Dimensions of Leadership: Part 2 - Lead
By Fred Latala
In the opening article of this series, Dimensions of Leadership – Overview, I provided an overview of the five specific dimensions I am going to discuss on this topic - Lead, Run, Vision, Skills and Grow. It is important to keep in mind that each of these dimensions is a key element of a well-rounded leader. At different points in my life and career I have had to focus more on one area than another as I changed and my situation changed.
Lead is in the word leadership for a good reason, it is the core. The definition I am going to use for this discussion is that leading is the ability to inspire, support and coach others to achieve their best. Leading is about being able to observe what is going on with people and non-human factors and adapt your style and approach to meet the need. I have heard individuals described as an X type or Y type leader. This is most likely a description of that person’s dominant style. Great leaders are those that are able to flex their leadership style to achieve the optimal results. Each individual, team and situation is unique and great leaders are quick to assess what is needed and adapt. Some situations dictate a specific style of leadership. For example, in an operating room the chief surgeon needs to be authoritative and directive, this is not a situation for consensus building. However once through surgery that same chief surgeon may adopt a more collaborative style for feedback and follow-up patient care as the roles of the team will adapt to the situation.
Let’s review the key components of the Lead dimension.
• Inspire – Create a vision that others can clearly understand, internalize and strive to achieve.
• Coach – Provide timely feedback and direction. Remember to praise publicly and correct privately. It is important to define the concept of “correct privately”. Any feedback that is related to personal style, performance or behavior should be given 1x1. However, when you are in a team setting it is preferable to hold individuals accountable for their commitments that impact the team in a team setting. Effective teams are self-managing and it is not the role of the leader to diminish this or take on that responsibility. The leader is a resource to enable the team.
• Celebrate – Take the time to acknowledge people for wins. I am not suggesting that every small achievement needs to be called out, but I would err on the side of finding a reason to recognize people. You will be amazed at how effective positive reinforcement is.
• Mentor – I heard once that a mentor is someone that has proven themselves in the area in which they are guiding others. As I thought about that concept it really started to resonate with me as to why I had picked and continue to pick the mentors that guide me, they all are people I admire and want to emulate in a facet they have demonstrated expertise in. Think about this when someone approaches you to mentor them, they are paying you a compliment. My guidance on becoming a mentor is to make sure you have the time to commit to this person and you are comfortable in your experience in the area(s) you will be guiding them in. You do not have to be their mentor for every aspect of their life and it is ok to not know something or get back to them later if you are unsure.
• Talent Management – This topic is so large that it is the basis of many excellent books. In short, people are unequivocally the most valuable asset in every organization. Unfortunately, too many supervisors and managers only focus on this area when instructed to by HR. Performance management becomes an annual chore with minimal value. How effective can it be to give someone feedback months later? In some organizations, employee development is non-existent and left up to the individual. Is it any wonder why certain organizations consistently score low in employee satisfaction, performance and retention? A leader is invested in their team and spends the time to be involved in these key areas.
The key sequence to remember is Attract/Recruit/Retain/Recognize/Exit. As a leader you have a responsibility in each of these five areas. Attracting, recruiting, retaining and recognizing talent are a tightly integrated system. In competitive job markets especially, your job as leader to recruit talent does not end after they are hired, you literally need to continuously re-recruit your team and provide them the environment they want to be part of. Don’t underestimate the Exit function. It is not mean to give honest feedback and coaching to team members privately. In some cases, you are doing a team member a service to help them move on when a role is not positive for them or the organization. I had a situation in my career where I needed to address a negative attitude of a team member that had recently been assigned to me. I gave honest and direct feedback and then I listened. Much to my surprise this person actually thanked me for being the first person to tell them the truth about how they were perceived. A short time later they resigned and started fresh with a new attitude in a new job in a new geography. They still stay in touch with me, all these years later, to let me know how they are progressing in their life and career. I am glad to say they have done well in both.
• Influence – The skill to lead people to a direction is so much more powerful than just telling people what to do. It revolves around buy-in and acceptance. Done correctly it will lead to better results that generate pride in the long term.
• Teamwork (internal/external) – Leadership is a team sport. Teams can and usually are made up of those in your direct line of responsibility as well as those in other areas. Competition can be healthy if done right and used for the right reasons. Be careful and make sure competition is leading to a positive result for all involved, not just your team. Remember that those you compete against today may be your team tomorrow.
• Set an example – You cannot expect anyone to act differently than the example you set. It is not fair and you will not be successful. Remember that people are always watching how you act and react to small and large matters. Take the high road and be the model for the organization you strive to create.
• Integrity / Ethics – There is no substitute for integrity and ethics. Never compromise on these critical elements. People do not want to be around, let alone, be led by someone that lacks these qualities. Have a strong and consistent moral compass and you will never go wrong.
• Communication – This is such an underappreciated skill. The ability to crisply and clearly get a message across in any medium is critical for success. All too often people are confused because of poor messaging or a lack of communication. Don’t be afraid to test your messages in advance with people you trust. Take the time to make sure you are listening as well as speaking. Make sure you have an environment people are comfortable asking questions in or for clarification. Encourage ideas and suggestions. You do not have to act on them all but you should acknowledge them and provide some context if you do not utilize them. Your team has insights that you are not privy to.
It may seem like a lot to think about, but in reality, it is mostly common sense. If I ever have a doubt or question and I do not have access to any of my trusted advisors, I simply think to myself “what would they do in this situation?”. This technique has not failed me as those I turn to personally and professionally are proven leaders I wish to emulate. Some of them I have never met.
Next up in the series is a deep dive on the second dimension – Run.