Since entering the workforce, I’ve been privy to bosses with varying degrees of leadership experience and different leadership styles. As my job descriptions and career choices have changed and progressed to today, I’ve seen firsthand what an impact the supervisors and managers with whom I worked could have on us, the co-workers looking for growth and success in a supportive work environment. I’ve questioned what I would want to embody and exemplify in the future from my own experiences. How had my supervisors’ career paths prepared them for leadership, and by whose measure? What qualifiers were hiring managers and HR departments looking for to deem their leaders qualified?
As a Talent Consultant, I am responsible for asking those questions, potentially changing people’s lives by the interviewing and placement of your next Director of Development or Executive Director. At the forefront of my mind is always the importance of keeping the work environment safe in all aspects for all individuals and setting up your organization for success.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Simon Sinek, the author and inspirational speaker most known for his TED Talk on the concept of WHY (which has been viewed over 60 million times). I follow Simon on LinkedIn and saw a post the other day that resonated with me:
Just because you have the authority, doesn’t mean you are a leader. Just because you don’t have the title, doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to positively influence those around you. —Simon Sinek
Many people in the workforce more tenured than me will tell you that Simon Sinek’s two sentences ring true. What I appreciate about his words is the following: a title—a ranking—merely categorizes us. It doesn’t mean that you can’t (or can, in some cases) rise to the occasion when you’re called to action. Furthermore, when you’re in the position to impact someone, will you do it in a way that’s positive or negative?
The overarching question is always the big “why”: Why should organizations take substantial time, effort, and money to invest in finding the right leadership in the right roles? Why does it matter?
- We must be responsible for breaking the cycle. Some leaders only learn how to lead by mirroring their own experiences (this includes the bad, the okay, and the good). They do instead of working to improve or aspire to what their own ideal leadership style would be—or, better yet, by making a point to ask each of their employees “what do you need from me to succeed?”
- We must start building a culture of trust on both the macro and micro level and breaking down cultures of distrust. We must have trust in the workplace and in our teams to create and maintain a space of psychological safety. Trust that your team members and colleagues are working with you and towards a common goal.
- We need to think of people first—and to lead with this mentality. It’s vital to see the human being before the employee and to understand the different needs that we each have—and giving each person grace (because that is always warranted). Life happens, as do mistakes, and employees and good leaders grow from acknowledging them. Leadership styles can vary so that nurturing, challenging, mentoring closely, or giving independence to your team members may each be appropriate strategies at any given time to get the best result from the members as individuals—as well as the best result for a project outcome.
- We must set each other up for success. Your team is only as strong as its most struggling employee. If you are a leader, you must be willing to do everything you can to lift up each of your team members to their fullest potential.
- Being in a leadership role does not mean you get a free pass on the impact of your actions. There’s often a mentality of “I’m the boss, what I say goes, and my way is the best way.” In my opinion, a true leader knows that they will not always have the right answers. Furthermore, they welcome suggestions and recommendations from anyone, regardless of title.
As a consultant, here are my recommendations for how to find the right leaders:
- Ask the right questions that lead to answers beyond the surface level. As a search firm, DRG adheres to behavior-based interview questions that connect back to competencies as opposed to qualification- or skills-based questions. Interviewing towards competencies allows us to assess a candidate’s ability and their specific approach to a situation. Just because a candidate can state on their resume that they’ve been a manager for 10+ years, have managed a fleet of interns, and hired a whole team doesn’t mean that they’ve necessarily done so in a way that adheres to effective leadership, psychological safety, or other key supervisory best practices.
- Evaluate your organizational culture—and how your leaders are positively or negatively impacting it. Historically, an organization’s top leadership defines what culture looks and feels like. Be willing to do the hard work to identify what that specific culture is. Is it one of fear? Or is it a culture where people, regardless of title or rank, feel empowered?
- Is leadership happening at all levels, or only at the top? Are you stepping aside and giving associates or assistants a seat at the table and the space to participate? Are you truly and genuinely creating room and encouraging them to step into leadership opportunities? Ask your team, your direct reports, and those who are not in sanctioned leadership roles what opportunities they’d like to see come to fruition.
As a Talent Consultant, I view every Zoom call or finalist interview as an opportunity to find the right effective, empathetic, and emotionally intelligent leader for your organization. To conclude, I’ll return to LinkedIn and leave you with this quote that a former colleague of mine shared on my feed the other day:
“Over here, we measure success
By how many people successful next to you.
Here, we say you broke
If everybody is broke except for you.”
Nina Cogan, Talent Consultant