During an exercise to determine my own leadership style, I came up with a list of these leadership tips that I might as well share. You can apply them to a variety of situations.

Learning to Lead

Just the other day, I was speaking to a prospective customer team about using my services. They needed a highly-experienced person in the main software, their LIMS. They also needed a variety of other technical knowledge that I happened to have. It was one of those situations that seemed created just for me. There are many consulting companies out there competing for something like this. Thus, I was focused on ensuring that they understood how well I matched what they needed.

It was going fine until they asked me this question – “What’s your leadership style?”

Just to be clear, potential customers frequently ask me questions I’ve never before been asked. I’m expected to be able to think quickly in these situations and am usually ready for them. Despite this, this one threw me. I completely fumbled on the answer because I started to think too much about it.

Like many people, I tend to think of “leadership” in association with “A Leader.” This is a person with an arrow drawn over their head pointing at them with this title capitalized – we would all see it and recognize this person is A Leader and not just someone doing some leading. It’s a person we see on TV such as Civic Leader or a CEO, for example. The mistake I made is that, like many of you reading this, I wasn’t thinking directly of myself as “A Leader” who has a “leadership style.” In any case, my response seemed to kill the meeting. Despite any experience or other skills, my response to this left them in silence. I could hear the crickets chirping. Obviously, they were done with the conversation.

After the fact, as a business person, I reminded myself that this wasn’t a “failure.” Instead, look at it as “a learning experience.” As such, I sought to learn something from it. Otherwise, it remains a total disappointment and a means with which to beat myself up. Even better, if I could turn the situation into a blog post, too, that’s yet another bonus! 🙂

Leadership Interview Preparation

I wanted to do a better job if anyone in the future ever again asks me this question. So, I went back to all the situations where I had a leadership role. In each of these, I looked for comments made regarding my leadership abilities. I do save a lot of these things for purposes of reference and learning. The result was that I found quite a bit more than I’d realized I’d had.

At this point, if you thought it was as easy as doing only this, you’ll be disappointed. I found exactly the same comments most of you might find. They were comments such as “She’s the best leader I’ve had on this project” and “Her leadership skills are excellent.” They were good for my ego but had no useful value in and of themselves.

However, that’s not quite why I looked them up. I sat and thought about the situations where people made those comments about me. Then I considered the tasks we were doing and what my leadership role was. I was able to remember what I did that caused people to make these positive comments. In that, I did actually come up a picture of myself as a leader.

In any case, for anyone looking to get their start in leadership roles, here are my leadership tips.

Leadership Tip # 1: Listen

Most of us find that leading people is difficult. For starters, when you get into a new situation, you don’t know what personalities you’ll be working with. You don’t always know their skill-level. Sometimes, you’re taking over for someone else and need to learn the history of where the group is at in terms of their achievements.

The easiest way to start is just to listen to them. Get an idea what the “mood” is like and why.

Even once you’ve gotten started, continued listening is a good habit to have. You’ll find out what they think about your leadership capabilities. You might or might not adjust some of what you’re doing. However, even if you don’t agree with them, it’s useful information to have. In addition, there will be times when team members know things before you and it pays to get some of this information sooner rather than later.

Leadership Tip # 2: Make Decisions

Being a leader depends on making decisions. It’s not always about making a “good” decision but about making the “least bad” decision. You might have not perfect information and you might later need to adjust the decision, but leadership depends on setting goals for the group and getting them to those goals. You can’t do that without decision-making.

I’m shocked at the number of people in leadership positions on projects and teams who refuse to make decisions and let the rest of us fumble along with no guidance. Many times, they seem to think if they don’t make a decision and the outcome is bad that they can’t be blamed. Well, they can, actually. Now, whether the people in charge show any leadership in holding people accountable or not is a different story.

Leadership Tip # 3: Admit Ignorance and Mistakes – Show Courage and Honesty

Going back to the decision-making tip, you will occasionally make mistakes. Sometimes, you’ll make mistakes based on your own inexperience. Other times you receive bad information. Also, there are times when situations just change and no longer fit the original decision

As much as you might dread doing it, you can’t seriously believe yourself to be a leader if you can’t face your team, admit whatever it is that needs admitting, and change course, if needed. Time is of the essence. Don’t waste time (and usually money, as well) pretending that you’re perfect. We all know it’s not true!

Personally, I value courage and honesty in the leaders I work with and the ones I look up to. Since I happen to value these qualities, they happen to be qualities I try to pursue in my own leadership style. For me, as uncomfortable as it can be to do these, I believe it makes project work outcomes much clearer and better, overall.

The Born Leader?

Is there such a thing as a born leader? I don’t know if there is but I would venture to say that a lot of us had to actually learn to do it. I don’t know about any of you, but I haven’t watched the great leaders of our time either aspiring to be one of them or thinking I shared any traits with them.

As with anything else, if you work hard at it, you probably can learn to do it. I know I’m always looking to learn in aspects such as this. As with anything else, there are myriads of books and seminars on it. In the end, take the opportunities you get to do it, learn to succeed in it and you’re on your way to creating great outcomes with the people you’re leading.

With that said, here’s your bonus tip. And, yes, since we can all count, I could have just said this was “four leadership tips” but everyone likes a bonus so this sounds a lot more exciting than just saying “four leadership tips.”

Bonus Leadership Tip: Silence Isn’t Leadership

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion regarding the fact that leaders can’t stay silent – that a leader must speak-up. Thus, if you want to improve yourself as a leader, you now have to speak up.

I have some news for you – if you were silent, what you were doing wasn’t leadership, anyway (read more about the difference between Leaders Versus Managers).

First of all, every time someone looks for a manager, team leader, CEO, or whatever the leadership position is going to be, they almost always ask for “good communication skills.” It’s part of the job. There should be few people who could be in these positions and not know that that’s a requirement. In most cases, it’s actually stated as “good writing and speaking skills.” Do you notice that speaking is a part of the job, to begin with? If you’re in a leadership position, don’t say you didn’t already know that.

Second of all, the people working for you aren’t mind readers. They don’t “know” what you want them to do. You have to find a way to spell it out. Really, when you tell us we’re not doing what you want and say to us, “Because you KNOW what I want you to do” and then act as if the rest of us are just stubborn and troublesome, no, you do actually need to tell us. We really don’t “know.”

Fast Forward in Time: One Week and One Hour Into the Future

So, then I got to the next similar opportunity to regale someone with my great technical skills and leadership qualities. This time, I was ready. Did I fumble it, this time, you might wonder? No, I did not – because they didn’t even ask the question. But I’m ready, now! 😉