I respond to many questions about leadership in different forums and the questions and answers below are representative of many of the questions asked.
Q. How do I gain leadership qualities?
KW. Leadership and communication skills evolve over time and we only develop options by learning, discussing and using what we learn.
Developing leadership and communication skills is a combination of learning about emotional intelligence, situational leadership, different aspects of communication methods and practicing what you learn.
- Create a reading list on different perspectives on leadership and different methods of communication then set out to read them and discuss what you are reading with others.
- Look for resources (books, articles, seminars, webinars) that focus on leadership and communication and absorb what you learn.
- Be curious about why different perspectives and styles may or may not work in different situations.
- Engage in discussions with other people about what you read and learn and listen carefully for their perspective on the material.
- Seek out people whose leadership style you admire and learn from their experience.
- You will gain a broader understanding of how people think and decipher information when you make a point of seeking diverse opinions and ideas. This will serve you well over time.
Q. What is the most important thing you learned about leadership?
KW. There isn’t one thing that stands out as the most important. Learning about leadership has been an ongoing process. Maybe that is the answer, that there isn’t an endpoint.
My leadership priorities are:
- Values matter. Know what yours are and test them for sustainability.
- Resilience is non-negotiable. Be aware of what you need to do to keep yours intact and rebuild when depleted.
- Emotional Intelligence will be your best friend. Take the time and effort to strengthen yours.
- One size does not fit all. Remembering this fact is one way to improve communication skills.
Q. How do you convince a prospective employer to hire you in a leadership role when you don’t have leadership experience?
KW. It can be difficult to convince a prospective employer that doesn’t know much about us that we can deploy leadership skills when we haven’t the experience to support this. It is sometimes easier to do this when we already work in an organization and have proven ourselves and then apply for leadership roles in the organization.
New leaders in any organization have a steep learning curve and when coming into a leadership role from the outside this curve becomes steeper. Without experience to demonstrate that you have proven leadership skills your ability to present yourself as capable becomes critical.
What you can do right now is to look back over everything you have done so far in your education, work experience and volunteer work experience and identify the skills you used that relate to leadership. Ask people who worked with you and know you fairly well if they can identify what you have done that demonstrates leadership skills and add that to your own list. Then formulate how this can be implemented into a new environment and how you know those skills will work in the new environment. At the same time you are listing your developed skills you must also identify your development needs. What leadership skills have you used but can be strengthened? What leadership skills have you not used yet and what will you start doing now to develop those skills? All effective leaders are constantly in learning mode and this is a useful approach to adopt for yourself.
Be absolutely sure this is what you want to do if you obtain a leadership role with a prospective employer and that you are prepared to learn what you need to in order to be successful.
Q. Should I focus my attention more on authentic leadership rather than team leadership?
KW. Focus on developing leadership skills that apply regardless of what context you use them in.
Don’t get distracted by marketed theories on leadership.
There are skills that make good leadership possible and that is where you pay attention.
Understanding theories may be helpful in getting an overall sense of how leadership might show up in different situations but you don’t become a theory-you become a leader by having the appropriate skills.
Q. How important is training for ‘bottom tier’ employees?
KW. The question to ask about training is who needs what and why, then how is the best way to accomplish it. Rather than segregating employees by ‘tiers’ consider that succession planning requires that you identify and close gaps in available skills and that regardless of where in the organization en employee is right now they often have or are developing skills they may not be using in their current role. Peter Senge offers an interesting point of view on this that is worth reading.
Regardless of where in the organization one works training matters:
- Quality of work output
- Safety of co-workers and customers
- Upgrade or expand skills to meet changing technology
- Having a prepared workforce for succession needs
- Ensuring a common understanding of policies and practices
- Error reduction.
Q. With so many successful leadership books on the market why are so many companies poorly managed?
KW. Successful leadership books become successful through smart marketing efforts more than anything else.
Leaders or managers who run companies don’t necessarily read those books.
They may read them but disagree with them.
They may read them but not know how to apply what they read.
Books are necessarily somewhat generic in the advice. Companies are anything but therefore a book is not a source of leadership development beyond some basic ideas.
Q. Why do we talk about culture fit while recruiting people? Why does culture fit matter?
KW. Culture exists and is driven at different levels in any organization. Managers do drive culture to a significant degree. However, in each team a sub-culture exists which is essentially defined as “the way we do things around here” and this sub-culture should be recognized but not assumed to be the defining culture of the whole organization.
Changing a culture is quite challenging and can not happen in isolation or through one person. Culture change happens in phases and is partly caused by external factors such as technology advancements, globalization and shifting market realities. Culture change can be partly caused by internal factors as well. For example, a CEO may sees the need for change for the survival of the organization. Mergers and Acquisitions significantly alter cultures as well.
There are many different ways that cultures begin to shift and change and many are not obvious but nevertheless drive change.
Acknowledge that it takes collaboration, co-operation, communication and patience in abundance to effect sustainable change. Understand that the more flexibility you build into an organization the better able the organization is to adapt as needed and remain sustainable.
- Can one person change the atmosphere in a team for a period of time? Yes.
- Can one person effect true culture change in an organization in isolation? No.
Q. As an introvert, how do I become more inspiring to others?
KW. Some of these tips apply to people with a preference for extraversion as well.
- Have a clear vision and be able to articulate it clearly.
- Listen well and check assumptions.
- Observe carefully.
- Care about others as much as you care about results.
- Offer the opportunity to others to learn and grow beyond their roles and know when this is appropriate and they are ready.
- Learn to ask questions that inspire others to think, share, innovate, and create.
- Be clear when you need quiet alone time to renew your energy and be clear when you are fully available to listen or to respond to others. Remind yourself that in the absence of information from you other people will assume based on guesswork.
- Let others know who you are in regards to your communication style so that they can communicate with you more effectively and understand what to expect from you.
- And be clear what you mean by ‘introvert’-there are some weird and misleading definitions floating around about what being an introvert means. You do have to define this for others to avoid assumptions.
Q. I am going from not having a leadership role to leading a team of 8 people, how do I do this?
KW. Incorporate reading about leadership and management as part of your ongoing learning process.
Managers, whether new or experienced benefit from learning how and when to use a coaching approach and when it is more effective to use other leadership styles. This is often referred to as ‘situational leadership’ as it helps to manage various challenges that arise for all leaders.
- Listen more. Talk less.
- Seek feedback from team members.
- Asking team members what they want/need from the team leader in order to do well at their jobs.
- Admit when you don’t have the answer and what you will do to get the answer.
- Admit when you make a mistake and what you will do to correct it.
- Clear, concise, informative, 360 communication is key.
- Be clear what your goals/mandate/vision is for the team.
- Be open and upfront about your expectations of team members and what team members can expect from your leadership.
- Act on performance issues quickly, fairly, compassionately, appropriately, and ensure clarity on what the issue is rather than what your perception may be.
- Offer positive feedback quickly, fairly, appropriately, regularly.
- Find a mentor and use the mentor wisely with well thought out questions.
Books, articles and blogs by any of the following authors will set you on the right track:
- Daniel Goleman and Travis Bradberry-Emotional Intelligence.
- Marshall Goldsmith-Coaching and Management.
- Peter Senge-learning and team dynamics.
Really Important Books To Read:
Truly understanding the idea of systems in an organizational setting will make a significant difference to how well you are able to apply what you learn about leadership.
- The Art of Systems Thinking-O’Connor/McDermott (1997) but still relevant information.
- Seeing Systems, The Art of Unlocking Organizational Life-Barry Oshry