[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Brian McDonald, President of MOR Associates. Brian may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
During the past month different MOR cohorts have had the opportunity to hear leadership lessons from several accomplished program sponsors. Their insights seemed well worth passing along so others could benefit from these thoughtful reflections.
1. Self-Acceptance Is an Important Starting Point
As one person shared, “there is only one of you, who you are is unique, embrace this.”
Another individual sharing their leadership journey was in the military at a time when there were very few women in the Army. In observing the challenges females faced, some adopted behaviors closer to prior behaviors in the role, while another woman didn’t try to change herself at all and she was one of the best officers he had ever met. It is important to be who you are. As we repeat often in our coaching conversations: we want you to be your best self.
2. Say Yes, Get Involved Beyond Your Current Responsibilities
As one leader shared early on in her career, she was enthusiastic about learning and she advised participants to “Put your hand up, say yes, get involved in opportunities beyond your current responsibilities and frame your involvement broadly representing more than just your function.” Or as others said, “be willing to take risks, you can’t play it safe and expect to chart new territory or learn new insights.”
3. Find Ways to Fast Forward Your Development
Several leaders shared how certain people or opportunities turned out to be significant contributors to their development as leaders. Two presenters mentioned the benefit of having a mentor and suggested you will find it beneficial to seek out someone you would value as a trusted advisor.
A mentor is a “Trusted counselor or guide. The deliberate pairing of a skilled and experienced person with a less skilled and experienced person with the intent to transfer knowledge and experience.” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary) Having mentors along the way on your journey will accelerate your learning curve.
You will also benefit by being a mentor or ally for others who may find your support in confidence in them to uplifting as they make their way along their path.
Another insight shared that can help you make a leap forward is going to higher level meetings earlier in your career. Studying how senior leaders engage, observing the dynamics and how different views may be expressed or how decisions get made can be incredibly educational.
You may also be fortunate enough to encounter someone who sees something in you that you haven’t yet recognized. Listen to this perspective, reflect on what is being shared and think about how you might build on this.
4. It Is Not About You
We all have different roles to play. At times you may be the leader, yet every member of the team also has an important part to play. No one is any more important than any of the others.
As another leader recounted, “So many times when I've faced challenging situations or needed to set priorities, I've asked my team, or my colleagues, or both, to gather (virtually or in-person) and then use the MOR practice to first give them some I-time, then share out their thoughts. It is amazing how quickly solutions or answers will come about. The brainpower of the collective is much, much more powerful than anyone individual. It works!”
Or said by another leader, “it is helpful to cultivate confident humility.”
5. Purpose Matters
During one career transition crossroads one leader mentioned he went to work in the private sector, and he quickly realized, “I learned the importance of purpose. I just wasn’t going to get passionate about encouraging people to buy stuff they don't need and that’s when I decided to pivot back to higher education. Another leader referred to Daniel Pink’s book and idea that for many in higher education the mission does matter.
6. Be Open, Avoid the Automatic Reaction to Defend or Deflect
We all need people who will share their honest perspectives and do this in direct ways. One new dean was asking for feedback after six months or so in the role and everyone was telling her you are doing great. She shared there was no doubt some things she was doing well and equally true as a new dean some things she could be doing differently or better. Yet no one was prepared give her this genuine feedback. Find and value the people who will be straight forward with you. As one leader suggests, when you are in situations where you are likely to be criticized, “it is useful to anticipate these situations, run through options and prepare scripts for how you will handle these difficult meetings or conversations.”
7. Build Your Team, Get to Know Them, Help Them Flourish
As you grow in your leadership journey, taking on greater spans of responsibility and likely larger teams, you inherently move away from ‘direct control of your destiny.’ Rather, your success increasingly is achieved ‘indirectly,’ through your staff, your team and others. You and your team become one on the path to success. You need to ensure you have brought together in your team the right capabilities and are continually investing in the teams learning new capabilities. Get to know your team, spend focused time to truly understand what will bring out the best in them.
Set goals, trust your team and let them go!
The leadership lessons described in this TR were developed based in part on the insights shared by:
Klara Jelinkova, CIO & VP at Harvard University
Bob Solis, CIO at MIT Lincoln Lab
Sue Workman, former CIO at Case Western Reserve University
Don Welch, CIO & VP at New York University
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