Back in 1982 while still in college two friends and I formed a company called Tricom Computer Corporation to focus on writing software. We took on writing software for the video rental business of the day. We also offered training, seminars, and workshops. I recall our first “big” workshop where we invited vendors to sponsor us in “educating” home computer users and buyers. I don’t remember the specific topic, but I was on the agenda to speak for 45 minutes or so to the crowd of maybe 75 people. I had never presented publicly before – I was terrified, my voice cracked, I broke out in a sweat, my heart was racing, I almost “died”. I managed to survive… barely. That simple beginning, although frightening, seemed to get me charged up about leadership possibilities. Over time, I over came my fear of public speaking where I now really quite enjoy it.
I have learned so much about what not to do as a leader, often through the school of hard knocks and with casualties along the way. Wanting to improve as a leader drove (drives) me to learn continuously. In fact, I believe you must be a fearless learner to grow as a leader! There is a real tension for leaders that has to be reckoned with. It is the drive to be known as a leader, to shine, to be noticed, to accomplish, to achieve. This profile is juxtaposed with growing and building up your people, those that you lead. The problem is, the more you focus on the former, the more problems you will have with the latter. I used to speak way too much in team meetings or meetings with my team and external people – I was the spokesperson, the one that knew it all, the expert, or so I thought. I thought my team was there to support me. Wow, was I ever wrong! I’ve learned that the reverse is a better way – leaders are there to support their team members, to help them shine, to quietly provide, as Andy Hargreaves would say, pressure and support. It isn’t necessary for leaders to always be out front “telling”, in fact the stronger your team members are and the more they are able to take on leadership roles, the stronger you are seen to be as a leader. It’s all about growing your people. From Leader Change Group (Mar 9, 2013):
Which type of manager do you want to be? One who believes you have all the answers or one who asks questions? Effective [leaders] are good askers!
A strong leader recognizes that they do not have all the answers. They need their people to know. You hire people for their expertise, knowledge, and in general their help with your mission. For them, “asking is enabling, telling is limiting, and ignoring is irritating”, Leader Change Group (Mar 9, 2013). The strength of your leadership is tightly linked to the strengths of your team members. “Everyone serious about success is serious about teams. Great teams lift organizations. Lousy teams drain everyone”, Leadership Freak (Mar 9, 2013). This article goes on to say “bad attitudes ruin teams”. I have certainly experienced this with past teams I’ve led. The challenge though is when you, the leader, are co-responsible for the development of the bad attitude, which has been the case for me in the past, how do you avoid this? Mistakes leaders make are sometimes irreversible. For example, what if you don’t always do what you say, what if you slip up, repeatedly? Trust is the casualty. What if with your best intentions you “manipulate” the system to “get the right people in the right seats” as advised by Jim Collins in Good to Great? But by manipulating the system, you cause trust breakdown, are seen to play favorites, etc. You have to self-regulate your ambition and intentions and be sure to be true to your word, to treat everyone fairly, to respect processes while you grow your team. Trying to cheat a system will end up causing harm to your people and to your ability to fully achieve your goals as a leader.
So, if growing your team is key, and it is, you must invest in their development. Mark Miller, author of The Secret of Teams: What Great Teams Know and Do says “success requires constant training. ‘Become a training machine’”, Leadership Freak (Mar 9, 2013). In addition to training, leaders need to help those they lead become like a family otherwise “[their] team will never perform at the highest possible level if the members of the team don’t exhibit genuine care and concern for one another. The best leaders create an environment where this is the norm”, The Secret of Teams (Kindle 379). I believe that a key to achieving care and concern amongst staff, is for leaders to be genuine in their caring about those they lead. Leaders should demonstrate this by listening more than talking, being open to people challenging their ideas and goals, being interested in their employees as people. The strength of a leaders vision, mission, and accomplishments lie directly with their team members pulling together in the same direction. I am feeling rather blessed with the team I’ve inherited in my new role – they genuinely appear to care for each other. One of our members is leaving us for a new job – over half of our team members went for lunch last week to celebrate with him. This is encouraging.
Most leaders have an external aspect to their leadership role, as do I. I have responsibility as CIO for a vision, mission, and strategy at an organizational level as it relates to choosing, implementing, and leveraging technology. I spend a lot of my time engaging with people inside and outside our organization. This time is well spent listening to and learning about our “client’s” needs and goals, providing advice, as well as articulating and selling our vision, mission, and strategy. I believe in a transparent and open approach and thus share ideas, goals, what I read, and presentations publicly through Twitter, my blog (Shift to the Future), LinkedIn, Prezi, Kindle, Library Thing, and Slideshare. It is important to me that the people I am trying to influence and support know what I’m about, how I think, and where we are headed. This is now possible through modern technologies without me always having to speak with them in person. Being a very social person, I do love the in-person conversations and presentations but there are only so many hours in the day and I can’t be everywhere at once. But, with social media, I can be and people can stay in touch with me any time they choose. I believe that if you’re a leader today or contemplating a leadership role, you must engage in social media to spread your message. People you strive to lead need to “know” you or they won’t necessarily be interested in following.
I’ll leave you with some summary advice. Be a fearless learner, always. Learn by reading. Read books, blogs (eg, Leadership Freak, Michael Hyatt), and Twitter feeds. Connect with other leaders and share your struggles, your wins, and learn from theirs. I don’t have a leadership coach per se, but I find that my network, both through in-person conversations and social media substantially, fulfills this for me. Don’t isolate your self, leverage your network. And finally, grow your people through teaching, listening, training, caring, nudging, and supporting. When you do this, you will enjoy seeing and hearing them speak of the vision, mission, and strategy to each other and others and seeing this executed well. I would love to hear from you, your lessons learned while navigating the narrow and difficult path of leadership.