A leader’s priority list
Writing things down helps clarify what’s most important
I recently had an interesting conversation with Mark Franklin, head of IT at Dartmouth’s engineering school. We got talking about leadership styles and practices, and he followed up with an email: “Over many years and with little formal training (I’m an engineer who got managerial responsibilities 1.5 years into my career), I have evolved my management style experimenting with what seem to me to be common sense ideas.” He added: “It was helpful to me to put these ideas in words” and went on to list some of his key principles, including:
- Try to let people have input into what they work on. If it’s at least in part their idea, they’ll be more engaged.
- Once people experience how powerful a collaborative team can be, they buy in.
- A strong team helps recruit more strong team members.
- Catch people doing something right and reward it, even if the reward is just a quick thank you.
- Hire people who demonstrate aptitude and desire to learn: the ability to learn is much more important in the end than having particular skills.
- Consensus-building is worth the investment. Forcing decisions should be rare and in special circumstances.
- We take credit as a team, and we take responsibility as a team.
- There’s plenty of credit to go around – share it whenever you can and encourage others to do so, too. It is contagious once people realize how good it feels.
- Brainstorming needs to be safe. No ridicule of “bad” ideas.
- Empower people to make decisions, take risks, and experiment. Don’t tell them what they can’t do.
- Trust people until/unless there is a problem. Most will more than live up to that.
- Diversity of skills, life experience, work experience, perspective, etc. all bring value to the team.
- Make constant improvements in small increments. This reduces risk and makes sure we focus on what matters most.
- Advocate for your people. Just knowing you have their back is usually enough for them to go fix conflicts on their own.
Mark, like many leaders, was promoted into a leadership role with little training, but he clearly made the most of it, and, reading what he wrote, I bet he has been leading high-performing teams! He also embraced a key idea that taking the time to put your ideas in writing is almost always worthwhile. Writing things down forces you to think through and better define your ideas.
My personal list starts with a few overarching principles for life and work, including:
- To inspire myself and others to achieve a higher level of personal and professional performance
- To treat everyone with dignity and respect, and advocate for others to do the same.
Then, I added a “to be” list, with related quotes to help sustain motivation. For example:
- Cultivate gratitude, hopefulness and positive energy (“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” – Henry Matisse)
- Honor family, friendships and connections (“What can I do in this moment to make this other person feel more capable and powerful?” – Jim Kouzes)
- Commit to purposeful community activities (“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” – Maximus)
- Embrace health and mindfulness (“The more clearly we see a challenging emotion, the less power it has over us.” – Headspace)
- Continuous self-improvement, including more humility, better listening, and increased empathy (“How do I want to be seen today?” – Ken Blanchard).
Getting feedback from others is important, too. Peter Kozodoy has written about the Johari window, a technique to help better understand what you know about yourself as well as your blind spots. This is one approach to reflect and get invaluable feedback.
Are you clear what leadership practices are most important for your work? Are you consistently living your values in practical ways? Set aside time to write down life goals and leadership approaches that you believe are most important. Then think about times you have applied them and also when you maybe came up short. Reflect on how your actions have impacted yourself and others, seek out feedback from colleagues, and periodically review and update your list.
We each have an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, including our own. Don’t underestimate your impact!
Douglass P. Teschner, founder of Growing Leadership LLC, can be reached at dteschner@GrowingLeadershipLLC.com.