Last year, I moved into a role that focused more on functional leadership and people management (versus solely being a coach and business partner, though I am lucky enough that those are still a big part of my day). With that change, I have done a lot of self-reflection on what it means to be a leader. What kind of leader do I want to be? What style is authentic but also effective? What are my natural strengths? What does it mean to be a good leader, what qualities do great leaders possess?
I realized quickly that I wanted to be a visionary leader. I wanted to be innovative, creative, supportive of my team's development, supportive during change and forward looking. It was around this time that I saw a blog post from "The Leadership Freak" that caught my attention and spoke to me. In the post, Dan lays out "The Seven Qualities of Visionary Leaders", which is based on a chapter of Brad Lomenick's "The Catalyst Leader". I have copied those below with my thoughts on how I have applied this to myself. I encourage you to read the blog post and think about how you may be a visionary leader for your team and organization! Is there one that is a strength of yours? Will one be a stretch? How can you tie this to any other development goals?
- Optimistic about the future. I see myself as the person that has to stay positive and encouraging; the "it's going to be ok" voice in the room. I do not dismiss when things are hard. I do not sugar coat tough news. But I truly do believe we are going to be ok, even during the tough times. So I always make sure my team knows that and it comes across at genuine. We have recently gone through a lot of change in our department and I am upfront with them, but I figure if I put on a brave face, it helps them through it!
- Focused on the best in their people. They focus on the unique strengths of every employee. I always try to take a moment to recognize each person on my team for something they accomplish each week and why I am thankful for them. Sometimes it is a small thing, sometimes it is a big thing. Sometimes it is multiple things! Sometimes I do this in our team meetings, sometimes I do it 1:1 or in my status updates to my boss. But even someone struggling in role made some sort of contribution that week...even if it was coming in to the office and trying. And if they truly didn't, they know that it is representative of the size of the disconnect between them, the company and my expectations of them. I expect everyone to be a good citizen, even if they are struggling with their performance.
- Never satisfied but always content. They seem happy where they are but refuse to stay there. This one can be hard sometimes just because of the amount of work we have. It's not that I don't want to be looking ahead and thinking about the next big impact we can have or the next way we can add value. But it's making the time and prioritizing those initiatives and finding the appropriate way and time to launch them. At the end of the day, we cannot do those big sexy projects if we aren't successfully doing the day to day. But it's those innovative projects that keep us motivated and excited. Ah the conundrum! It's also important to know what our company is ready to tackle. I may want to do a complete overall of a process or create a new program from scratch. But we may only be ready for phase one or a simplified version of something I ready about in SHRM. That's not a bash on the company, but a realistic (and therefore important) realization.
- Consumed with making tomorrow better than today. Hopeful leaders never settle. Each day we are presented with new challenges. These are what make us great and make every day interesting (in my mind!). The great things about these 7 qualities is that they are all interconnected. You will never be optimistic about the future if you are working on making tomorrow better than today. I always tell my team, its ok to make mistakes and ask questions, as long as you learn from them. We should learn something new everyday. Look for a challenge that will develop us and make us stronger. I believe that for myself as a leader and I try to instill that in my team. I try to ask myself each week as I do my status update, "What did I learn this week and I will I apply it next week?"
- Accepting of change. The good news is that we literally would not work at my company if we could not accept (and adapt to change). So much so that when I started as an adjunct faculty member at a local college, I didn't bat an eye when my first class assignment was Change Management! But I do think it is important to recognize change fatigue as well. It is possible to change too much or too often. So I always try to ask myself, "Is this something that we need to change today?" If it something that can be pushed off, or phased in more slowly, I will consider it so I don't wear the team out. We can all adapt to change, but if we are constantly changing, we never take the time to reflect on the recent changes and if they were successful (or have even taken hold).
- Inclusive, but not exclusive. Hopeful leaders invite others into their vision. This is one that has been hard for me as I moved from senior individual contributor to leader/manager. Even when I was an L&D Manager, everything fell on my plate since I was an island of one. I had peers that I worked closely with, but often they were stakeholders, they weren't expected to do the work. So now, as a manger and leader of a function, I have to be comfortable letting go and let others lead a project that I may have helped create (or let them own completely). Because I am ultimately accountable for anything my team does, I want to understand how decisions are made. And I usually love the project or am passionate about the topic myself, so I want to be involved. But I have to remember to let go; help them succeed, but also let them fall (softly) at times so they learn. My desire to be involved is not a reflection of my trust in them, it's truly because I love what we do, so I just want to be a part of it!
- Personally bought in. Vision is inside them. This is another place where I feel this quality is directly tied to others. As I just mentioned above, I truly love what I do. I am very passionate about organization and people development...obviously, I blog about it in my spare time! But not only do I think it is personally important that I love what I do, that I am bought in to the work the team does and I can create and communicate that vision, but it's important that the team is (and can) as well. I make sure they know what is going on in the business and how that directly connects to our work. That will also help them be bought in and be able to speak to how we are making a direct impact on the business. And hopefully enjoy the work every day, even when it's frustrating or repetitive or the non-sexy work we have to do!
So that's my self-assessment of myself as a visionary leader. Whatever kind of leader you want to be, make sure you take time to do a pulse check and see how you are demonstrating the values that are important to you as a leader. Ask your team for feedback! They can speak best to if you are truly living the type of leader you aim to be.