If so, shift try shifting focus from telling and directing to being a solution finder.  Problems and challenges, which need fixing and resolution surface constantly in an organization – that’s why it’s called work!  Instead of calling out the problems as belonging to someone, or as an evil that needs to be dispelled, start with a discussion about the solution instead.  Or, again, if you’re not in a leadership role, you can still be a leader in this area.  The blame game rarely has a winner. In your current work drive, or that of your teams, look at the overall project and find areas or people that need assistance and offer solutions instead of pointing the finger.  Everyone wins with this approach, and it will shine a leadership spotlight on you in the process.

Determine what your leadership stance will be on important issues.  That way you can be ready to troubleshoot potential problems as they arise.  Some key business areas where it’s important to have a developed leadership stance include: finance and budget; human resources; infrastructure and hardware; organization changes; communication protocols; and project development and timelines.  Depending on your line of work, your company may have additional important areas which merit a leadership stance.

The first approach to developing a leadership stance in these areas is to understand and align to your company or organization vision and mission, which will often provide a sound framework to build upon.  In the absence of a specific vision or mission, your company may have stated principles, guidelines or a history that can shape your stance.

Once you’ve studied and fully understand your organization’s outlook and drive in the aforementioned areas, use them to develop your leadership stance in the important business areas surrounding your work.  To demonstrate, if your company values diversity and inclusion as a principle, it is a necessary part of any hiring process.  For example, a human resource leadership stance would favor interviewing all possible candidates regardless of ethnicity or sexual orientation, and would exclude favoritism such as nepotism or the ‘good ole boy’ system.

Lead with both a commanding and collaborative style.  This requires a fine balance between speaking with authority and confidence, yet at the same time being inclusive and making a concerted effort to engage all people in your work process or project.

Leading with a commanding presence and style includes speaking with confidence, and without apologizing, or asking for permission to speak.  Speaking with confidence also means waiting for the right moment, and to speak with an authority that doesn’t intimidate.  Aim for a communication style that inspires and provides a cohesiveness that encourages active participation and a feeling of ‘we are all in this together’.

Inspiring communication invites collaboration.  Likewise being inclusive by asking others their opinion or to help brainstorm a solution builds collaboration within a group.  Further, you can encourage people to collaborate by sharing a past example of success and asking for input from the responsible individual.  For example, if building out a project timeline, highlighting Jane’s successful management and delivery of a global marketing program, and then asking her to share her strategies with the group both encourages Jane and prompts collaboration with the group.

Without a doubt, leadership has its challenges and rewards.  If you would like more guidance in these or other areas of leadership in your organization, please give me a call today to start an exploratory conversation of how we can work together to your success.

©Copyright 2015.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

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