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Are You Self-Aware Enough To “Lead By Example?”
Our guest blogger is Lonnie Martin, Vistage Chair. For more information about Vistage, please visit http://www.vistage.com.
I wonder how many times I’ve been asked what leadership is all about?…many, many times. My answer always includes that oft spoken yet vague cliché “leading by example” that I picked up along the way of my life and made my own. I decided to think the other day what that phrase means beyond the obvious.
I played on a lot of sport teams in my life, and probably the first time I heard “lead by example” was from one of my coaches. You could guess how a coach uses the phrase to mold behavior, e.g. come to practice on time, run hard to 1st base on infield hits, wear my uniform right, etc. But the phrase stuck with me…and that’s because my leadership style has been to not ask something of an employee that wasn’t both important (in my view) and that I wasn’t willing to do myself.
Plus, when I used that phrase I also hoped my employees would embody all those attributes of myself that I considered to be my “good qualities.”
It was only much later when I realized I might also be unthinkingly setting the example of my less good traits.
In fact, we do lead by example. People pay attention to what leaders do in ways large, small, and even very small. The examples and patterns we purposely, or inadvertently or unconsciously, set in their eyes might be good, or less good, or even bad with respect to what’s required to operate a company, to serve customers, to interact with each other, to accomplish individual and team goals, etc.
I do indeed believe leadership is leading by example, and actually, maybe it’s only about that—what part of running a business, or department isn’t encompassed by “leading by example?”
But are you self-aware enough about how you go about your business and personal life so everybody has a chance to observe and mimic what’s important to you? The list of things we do to set examples, and that people observe about us is endless. Are you on time? Do you listen well? Are you organized or disorganized? Are you detail oriented? Do you follow up promptly? Do your meetings have agendas? How do you treat customers? How do you deal with stress? Etc., etc., etc. ad infinitum.
There are no right answers about the very many best practices in running a business, and different businesses may need or want practices others don’t want. But as the leader you do need to think deeply about all those practices you believe serve the business the best, and then live all of them all the time to the best of your ability so your employees understand the basis of your expectations. And you need to always be on the search for “better best practices” than you even know (which is one thing a Vistage CEO peer group is great at uncovering).
There’s been a long running “nature-or-nurture” debate as to whether leaders are born or can be molded/made. My conclusion is that the best leaders are the most self-aware and think the deepest about all those individual traits (we often call that culture) and practices that a business needs to consistently practice. And in my view, both can be learned and/or decided…we need not count on Mother Nature to randomly anoint good leaders.
If you’re not a good leader then either you haven’t thought too deeply about what cultural traits/behaviors the business needs to be successful, or your own behavior is not consistent with that culture leading to confusion among the troops. One of the most important examples for a leader to set is to not let the organization deviate from that culture through benign neglect or compromise.
A Period of Reengineering Your Company
We have all been touched in some way by the economic downturn in our region, professionally and personally. Many have felt the cold hand of fate grabbing at our dreams and plans for our future/ business and personal goals. Companies that stayed open dealt with the uncertain business landscape in a variety of ways. Some CEO’s laid off long term employees to avoid the negative spiraling bottom line results. Other CEO’s modified positions, changed responsibilities and tried to right size the operation the best they knew how. And, there were those CEO’s who closed their doors completely; the burden was just too large to manage. Those days were very dark, doubtful and relentless. I am sure many leaders sat at their desks alone and wondered, “Did I make the right decision? Could I have done something different? Would the business outcome be different? What if…., Where do I turn? Who can I talk to?”
Today, hope for our business future is taking shape again. We are seeing a resurgence of focused energy and innovation from our leaders. It finally feels like a spring day—the sun is out and the birds are singing. People are smiling again. However, the economic downturn has left a deep scar that may never fully become invisible. I like to call this period of new growth a Period of Reengineering.
CEO’s have a fresh start, a new look at their organization and workforce. They can once again begin to build a thriving and prosperous business and create a positive and engaging employee culture. Vistage International can become that voice, that resource for executives and business owners who supports and guides them through extremely uncertain business decisions. The time is now to reach out, seek guidance and support from a confidential, peer advisory group of CEO’s.
Vistage International brings together successful CEO’s, executives and business owners into private advisory groups. Each group is purpose-built to help members help each other improve the performance and outcomes of their business and personal lives. Vistage International works with each CEO to be a better leader who can make better decisions and get better results. In fact, they have helped over 75,000 members since 1957 when they began. And the support does not look at one dimension of a CEO’s life; the business. Discussions also center on a person’s health and personal life—it is strongly believed that the “whole person” adds to the strategic direction of a company. If issues are present in any of the three categories listed above, they are freely discussed inside the confidence of a member meeting.
Although peer advisory groups are a great help towards success, leadership and management trainings and assessments should not be ignored. These tools allow those in management to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, ultimately allowing them to build upon their skills.
For more information regarding Vistage International and e-VentExe, please call Amelya Stevenson, M.A., SPHR-CA Vistage Chair and owner of e-VentExe, a full service Human Resource Consulting Firm at 916.458.5820.
Founded in 2000 by Amelya and Craig Stevenson, e-VentExe provides businesses with strategic and compliance human resources tips and techniques, organizational effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) and overall strategic and healthy cultural influences in the workplace. We also make HR administration easy for small businesses with our eBasicHR and Compliance package. At e-VentExe, we keep the “Human” in Human Resources. Let us show our dedication to you! For more information, please visit us at www.e-ventexe.com,“LIKE” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!
Spring Clean Your Leadership Skills
Spring has sprung! Spring is a time for renewal and rebirth of life and energy—plants and flowers begin to sprout and bloom, the annual “spring cleaning” spree ensues to remove unnecessary materials collected during the winter hibernation months, cleansing of the mind and body are encouraged. As such, spring is an essential time for leaders in organizations to review, rethink, and rejuvenate their overall culture by reevaluating their own skills.
Those holding leadership positions should ask themselves, “What can I do to make my organization better?” This “spring cleaning” may include tactics, ideas, strengths and weaknesses.
- Tactics: As a leader, making strategies and planning (whether long-term or short-term) are typical functions. Tactics on how to perform these strategies must be considered—what’s working now? What worked in the past? What have I done that seems to be working? Sure, every situation is different and plans need to be adjusted, but you, as a leader, must decide and eliminate strategies that may not be working (e.g. plans that are outdated and cannot reach the same caliber as current trends). In cases when sudden incidences rise without any warning, leaders must be quick and think on their feet without breaking a sweat.
- Ideas: Has your organization hit a plateau where innovation is nonexistent? Think outside of the box! Be inspired by creativity and if your ideas fail, at least you were brave enough to throw out suggestions that may seem out of the norm to others. After all, every accomplishment starts with the decision to try. With leaders making innovative and creative decisions, they can set a precedent for their employees to do the same; ignite the spark for creative thinking and see the results in action!
- Strengths and weaknesses: To be the best leader you can be, strengths and weaknesses must be acknowledged and carried out. Self reflect on what you need to work on and try tackling them a little bit everyday. If you want a more in-depth tool for seeking out your weaknesses (and strengths), consider conducting, or ask HR to conduct, a 360-degree feedback to see what your peers think of you and your effectiveness as a leader.
Keep a fresh open mind and see what you can accomplish for your organization. Now that spring has sprung, how are you planning to “renew” your leadership skills?
*e-VentExe is a full service human resource consulting firm specializing in leadership training and development. If you’re interested in conducting a 360-degree feedback, we can assist you in the process. Follow us on Facebook and/or LinkedIn to learn more about our company and see what interests us!
A Life of a Super-Career Woman
For the next several months, e-VentExe will be spotlighting one “Super-Career” woman every month, allowing her to tell her story on how she entered the corporate work world. Read about the struggles, sacrifices, highlights, and rewards these women faced while climbing the ladder towards success. Our first “Super-Career” woman, Alison Campbell, is currently a Medical Unit Manager for nurses at Travelers Insurance Company.
25 years ago, a successful career woman had to figure out how to compete in a male-dominated world. Women couldn’t show any signs of weakness; they were constantly putting on their “game face” to show men they could do anything as good, if not better. They dressed the part to be at the boardroom (i.e., suits and ties).
The “Super-Career” woman had to balance her personal life with her work life—at the workplace, dresses were replaced with slacks, femininity replaced with sternness all in order to strive to the top. The strenuous struggle to move up the corporate ladder may have seemed daunting, but to these “Super-Career” women, who lived double lives, it was the norm. Now, as young females are entering the workplace, what advice can these “Super-Career” women give to the younger generation? The world for women today is different; however mistakes can still be made as a woman advances in a competitive workplace.
Alison’s climb to reach where she is now in her career was not an easy or predictable path; she recalls hitting a glass ceiling in her career. Having both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Nursing, she began as a clinical nurse, to a hospital nurse and finally to a corporate nurse, even owning her own business as a legal nurse consultant along the way.
During Alison’s career, she devoted her time to her work and her family, stressing that both are important and need attention. Alison has always had a driven attitude, constantly learning something new and applying it into her everyday life. Therefore, in terms of balancing work and family, she believes in making adjustments and never giving up on choosing one over the other. Alison believes the most important thing a career-oriented mother can do is make sure the extra time and energy she is devoting to her work is strategic (i.e., down the road it is going to mean something).
Although Alison does not regret anything she has done because she loves her industry and profession, she wishes she had sought out more sponsors as well as completed her education early (before she had children).
Alison’s advice to young females currently in or are about to enter the workforce includes networking, having mentors and sponsors, and working for an organization with matching culture and core values. She believes females should definitely network with everyone and build relationships face to face (albeit social media is on the rise). Alison stresses that women must be comfortable networking with others because they never know where these connections will lead and often times it is about who an individual knows.
Alison has a positive outlook for the future of women in business stating that she believes women have joined the workforce in every level and more of them are needed at the top to mentor the females entering the workforce.
To learn more about Alison’s career path, read below for a detailed Q and A:
1) Did you find it difficult to compete for jobs in a male-dominated world? What did you do to make yourself stand out from the rest?
Yes, I had a high degree of technical expertise and I networked with men and women. So you have to network because you could be the greatest technical expert but if a lot of people don’t know it and if a lot of people in executive management don’t know it then you can’t move ahead. So I would say the other thing I did was that I self promoted some projects to executive management and they let me do them.
2) How long did it take you to reach to the top of the corporate ladder?
I’m not really at the top, but I would say it took me 10-12 years. By the time I was 32, I had my own business as a legal nurse consultant and I worked for a large corporation doing what I loved to do. Now I wasn’t management yet, but I already made the transition. And it probably [took me ] 15 years for management…that’s old school, that’s when they hired people into management with the highest technical expertise in an area; they don’t do that anymore but back then that’s what they did.
3) Did you find it to be a struggle? If so, can you recall any obstacles?
Yes, men have a network that women were not part of. For example if you are a woman and you don’t play golf, you might not have the networking that you want because the guys are all exclusive. Another barrier was that there weren’t any women for me to network with or be my mentor or sponsor, so I had to find a way to be useful at work and they didn’t discount me because I was a women or discount me because I was a nurse.
4) Did you change yourself to fit into the career world?
I think that I changed how I communicated and who I communicated with. So when you first start out at a corporation, you’re afraid to communicate with executive management and I got to a point where I was no longer afraid to do and was comfortable talking to them. To get comfortable talking to top executives, I did a lot of self self-education, so I read a lot of books on leadership, and I networked so I would know someone who was comfortable and close to the executive.
I think one of the things you must do–you might not overcome it—but you must manage it is that you must do things that are scary to you, like taking on a lot of responsibility that might be scary (i.e., taking on large projects, taking on extra work). You can’t be afraid of it; you just have to do it.
5) How did you balance your personal life with your work life?
I did not balance it and here is the thing: you have to do what you love. There are times when a work project may take a lot of your time and there are times in your life when you devote time to your children. Every person has to make that decision for [herself/himself]. But I’ve worked until 2:00am and my children were fed and well taken care of and were asleep, but I was up working because I wanted that to happen. I remember locking the door upstairs and my husband would be watching my 3-year-old, so that I could talk to an attorney and he wouldn’t hear children in the background because that was my job; you make strategic sacrifices.
6) What were some of your mistakes along the way to your ideal career goal?
One of the things career woman must be aware of is their perceptive (i.e., if they walk away from a room, what are the top three adjectives the executives or the people handing out the bonus, what are they going to say about you?) I relied very heavily on my technical expertise and as a nurse and as an administrator and I probably didn’t put enough emphasis on the fact that I am a very good manager and that I have a lot of emotional intelligence. From day one in your career, you always have to think about: what is the perception I want to portray?