I rarely ever post anything non-SharePoint related to this blog but this is a special occasion :). I was working on an essay for a PMP class that I’m taking and really got into a writing groove so I thought it’d be nice to post instead of stowing it away in a document somewhere never to be looked at again. Perhaps this essay would be beneficial to someone out there, plus it’ll make it easier for me to reflect upon later in life. The gist of the assignment is to write about leadership qualities I admire and to share the experiences of how those qualities became influential to me.
Ah, yes… leadership comes in many forms and is often praised yet it seems like so few have the courage to display the courage to lead. Although leadership styles have evolved over the years in both the workplace and in our everyday lives, there are 5 leadership qualities and styles that have stuck out in my mind – effective story-telling, perseverance, laissez-faire-ness, ruthlessness and compassion.
Effective story-telling by those gifted with the ability to speak well, clearly and succinctly have always inspired me in more ways than one. As a youth, I was quite shy and didn’t speak much but when I saw others that could speak well, they were often seemingly successful and in positions of leadership representing companies, products or themselves. Seeing these leaders of speech inspired me to “break out of my shell,” motivated me to read about effective public speaking and, eventually, even afforded me the opportunity to speak at various technology users’ groups and conferences with courage.
Perseverance was a word that I vividly remember learning in the 3rd grade. I don’t remember the details of the story, but it was a children’s book that chronicled the trials and tribulations of a character named Daniel. That’s all I remember about the story, but the moral of the story stuck with me nonetheless. The ideas of perseverance continued to permeate my youth as I experienced bouts of failure and overcame them by using the displays of perseverance from professional athletes to inspire and motivate me to get back up and try again and again until I was fully satisfied with my results. These role models ranged from basketball players like Michael Jordan who played through the flu in the ’97 playoffs, to Olympians training for years to be able to compete on the world stage, to Ironman Triathletes that I watched on TV once a year push their bodies to traverse 140.6 miles worth of distance swimming, biking and running all within 16 hours. These role models taught me that no goal is unobtainable with the right amount of mental courage.
I’m not sure when or how the laissez-faire, a term coined in 16th century France, leadership style entered our corporate culture but I have definitely been a happy beneficiary of it. Earlier in my career, I had the privilege of working with an executive team and manager that was very much hands-off and entrusted me to do what was right with little oversight. Only in retrospect did I realize that this management style suited me extremely well because I was, and still am, very self-motivated and enjoyed the freedom to execute on high-level strategies that required little to no oversight. This gave me the courage to feel like a valued professional, to make decisions professionally and in turn I conducted myself with others like a professional. I’m grateful that I still work in an environment that promotes this type of leadership.
Ruthlessness doesn’t sound like a nice word but when it comes down to business everyone needs a little bit of ruthlessness. Most businesses are in the business of making money and with more money, come more challenging scenarios that call for tough decisions. Jack Welch did this, as CEO of GE, by promoting and rewarding those that are ranked in the top 20% of employees and fired the bottom 10% of employees ranked in their performance management system. In using this system, he was able to increase the company’s worth by 4000% during his 20-year career. Jack Welch’s leadership style taught me that in order to obtain results and affect change; one has to have the courage to do so with a certain amount of
ruthlessness and perhaps fearlessness.
And alas, we come to the leadership trait of compassion. I must say that with the ruthlessness that I learned from Jack Welch, the ability to have compassion has proven to be even more important and effective in leading others. Before I met my wife, I was a gung-ho, enterprising millennial willing to go to any length to become more successful. I didn’t care how ruthless I was to myself or others, as long as it benefitted me and my career. Sure, I was able to call myself successful but I also worked long hours and stepped on anyone who I thought was not worthy of their title. In doing so I burned many bridges along the way. My wife taught me otherwise. She showed me how to be compassionate, not only feign compassion, and that gave me the courage to slow down and build meaningful relationships with others, both in and out of the workplace. This, I’m sure, will help me become a successful leader in the long run.
As you probably noticed, there was a general theme to the leadership qualities I described. Most people are not born leaders. Leadership tends to be a collection of traits that are learned throughout one’s life. But in order to learn these traits, one has to have the courage to learn them. One has to have the courage to be receptive to change and guidance from others while maintaining the courage and faith to do what you know is right. I’ve found the courage to lead by learning how to effectively tell stories; to persevere against adversity through mental toughness; to trust your peers and employees with their abilities; by being ruthless in moderation and most importantly of all; I make sure to sprinkle on some compassion in all of my actions that involve others. Keep calm and lead on. Cheers!