The most effective lessons I have learned on leadership are those that came about by more fully understanding who I am and what I bring to the table. By better understanding myself, I can operate out of my strengths and more effectively influence those around me. Ihave also learned humility in discovering areas where I need to improve. In counseling aspiring leaders,I have drawn upon these lessons from my personal journey:
BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU KNOW AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW. I believe that self-awareness is a significantly underrated leadership competency, perhaps because it is uncomfortable for leaders to admit their areas of weakness. However, had I not recognized an area where I was not particularly strong, my career would have taken quite a different turn.
I am a CPA with a master’s degree in accounting. Early in my career, recognizing that I was not a strong technical accountant, I gravitated to roles that allowed me to effectively call upon my accounting background but were not traditional accounting positions. This opened an entirely different set of opportunities for me to explore, in spite of the fact that “on paper” I was still an accountant.
BE AUTHENTIC—AS A PERSON AND AS A LEADER. There is a huge body of knowledge on leadership as well as role models and mentors for instruction and guidance. While these are invaluable sources of information and thought-provoking ideas, the lessons learned from them must nevertheless fit the individual. I have seen many people—particularly women—try on attributes, behaviors, and styles that don’t fit, as if attempting to wear clothes belonging to someone else. The lack of authenticity is apparent, so they are not believable, and ultimately are not as effective.
BE GENEROUS IN A NUMBER OF DIMENSIONS. Be generous with responsibility and accountability: give people the tools they need to succeed, allow them to fail, and help them learn from both. Be generous with information: explain why and how decisions are made, and encourage two-way information flow. Be generous with recognition: recognize good work and give credit to others, while accepting blame yourself—and do both publicly. Finally, be generous with yourself: allow employees to have access to you and, above all, listen actively to them.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. Leadership is a privilege, not a right. It is a 24/7 responsibility. Simply put, once you are a leader, you are never not a leader, regardless of where you are. Leaders have multiple opportunities to influence others, directly and indirectly, in all areas of life. I hope my influence as a leader will be positive and lasting. I can think of no better legacy.