Where do leaders come from?

Leadership image

(Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay)

“I’m a leader not a follower.  Unless it’s a dark place, then you are going first”.

(Unknown)

Got invited back down to Orlando in October for my recurring speaking role on the Intern Whisperer podcast.

Season 2, Episode 92 featured me discussing all things leadership to include earliest memories of venturing into leadership roles.

The quote above makes me laugh because I know people who perform in their leadership role in a similar manner.  No worries when things are going well but no support, help or empathy when things get tough.  These so-called leaders also seek the spotlight in good times and hide out during the bad.

Back to the podcast and why I’m discussing leadership in this blog post.  The students who produce the Intern Whisperer podcast are extremely sharp and asked great questions from start to finish.  One question that really stood out to me was, “What was your earliest memory of taking on a leadership role and how did it make you feel”?

Seems like a straightforward question but I had to think about it for a bit.  I have always been an athlete and grew up playing multiple sports; football, basketball, baseball and track (high jump).  Never considered being active in sports as leadership, just a way to pass the time and hang out with friends.  Yes, I know leadership and teamwork are integral in a team environment, but I was just having fun during this time frame.  My interviewers seemed to think my sports background would have been where my leadership foundation started.

My earliest memory of taking on an active leadership role and embracing everything involved was when I became a Master Instructor at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi (Biloxi).

I served at multiple Air Force installations as a Personnel Systems Manager (HR Data Analyst) and got an opportunity to train analysts Air Force wide based on my work performance and knowledge.  So, I went for writing computer code for one Air Force base to training every data analyst in my career field—worldwide.  Pretty heady stuff for someone from Jasper, Florida!

This role stands out as my earliest leadership memory because I had to expand my personal and professional goals and understand the importance of ensuring my students got a world class education.  Everything they needed to be successful in the career field came directly from me.  I couldn’t have a bad day in class because my lack of preparation, patience or knowledge would hinder their abilities to perform; in class and when they returned to their respective organizations around the world.

I went from being responsible for myself to leading a group of 25 students on a six-week educational journey.  We routinely graduated 10 classes every fiscal year—I spent 4 years as an Air Force instructor at Keesler Air Force Base before moving back into my career field at Kadena Air Base, Japan (Okinawa).

The Air Force Technical School environment is the incubator that taught me leaders must be able to adjust leadership style, inspirational tactics and provide tough love when needed.  The students needed different things to successfully complete our course.  My ability to lead was needed daily.

It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done but it laid the foundation for my current leadership and life philosophy:  Make a difference daily!

Leadership article

(Instructor of the Year Presentation)

What are your earliest leadership memories?  How do these memories impact you today? (Respond in the comments section—thanks!) 

Thanks for walking with me!

“Be a LEADER, not a boss”.

(Calvin Williams)

We all win with diverse work environments!

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“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without”.

(William Sloan Coffee, Jr.)

Merriam-Webster defines diversity as the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.  Clear as mud, right?

Organizations with diversity initiatives need to ensure they fully understand what diversity means.  Simply making a statement does not ensure diversity in the work environment will happen.  Diversity must be examined in order to identify how it can be fully implemented and embraced in the work environment.

Some organizations define diversity on very short-sighted components i.e., men, women, race.  These components are all intertwined when discussing diversity but there should be more components included in a truly diverse work environment.

Leveraging background dynamics, educational and life experiences as well as demographic components will help generate a new level of diversity for organizations who truly seek this in the work environment.  There are some organizations who say they want diversity but continue to hire clones of the staff currently working there.  This is the opposite of the Merriam-Webster’s diversity definition.

“We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges”.

(Tim Berners-Lee)

Diverse work environments value different perspectives. This includes skills, experiences, backgrounds and education.  This concept brings a variety of ways to get things done.  Bringing diversity into the work environment allows the organization to grow and avoid the groupthink mentally that stifles new thoughts.

New thoughts in the work environment leads to increased creativity when facing a problem, change or new procedure.  True diversity brings together people who will see the same problem from different perspectives and sharpens everyone because of this exposure.  The creative impact on the organization increases because staff hear, see, feel, think differently and exposes others to different ways to get things done.  This creativity process may also impact innovation within the organization.

Decision making and problem solving are other areas a diverse work environment can enhance.  Again, a diverse work force brings new thoughts, ideas and ways to get things done to the workplace.  Leadership receives diverse solutions to organizational problems and has multiple options to select from.  This leads to faster problem solving and allows the organization to tackle new challenges.

A caution, leadership must be willing to accept the diverse solutions and not revert to business as usual.  The worse thing that can happen is for leadership to say “we always do it this way OR that will not change as long as I’m here”—the quickest way to deflate staff and eliminate their voice in the work environment.

A diverse work environment can also help retain staff members.  A diverse and empowered work environment helps staff members feel accepted and valued.  This creates a happier work force and may lead to staff staying with the organization longer.

So, let’s examine the Merriam-Webster diversity definition again:

  • The condition of having or being composed of differing elements.

A few elements to consider for workplace diversity:

  • Race
  • Gender / Identity
  • Education / Educational Institutions
  • Geographic region
  • Age
  • Experience

A final thought on diversity is it impacts your clients as well.  A more diverse work force can enhance an organization’s ability to attract diverse clients.  Example:  an office with diverse staff will be able to attract diverse clients because they see someone similar.  Don’t overlook the importance of how diversity impacts your clients.

What does your organization do to ensure a diverse work environment?  How can diversity be improved?

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance”.

(Verna Myers)

Thanks for walking with me!

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Leverage individual communication styles to enhance team operations

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“In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly”.

(Mark Sanborn)

There are no two teams that are exactly alike.  Not the most prophetic thing I’ve ever written in this blog space but worth stating.

Teams have different dynamics and function based on these things and the people who make up the team.  The most successful teams can leverage the talents of each team member into the overall organizational dynamic to ensure successful outcomes.

We’ve discussed team communication strategies in previous posts with an angle to strengthen your team.  Individual communication styles and preferences should be reviewed and discussed when you add someone new to your team.  I’m sure everyone strives to hire the best candidate to fill an opening on their team.  How much thought do you put into understanding how to integrate the new team member’s communication style in with others?

I’m a firm believer that leaders should know direct reports’ communication style and preferred way they want to receive information.  This knowledge allows leaders to seek ways to ensure they communicate in a way to maximize operational needs.  This knowledge has helped me when assigning tasks to team members.

Example #1:  When faced with a project that has an extremely quick turnaround time, I normally assign this project to my ENFJ (MBTI) staff member.  This type project excites the staff member and I know they will get things done quickly with enough time for review before the deadline.

Example #2:  When faced with a project due four months from today, I normally assign this project to my ISTJ (MBTI) staff member.  This type project allows the staff member time to plan, strategize and ask all the questions they need to for a successful outcome.

The examples listed above are two actual scenarios I’ve tackled in the past.  Both had successful outcomes because I knew and understood how to engage staff to maximize their talents.  This in turn produced successful outcomes for the organization.

Knowledge of individual communication styles also provides a blueprint to help build training plans to help staff members grow.  Introverted staff are not exempt from ever getting a task with a quick turnaround.  The leader needs to provide a more detailed set of instructions and understand they may have to follow-up with the staff member.  This process begins to stretch the staff member and helps their professional growth.  This also provides the leader with another staff member who can handle future quick turnaround projects and not wear out the extroverts.  Also, extroverted staff are not exempt from being assigned long term projects—training applies to all staff members.

There are multiple ways to engage staff to understand their individual communication style.  MBTI and CliftonStrengths are two tools used in my work environments.  These tools allowed me to get a better understanding of everyone on my team and integrate this knowledge to help teammates understand each other as well.

What’s the most successful way for me to understand how to communicate with my team?  I sit down with them and ask everyone how they like to receive information.  Simple, huh?  Then I make sure to communicate with everyone in a manner they identify (as much as possible).  Things pop up but I try to remain consistent with the communication process.  Direct reports seem to appreciate this fact and respond in a positive manner.

A final note, leaders need to ensure their team knows how they like to communicate as well.  The team shouldn’t have to guess how to approach a leader.  This creates undo stress and is not productive.

How do you account for individual communication styles in the work environment?  Can this knowledge impact your current organization?  (Please respond in the comments section below—thanks!)

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something”.

(Plato)

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Quotable Leadership philosophy!

FAU Leadership quote August 2019

“A leader is a dealer of hope”.

(Napoleon Bonaparte)

Always wonder if my leadership and mentor quotes travel well.

Received the image above a couple weeks ago from a Career Center friend in South Florida.  The Career Center had Graduate Assistants (GAs) present to leadership how they would incorporate National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) competencies into daily interactions with students and alumni.

One of their GAs researched the NACE site and found an Authentic Leadership article done with me and leveraged my words to make her point on how a leader truly inspires an organization.  I was happy to see my words helping the next generation of college students and future leaders.

You can find the full NACE article here:  https://www.naceweb.org/career-development/organizational-structure/authentic-leadership-hinges-on-listening/

  • So, yes, proud to say people are listening and putting these words into action! 😊

I continue to promote Authentic Leadership as a platform to enhance organizational success. The four variables are easy to understand and apply in daily interactions within the work environment.  True leaders need to be visible and available to engage direct reports to ensure everyone has input in how the organization operates.  Top down leadership may be needed in isolated situations, but your people want to be engaged.  The only way to accomplish this is to engage them—simple concept.

Leverage Napoleon’s words above and become a dealer of hope.

What’s your favorite leadership quote?  How does the quote impact your daily interactions?  I welcome your thoughts, thanks!

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others”.

(Bill Gates)

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Set the Standard with your Core Truth

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“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive”.

(Audre Lorde)

I was introduced to Audre Lorde’s work through the 1999 movie, The Best Man.  The two characters in the scene were trying to decide how to proceed with their relationship when the quote above was introduced.  It provided a moment of clarity and highlighted commonality the characters unknowingly had with each other—they both used this quote in their daily lives.

The quote has been with me ever since because it resonates a strong sense of self that leads to empowerment.  I leverage the quote to highlight doing things differently than others is okay—everyone has a different path to walk daily.

My presentation and writing styles are uniquely me.  There are times people will ask how I generate presentation materials and then look at me like I’m an alien when I explain it.  Again, I stay true to me and my preferred methods because they work for me.  When I try to generate content in a manner that doesn’t fit me, I struggle, so decided not to go down that road anymore.

Had to explain this process when presented with a potential speaking role that would have taken me out of ‘character’ for who I am.  The opportunity was very appealing from a surface level but would have required me to present in a style that is not really me.  Could I have faked it?  Probably, but I wouldn’t have been happy with me and I’m sure this fact would have bled into the actual presentation of material.  Decided a long time ago to stay true to my core truth to avoid being eaten alive.

“Being the best for yourself is how you can be the best for others”.

(Jennifer Mergen)

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Discovering your core truth can be used in other areas of life.  I recommend once you discover your core truth then stick with it.  I described the BIG GULP phenomenon in an earlier post—this concept is incorporated within my core truth—I never do business or move forward with a project that makes me take a big gulp.  This concept has saved me on multiple occasions and kept me from doing something I would regret.

I’m not saying people cannot evolve over time.  Continued learning and growing are integral parts to personal and professional success.  The core truths you define for yourself provide an actual road map to how you view and deal with others.  Don’t let outside influences ‘eat you alive’.

Had an interesting conversation yesterday about defining a core truth leadership style.  Believe this provides a foundation that will allow a leader to adjust and help direct reports grow.  My leadership core truth is authentic leadership but I’m well-versed in other leadership styles if/when authentic leadership principles are not effective for the current situation.  I’ve never yelled or cursed to prove I’m a leader.  People who do are poor leaders—my opinion.

What things do you consider when defining your core truth?  What areas in your professional life can establishing a core truth enhance your work environment?  Interested in your thoughts—thanks!

“None but ourselves can free our minds”.

(Bob Marley)

 

The Voice of a Leader

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“True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed—Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection”.

(Sheryl Sandberg)

Had a great lunch meeting and chat with one of my Orlando tree branches at the end of May.  We were able to catch up before my scheduled guest speaking role on the Intern Pursuit podcast.  Always love catching up with my tree branches in-person and jumped at the chance to hear the great things she was doing in Orlando with her small business marketing firm.

We were able to share professional and life updates during this visit and got into the concept of leadership in the workplace.  Just general stuff but I’m a big believer in leadership development and the impact ‘good’ leadership can have on the work environment.

Most people have heard numerous leadership styles mentioned:  transactional, transformational, authoritative, authentic, etc.  I recommend new leaders have a good understanding of multiple leadership styles and then work to find their inner voice within the work environment.

What’s your inner voice?  This concept can be used to determine your true leadership style and then put things into place to ensure your work environment and people can grow.  I tell anyone who listens I’m a huge believer in the authentic leadership style.  Guess what, authentic leadership takes some of the best aspects of other leadership styles and packages them into a concise, four variable approach to leadership.  The variables of self-awareness, relational transparency, internalized moral perspective and balanced processing are used by authentic leaders to develop their inner leadership voice.  An authentic leader needs to ensure these variables are on display and utilized daily to truly be an authentic leader.

Please note, all leadership styles have variables of some level.  Transformational leaders are called ‘quiet leaders’ because they are described as leading by example.  Transactional leaders can be viewed as reactive and ‘may’ be more beneficial within large corporation settings.

So, as you can see, there are a lot of leadership styles available to new and experienced leaders.

“It can be done.  Leaders make things happen.  If one approach doesn’t work, find another”.

(Colin Powell)

The key to finding your leadership inner voice is assessment of your work environment and flexibility.  I can say I practice authentic leadership, but this style may not be practical for every direct report.  A direct report who is not performing to standards may need daily transactional interactions whereas the rest of the staff thrive with the authentic leadership environment created.  Knowing the needs of your staff is something that comes with experience, lots of reading and training.  The ability to adapt to changing work situations and needs of direct reports allows a leader to impact the work environment in a positive manner.

It’s okay to take a personal interest in direct reports and things they are interested in.  You may be able to adjust work assignments to keep them engaged based on strengths and interests.  It’s also okay if you can’t accommodate everything your staff would like to do in the work environment.  Example:  staff may want to work from home but if that model does not fit the mission then it’s up to the leader to say so.  Saying no in this situation is not a personal attack, it’s just the way the organization must operate.

A lot goes into being a leader.  Understanding leadership styles, your strengths and weaknesses as well as continual learning will help as you develop your inner leadership voice.

“Outstanding leaders go out of the way to boost the self-esteem of their staff.  If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish”.

(Sam Walton)

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Walk into the Future—What it means to me

 “I walk slowly, but I never walk backwards.”

(Abraham Lincoln)

Wanted to dive deeper into the title of my blog, Walk into the Future.  Last year I decided to change my mindset and physical space to embark on a journey.  This journey was designed to allow me to experience a level of freedom that wasn’t present, but I knew existed—just had to open my eyes a bit and walk forward.

Merriam Webster defines future in multiple ways, “time regarded as still to come AND what is going to happen”.  Both versions provide a flexible view and allows individuals to determine what the future means to them.

I selected Walk into the Future as my title to embrace the future and identify the courage to move forward.  This forward approach covers personal and professional adventures as well as insight I want to share with readers.  I created this project to share my ‘walk’ and provide insight into important concepts for me.  There are days I sit down to write, and the words just come to me.  There are other days where I will reach out to my tree branches to see what they want/need to read and then develop content around their inputs.  I am keenly aware of my surroundings, so inspiration comes to me from multiple outlets, I just capture an idea and then work to develop into something readable.

My Walk into the Future (so far) has allowed me to:

  • Post blog articles weekly
  • Get back down to Jamaica
  • Visit Paisley Park
  • Improve my half-marathon time (3 times)
  • Mentor others (in-person and virtual)
  • Serve as a professional development vendor with the Seminole Tribe of Florida
  • Gain followers for my blog
  • Inspire people
  • Live life

I could add more things here but believe you can see the positives I’ve experienced from posting blog articles on my current walk.

Walk into the Future has become a life style for me and I’m excited to see how it develops moving forward.

Remember, enjoy the process—walk, don’t run!

What does Walk into the Future mean to you?  How can you leverage this concept in your daily walk?  Interested to hear from you—thanks!

 “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

(Abraham Lincoln)

Future May 2019