A good friend of mine who would prefer to remain anonymous (let’s call him Jim), helped provide a number of insights into leadership. An accomplished leader and project manager, Jim has led large teams in executing successful campaigns against some high complexity and challenges. Notable amongst his achievements was the initiative to move the Liberty Bell in the city of Philadelphia.
Jim always has time for helping out anyone who has a question for him or comes with a problem. He has the unique ability to look at things with an open mind, to listen and most importantly to collaborate to resolve an issue. Jim personifies leadership by example. He would never ask a team member to do anything that he would not do himself.
In one of his responses, Jim also makes a clear distinction between good management and leadership.
Following is an excerpt from the interview:
Kay: What, in your experience, are the three most important qualities of a leader?
Jim: Ability to clearly and concisely communicate. While brilliant oration is admirable, there must also be substance and meaning intelligible by the audience. A leader must have self confidence that can also inspire confidence in others. The leader must possess bravery that allows for taking action with a calculated risk that failure is a possibility and understanding that lack of action ensures failure.
Kay: Have you ever felt pulled back at taking on a task or assignment that includes managing and leading people? What are the important factors that prevented you from taking the initiative?
Jim: Not accepting the role as being my responsibility, thinking someone else is more qualified, fear of failure or perception of too much responsibility to manage.
Kay: Is leadership overrated?
Jim: I do not think leadership is over-rated. I think good management is often mistaken as leadership. Good leadership is rare and extends beyond merely getting the task completed. Rather good leadership can provide vision, inspiration and direction for even greater accomplishment than might be thought possible.
Kay: Management tends to be at the tactical or transactional level.
Jim: Exactly. Leadership is more transformational. It extends long after the current assignment or transaction is completed. Leaders invest in their people and ignore boundaries.
Kay: What would be your advice to a budding leader? Which areas to concentrate?
Jim: Remain focused on your objectives. Study, experiment, gain experience and don’t be discouraged with failures. Push the envelope and don’t hesitate to go out of your comfort zone. As Kipling said “Trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.”
Kay: I might add that quote on this site. Is there any technique or something that you’ve deliberately practiced to hone your leadership skill?
Jim: Listen to others, process what they say and try to fit the pieces into your own framework. Read a lot including a variety of subjects technical and whimsical. Try to assimilate the ideas you read into real life scenarios. Ask for feedback.
Kay: How would you categorize your leadership style?
Jim: Several styles may be used from time to time depending on the circumstances. My preferred styles are: Coaching/ mentoring primarily and collaborative/democratic or consensus for smaller groups.
Kay: Who is your idol? Who did you look up to? Why? Any examples that really had you eating out of his/her hand?
Jim: My father. He is straightforward and sometimes brutally honest. Completely trustworthy and credible in all matters he would undertake. His physical assets tempered by enduring mental fortitude and patience. He has no fear of failure, but rather a persistent approach that coaxes success regardless of the number of tries required.
Kay: What are the things that you try as a leader to avoid?
Jim: Over confidence, arrogance, intolerance of the weaker links. Indecision – once you pick a direction, don’t second guess yourself out of success. It is OK to pick the wrong path and later adjust, but do not stand forever at a crossroad.
Kay: Anything that is still in progress – if you had the time and resources to develop just one more skill to add to your repertoire, what would it be?
Jim: Expand my curiosity and drive to look at different things. Ambition to achieve greater objectives is impaired by laziness and lack of interest. If I could develop my skills to desire more, then I would better leverage the skills I have and expand them all in the process.
Kay: What is the biggest challenge you ever had to face as a leader and how did you overcome it?
Jim: In many endeavors there is a common challenge to establish yourself as a leader over the competitors. Unfortunately, it is not always clear who is in authority vs. who is leading. Further disconcerting is that those in authority may not themselves be leaders but think themselves so. Thus I have had to find ways to establish myself as both a leader and person of authority. This challenge can be addressed through many vehicles but I have found leading by example to deliver satisfactory results. Another way to express this is the cliché “Action speaks louder than words.” Demonstrating that you are achieving results is challenging and is often hindered by abundant credit seekers. Proving you are the leader is often more challenging than actually leading.
Kay: What would you advise budding leaders to guard against?
Jim: Never stop learning. Don’t allow excessive self-doubt. Avoid talking yourself out of success. Never stop listening to others.
Kay: Thank you Jim. Our best wishes on your next endeavors.