Thoughts on Leadership: My 5 Keys

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have been in leadership roles that have not only stretched and challenged me but has given me insight about how to lead with intention.

I can remember my first job in high school at a local supermarket where I worked part-time. I began pushing shopping carts but was then immediately promoted to the Produce Department.  Fortunately I had a natural ability to relate and serve customers with unwavering professionalism and service. As a result, I was ultimately asked to serve as the Customer Service Manager at the impressionable age of 17. As I look back and reflect, I realize that those years were an invaluable experience as I learned that leading with intention was something one can refine, improve, and nurture through increasing experience throughout his/her career.

Without question, leadership can come in many ways and forms no matter if you are talking about the workplace, the classroom, the orchestra / band, or a sports team. In my professional career, I have been able to experience leadership working as a project team lead, as a product manager, and most recently in a Director and General Managerial role. Regardless if I was an individual contributor or a manager with direct reports,  I have found that the heart-and-soul of great leadership thrives on leading with intention based on the below 5 key values.

Ongoing Stewardship 

I define this as an ongoing willingness to authentically serve others with integrity. From getting your hands dirty by doing some nitty-gritty work to help the team; asking questions about how things are going in routine 1:1s with team members; and acknowledging team-members specifically for good work done are examples of how servicing others can go a long way in demonstrating leadership with intention. This value is so critically important that if one does not practice this value consistently it can singlehandedly compromise one’s leadership effectiveness even if the other 4 values are practiced flawlessly.

Constructive Feedback

I truly believe that as a leader, it is important to provide feedback to our peers in a constructive and professional manner. Often times, it is easy for one to resort to more direct and even harsh ways to communicate but this is not always effective. Of course, especially if you are in a position with business accountability, one would be remiss to be soft or indirect to his/her team.  This is why providing direct and honest feedback in a professional manner can go a long way in not only cultivating growth but also establishing respect and unconditional loyalty from others. “Good teams” can be managed-well with consistent constructive feedback and “high-performing” — who may get their motivation from within and typically do not need to be managed — will thrive on this level of feedback and perform at an even greater potential.

Deliberate Transparency

When I changed companies and started a new leadership role, I wanted to be fully open and transparent with my team on what I was doing and what I expected of myself in the first 90 days. Therefore, after a couple of weeks of understanding the role and expectations, I prepared a scorecard of things that I wanted to accomplish in the first 3-months. In many ways, this was for my own ramp but also it was to show my commitment to the team and what I wanted to achieve in my effort to attain some small-wins. After clearly documenting these individual KPIs, I shared it with my direct staff. The content itself was aggressive but more importantly, my openness had a positive impact in fostering trust in a short period of time within my staff and, equally importantly, it created a positive reverberating effect of transparency within the organization.

Collaborative Teamwork

Many times the word “teamwork” is overly and/or incorrectly used in the office. As you may agree, just because people may be on the same team, it does not mean they are actually working together as a cohesive unit.  This is often referenced in sports. For example, if a basketball player has the ball and does not pass it around to playmates, he / she is not operating as a team player. The business world is no exception from this. Being a team requires members to collaborate, listen, respect, trust, and work together in order for it to work in its optimal form. This starts with the leader whose job is to not only to preach collaboration but to also demand it and acknowledge those who role-model this behavior.

Listening with Discipline

As I am sure we can all relate, distractions coming at us in every which way, it is easy to lose focus and to not let our ears do their God given talent: listening. I have found in my 17 years of experience that leaders who thoroughly listen to their team members, staffs, and/or superiors are the ones who speak when they have something of substance to say and seek to understand first before being understood themselves. But we can also become victims of chaos and noise in our day to day activities and, consequently, try to multitask when listening to others. This is ineffective and only compounds the communication gaps and misunderstandings that often happen between people. By making eye contact and listening with 100% attention to someone, we can minimize the communication gaps that can happen and, as a result, demonstrate leadership with intention in the process.

Final Thoughts

It is my belief that these above 5 keys are critical in order to effectively lead with intention. Of course, all of these must be practiced with integrity in order for one to be deemed an authentic, true leader. As I look at myself, I can honestly say that I am still refining these skills in an attempt to enhance my effectiveness no matter what role I am in during my career. Like any skill, leading with intention is a continuous journey of improvement but recognizing and appreciating the above 5 keys is a big first step to leadership greatness. What are your keys to leading with intention?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Most Overlooked Quality in Leadership

In many cases one of the keys to moving forward as a team or as an individual in an organization is the willingness to have empathy in everything we do. In other words, being able to embrace the perspective of others: customers, colleagues, vendors, partners, etc. Having this cognitive empathy is perhaps one of the most overlooked qualities that one should prioritize when interviewing new talent, assessing leaders or managers, and evaluating organizations as a whole.

As someone who has worked and dealt with products for most of my career, being empathetic is critical to building the right products and solutions that will motivate customers to open up their wallets. Conversely, not being empathetic can be quite damaging to an organization’s top-line and, consequently, its overall reputation. This can be illustrated by delivering user experiences that are not designed with the customer in mind; developing applications that do not address end-user pain points; providing poor customer-service that can derail loyalty; or delivering services that do not improve how business gets done by organizations are all manifestations of a company not building products or services with the end-user in mind. This is why I believe that empathy is one of the fundamental building blocks to being an innovative organization.

The ramifications of empathy are quite extraordinary in product development and innovation but obviously it does not stop there. Having empathy starts with each and every one of us regardless of role, position, or title. If you are in marketing, being empathetic is all about advertising a product based on how your target segment buys. If you are in HR, being empathetic means treating a prospective employee as a person rather than just a piece of paper (i.e., a resume). If you are in customer service, it is all about listening to the end-user and thinking about what they are experiencing from their perspective as you try to troubleshoot their issue. Of course, just being empathetic does not mean that you will have all the answers but it is a prerequisite to being thoughtful and compassionate in our actions.

Practicing empathy certainly can tie into our roles but it also starts with just how we behave in our day to day lives. Here are just a few examples of ways we can all be more empathetic as leaders and individual contributors.

  • Being attentive, through and through. For example, putting electronic devices away when you are in a meeting with someone regardless of level or title.
  • When having a heated debate with a colleague, asking questions to seek understanding — and potentially common ground — before thinking about how you will react.
  • If a team did not perform well on a project, despite performing at a high-level historically, letting them know what they did well first and then providing constructive feedback.

I believe we often get too caught up in company policies, government regulations, or what our competition is doing. I am not suggesting that we ignore these areas but if we use good judgement and common sense then our actions will lead us to be being authentically empathetic internally and externally no matter what role we have. If we do this consistently up and down and across an organization, then the obligations companies have to their shareholders may naturally bear fruit. It all ties to the Golden Rule that many of us know since our younger years: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”