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Leading Through Lifting

| July 5, 2022

by Mark Askren

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Mark Askren, MOR Associates Leadership Coach, and former Vice President for IT at the University of Nebraska. Mark may be reached at [email protected].]
As leaders, we’re always on stage. Our staff, colleagues, campus stakeholders, clients, and the people we report to are paying attention to our work behaviors. What we say matters and our actions speak even louder.
One area that’s impactful to consider is how we, as leaders, refer to others. Especially if they’re not in the room, virtual or otherwise.
Robin Sharma, a leadership speaker and author, speaks to this issue in his work. One of his key points is that ‘the best leaders lift people up versus tear people down.’
I often observed ‘lifting’ in meetings and other interactions throughout my career. Over time I noticed the intentionality of great leaders at all levels making a point of highlighting the positive contributions of others, whether in meetings, presentations, or hallway discussions.
The pattern of being intentional and authentic in lifting others up is easily recognized once you start to look for it. Often the person or group referred to isn’t present. The leaders weren’t ‘lifting’ to gain favor through compliments as a means for self-promotion. Instead, they’re praising those that made a positive impact because they feel it’s deserved. The result is shining a light and advocating for those whose contributions may otherwise be unrecognized.
Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed leaders at all levels throughout my career who’ve taken the opposite approach. The tearing people down that Sharma references.
In these cases, derogatory comments were made about others during interactions in meetings and other conversations. Often partially cloaked in humor, the impact of these slights is not at all funny. Chipping away at the credibility of a person or group of people can be damaging. And if those referred to aren’t present, they may be unaware of the comments, and they certainly don’t have an opportunity to respond.  
A way to improve one’s leadership in this area is to reflect on and self-audit our interactions. During meetings and other conversations, make a mental note of supportive lifting comments that you made or heard from others. Did you use these opportunities to advocate for others making a positive difference in your work environment? Or did you make, or otherwise support, negative comments about others?
Notice the leaders around you that are particularly effective at lifting others. They are modeling a behavior that builds trust and teamwork. Set a goal for yourself to seek out opportunities to mention others who are exceptional contributors. This is particularly valuable for those whose efforts are often not recognized due to lack of visibility within the organization.
Each of us can choose to develop our mindset to become more intentional about lifting others. And to be mindful of looking for opportunities to recognize others for their contributions.  Lifting is a leadership action that demonstrates you appreciate the work of others, and that you’re actively investing in the success of your overall organization.


This Week’s Survey

Which of these would you be most likely to do with the next week to lift others up?


From Last Week
Last week, we asked: What strategy would work best to create a more connected leadership community at your university?

  • 34% said collaborative visioning of future state
  • 26% said broad identification and action on shared goals
  • 15% said steering committees or councils to engage IT leaders on current challenges
  • 13% said continuing workforce planning and talent development
  • 12% said collective focus on recruitment and retention

One of the simplest, most effective, yet most elusive motivators is for a community to understand why something should be accomplished.  This rang clearly in the above responses.  Connect leaders to each other and to the journey toward a shared future state.  This starts with working collaboratively to articulate it.  In so doing, we as a community are shaping and internalizing why it is a worthy goal, increasing our collective motivation and understanding to achieve it.  As we consider last week’s and this week’s readings together, they present an interesting question: what can you do this week to lift others up to both connect and propel the leadership community at your institution?