These were questions asked of me, and the answers that accompanied it.
What are you passionate about? And what are you doing to deliver on this passion?
My short answer is effective leadership. I have operated in a position of leadership most of my life. It’s been a mindset for me from an early age. My leadership abilities, however, have grown as I pursue new challenges and new learning. I have a strong desire to challenge other leaders in order to learn and grow. No matter how long you have had a leadership position, there is always room for growth. Strong organizations are built on the culture established and fostered by effective leaders.
I’m fortunate to be in a place where I get to support leaders in various capacities. I write and speak about various leadership practices and processes around the country. The most transformative work, however, comes when I get to work one-on-one in job-embedded coaching cycles with leaders. That work gets to be personalized to best learn and reach the needs of each leader and the organization he/she serves. These aren’t one-and-done sessions, but rather they are ongoing, rooted in real goals and practical action steps. Leadership is often lonely, and I want our leaders to be supported as they carry out deep work both on the frontline and behind the scenes.
How do you go about leading? And how do you use your passion to align people to your vision?
I don’t believe you can lead without knowing the people you are serving first. I lead by asking questions and then really listening to the answers. This helps me get to know the people I’m supporting so I can find the best way to partner with them. I have worked with and for some amazing leaders who put the people first. I’ve worked with other leaders who put themselves first. It’s obvious which I enjoyed the most, but I have definitely learned from both types.
I’m a firm believer that every successful organization (from business to elementary classrooms) have strong, relational leaders at the forefront. Relationships take time and they are the backbone of a healthy culture. I build authentic connections in order to grow healthy leadership practices. This supports a positive culture from the ground floor. These relationships help align people to the vision for the organization. They are more likely to buy into the vision and the work needed to support the vision if they know they have a leader in place who believes in them.
Is there anything in your background not directly related to being a leader that has had an outsized impact on the way you lead?
This is an interesting question that caused me to pause and think (and pause and think, and pause and think). The pausing happened mostly because I feel like if you are a leader, you are a leader in just about every circumstance. I was going to talk about how being a parent changed my outlook on many practices that exist in our education system. But, as a parent, I’m also a leader in my house. Then, I was going to discuss how being a classroom teacher fostered my relationship-building qualities and taught me to always put the people first. It showed me that if I genuinely care about the kids in my class, they will care about what I’m teaching them. The same principle applies to those you are leading. But, as a teacher, I was the leader of my classroom. I can talk about the one boss who was a nightmare to work for – capitalizing on bullying and manipulation. But, I was a district leader at the time and what I learned from him was the exact way not to lead. Even experiences in my childhood can be linked back to being related to leadership in some way. When you have the mindset of a leader, you can find an impact in just about any situation that can help you grow as a leader.
What’s your philosophy on building a team? What do you search for? How do you go about selection? And how do you approach managing performance?
I think building a team is more about whose personality meshes best with the rest of the team. Do they see the vision and can they get on board with it? Can they identify problems and ideate various solutions? Can they work well in a team environment? Background and experience are important, but if the candidate has a growth mindset, then I can teach them what they need to know. I want someone who is confident, yet coachable. Every person (even the CEO) needs a coach to help them learn, grow, and continue to bring value to the organization. When the right people are on the team, managing performance is easy and happens organically the majority of the time. When there are growth areas, managing performance needs to be more intentional.
I already mentioned the idea of coaching cycles. Individual coaching sessions can help the team member identify areas of growth, set goals, and develop action plans to achieve those goals. I like using these processes to help manage performance and support those I’m working with.
What data do you use to ensure you are leading effectively?
Data collection should occur through multiple avenues. Informal data gathering happens through observation of performance and conversations with stakeholders. Other approaches include needs assessments, climate audits, and regular feedback surveys. I also encourage everyone I work with (and adhere to this myself) to be intentional reflectors on their own practice. Set time aside to reflect on your practice and outcomes. What is working well? What needs to be changed or abandoned? What are the next steps that need to be set and taken? This type of reflection can lead to more valuable data than anything I can gather on a survey. The key to effective reflection is that it has to be regular and it has to be intentional. Looking at the big picture of all the data these practices provide, helps me find areas of strength and helps me identify growth areas that need to be addressed.
What are some of the biggest mistakes today’s leaders are making? And how would you go about fixing it?
I think one of the biggest mistakes today’s leaders are making is not attending to their own growth. Leaders often see the need for continuous learning, but spend the time/money on their employees and not on their own growth. Or, they might attend a conference that is specific to their market but not necessarily to their growth as a leader.
I love conferences and am energized by the learning that can happen at these events, but often the attendees leave feeling a bit overwhelmed. The participants are also dependent on the quality of the speakers and the relevance of the material they present. That’s why I prefer job-embedded coaching as the best way to grow personally and professionally. The coach comes to you – either in-person or virtually – keeping you in the office and cutting down on lost time. Coaching also provides an individualized learning path that you know is targeted to growth for you as a leader and for your organization. Plus, it’s not a one-and-done situation like conferences but is ongoing support throughout the duration of the coaching process. That’s why I write and speak about the power of coaching, and why I offer it to my clients. I’ve seen the success firsthand in a way that doesn’t occur in other professional growth opportunities.
Leaders must make time to feed their own learning in order to stay relevant and effective.
What do you see as the 2 or 3 greatest opportunities for leaders over the next several years?
With so many digital resources at our fingertips, it has never been easier for leaders to grow their skills. We learn the most from collaborating with other leaders. The greatest opportunities are borne from connections and conversations with other leaders in any industry. If we spend time fostering those relationships, we will only see great opportunities increase as a result.
Do you have any final words of wisdom for Everyday Leaders?
Great leaders have many common qualities. What I find over and over again is the best leaders share the desire to learn, and a mentality of communicating their expectations through personal modeling. The leader of today needs to be an equal and empower the staff that works for them. If the learning is valuable and needed, then we make the time. Imagine if the highest level of leadership caught the vision of learning and lighting the path and passed it onto their staff.
Leaders can’t lead by themselves. Share the vision, and help others get on board by modeling the importance of continued growth and mutual respect.