What is the essence of high quality leadership? One of my previous mentors inspired in me a direction of leadership I find helpful in my role as an engineering manager. In the midst of chaos with manufacturing leadership, it can be tough choosing between working “in the trenches” with your team, and retiring yourself to the sidelines in your new role as coach and leader.
Here is the direction for leadership I find most effective:
Remember, once you are placed in a role of leadership, it is time to let go of your ego. Undoubtedly your skills and abilities contributed to being promoted into leadership, so it is only natural to be reluctant to share these skills with others. Teaching others your prized abilities may actually feel as though you are losing control or that your position is threatened. It is your job as a leader to build team members who will grow to outsmart and outperform you. That is the result of being a successful teacher. So of course you should feel threatened! Learning to get past this however helps prove you to be a successful leader – so don’t worry; you’ll progress as well!
We are all busy as leaders. It can be exceptionally challenging to carve out time to put together regular trainings. Do not feel as though teaching has to be a big, formal affair requiring hours of preparation. Creating a training can be as simple as a guided discussion with your team on the topic of choice. You can pull out the knowledge of your team, and contribute points in the discussion from your own experience. It can be as simple as a list of bullet points. Let the discussion around the topic guide the learning implicitly.
Ultimately, let go of your ego and embrace the discomfort of protecting your skills; it’s time to build a team of individuals stronger and more skilled than you.
Here’s where you need to picture yourself on the side of the court as your team plays ball. That’s the vision at the team level. You are there to create the game-plan and pitch in guidance at the important moments. Who will be playing forward on the high-profile projects? Who is going to be on defense protecting from problems that arise? Do you know how the work will be distributed amongst your team? Do you schedule your upcoming projects and queue them up based on availability and skills? Meanwhile at the individual level, are you working to align your team members’ aspirations and skills with their growth path? Are you anticipating and removing barriers to advance each individual towards their goal?
Is it a struggle for you to resist offering unwanted advice when your team members present you with their problems? It may be difficult to avoid simply telling them what to do. Are you practicing humility in your leadership? The art of being a good mentor in my view resides in the skill of humble inquiry. Asking the right questions to lead your subject to a solution results in greater future autonomy and problem solving skill.
Mentorship at its roots is based on caring. Understanding and executing your role as a mentor can be incredibly rewarding. When grounded in the basis of unbiased caring for the individual, you are able to build incredibly rich relationships and truly improve the lives of those you mentor.
Do you believe in the vision and mission of your organization? I recognize not all companies have clear visions and missions, if at all, sadly. I believe it takes more than simply “liking” the company or industry you work in. As I say, work is work! It’s tough and challenging and tiring, and we expend a lot of energy providing value for our organizations. Often our jobs have facets that are less exciting or rewarding. This is when it is important to tap into the inspiration of leadership to give you the energy to push through the difficulties to reap the rewards of your efforts. If you have reached success in your previous roles and have come to enjoy a leadership position, undoubtedly you harbor a fondness of your industry or line of work. There is a spark within each of us. It may take practice to articulate that inspiration. But it’s an important exercise for you to perform regularly for your team and your peers. True leadership inspiration builds the spirit within one’s team to reach heights not achievable otherwise. Some days your team is going to feel dog tired. This is when you need to remind them – teach them – of the inspirational light you have found. You don’t have to have a team of speech writers behind your message. Find your own words; they will do wonderfully well with a bit of practice.
Teach, coach, mentor and inspire. They are words to lead and live by.