Over my several years of experience, I have been in formal leadership positions as a supervisor, a consultant, a program director, Board member in community organizations, and informally with friends and family members. I have recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and identify with many of the principles of leadership she describes that motivate me to be a better leader.
The quality she emphasizes that I feel inspires others to want to follow her is authenticity. She is willing to share who she genuinely is in many ways. She doesn’t attempt to be “one of the good old boys” as many women executives have done in the past. Many of the qualities that we think of as more common to women than men she has capitalized on as strengths. She honors her feelings and will honestly express them as her own. She takes responsibility for choices she makes that may require her to put her family before her work at times. She values transparency and openly shares her personal history and experiences, which allows others to identify with her.
As I reflect on these leadership attributes, I’m reminded of my own most challenging role as a leader. My leadership role required that I identify some problem areas of a person whom I supervised and initiate actions that could be painful for this one person but ultimately could strengthen the group as a whole. Overcoming this challenging situation was difficult as I had to help others come to realize that if you allow someone to be rewarded for doing less than is expected, you are essentially saying, “It’s okay for you to not meet expectations outlined in your job description.” Also, other staff members see this person getting special attention and being allowed repeated opportunities to underperform when they’ve been required to consistently meet the standards of performance required or face disciplinary action of some kind.
One of the attributes people follow a leader for is trust that the direction the leader is headed is also good for them and the group. They have a clear set of goals, values, and an ethical way of going forth. They have interim evaluation points and are accountable for the progress (or lack) of the overall program. Similarly, I set goals and standards of performance for myself and commit to follow through and keep mutually-agreed upon actions with the other person. If I am unable to stay with that plan, I let the other party know so we can mutually negotiate a new commitment.
I do not believe that great leaders are born or made but rather evolve with experience and honest feedback. Powerful and inspiring leaders own their mistakes and reset expectations with new commitments when they are off track. They are comfortable acknowledging their successes as well as their challenges.
I am re-reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book and feel that she demonstrates positive leadership qualities that help me be authentic and confident in who I am, transparent with my feelings, innovative and willing to act as a problem-solver.
My next personal project is to work with an old friend who is responding to recent “hate crimes” by offering workshops in “Embracing Diversity.” Embarking on this project will challenge me to follow Sandberg’s example and be willing to authentically face some of my own pain from the past in order to make a difference for future generations who now face similar challenges.
Let me know more about your leadership challenges and triumphs. I’d love to learn from them and share them with others.