Observations in leadership from a youngin’

Leadership is something everyone always like to talk about, but it’s always people who have been in leadership positions for a long time. I’m no Teddy Roosevelt (yet) but I’m also not Bill Lumbergh (from Office Space). While these seasoned individuals certainly are the experts on leadership (from a sheer time and experience perspective), I figured I’d give what I see as good leadership, being both a current leader and a follower. So here’s my short list of an effective leader:

Communicate – be open and honest with your communications. Use the channels of communication that are most applicable and relevant to your team (email, phone, instant message, social media) to convey your thoughts, strategy and point of view. From what I’ve seen and experienced, it is difficult (if not impossible) for a leader to over communicate to their team. In fact, I’d rather have a leader who tries to over communicate, than one that I have to try and pry answers out of every day. I’ll take the over communicator every day of the week and twice on Sunday (well I guess Monday for work purposes).

Be sincere – be honest with what you’re going to say, even if your team won’t like the answer. This means you shouldn’t be harshly blunt (see Donald Trump) or sugar-coating your answers (see “that-boss-you-had-who-never-gave-an-honest-answer-and-made-everything-sound-like-puppies-and-unicorns). Be honest and truthful in your answers to questions, even if the answer is no. Give constructive criticism to help soften the blow on  “no”. Really, who doesn’t like constructive criticism? There are few things better for you than constructive criticism, as hard as it may be at the time to see it. This is a fine balance though, and sometimes you will need to be harshly blunt or puppies-and-rainbows, but if you’re able to give honest and open communication and answers to the team, these instances will be few and far between.

Delegate – for the love of God, delegate. As a follower, there is nothing worse than a leader who takes everything on their back and leaves nothing for the team to help with. As a leader, there is nothing worse than doing everything and thinking your team does nothing. This gets back to communication, but more than that it is the responsibility of the leader to identify opportunities to delegate responsibility to the team. That’s why you have a team. You can’t do everything, nor should you be expected to.

Have a vision – the best leaders I’ve seen have a had a clear vision of where their team is going today, tomorrow, three weeks from now, in a year, 2 years, etc. They “get it”. The important part is that the team understands the vision. What it is. What it means. Why it is important. How it will be achieved. Best example I have is from the end of the 2008-2009 peaintball season where we did not attend Nationals. I set out our plan leading into the 2009-2010 college paintball season, I laid out our plan to be the National Champions. I described how we were going to accomplish this, laid out what everyone needed to do, explained the milestones and everything in between. After an undefeated regular season, Northeastern Conference Championship, the #2 seed at Nationals and finally a National Championship the team accomplished and delivered on the vision. It is important to have a vision for things to come, it is critical to success to make sure everyone understands that vision and how to deliver for the final result.

Be the Alpha – you’re the leader, so lead. A positive group attitude is critical and group harmony is good, but you can’t let the group lead, that’s your job. While you need to solicit the team’s feedback and opinions on some decisions, in the end you’re the one who must make and live with the decision. You’re not going to make everyone happy, and they may not all like it, but the team must understand and respect why you made the choice. In the end it’s your ass on the line, you can’t fall back and say “the group decided” because that means “I’m not the leader, I’m the voice of the group”. You’re the leader, lead.

Defend your pack – no one is allowed to pick on, put down or disrupt your team. Defend your team to the death, even if you may agree with what someone is saying about an individual or the group. Any mistake by a member or the team is your mistake, so take the blame and shield them from the attack. This goes for both external and internal individuals. Defend your team, no matter what, especially if the attacker is vocal. They’ll respect you more than ever and appreciate the fact that you have their back, giving them the freedom to risk and, hopefully, achieve greatly.

Don’t be their best friend – be friends, not best friends. You’re the leader, not their best friend and this has to be clear and understood. Be friends, be friendly and social but when push comes to shove you are the person who holds the power and you can’t sacrifice that for a friendship. ‘Nuff said.

That’s what I’ve got. This is by no means all inclusive nor is it meant to be an absolute list. More of a guideline. From what I’ve seen, the great leaders all posses these qualities and are not afraid to flash them when necessary. In the end, trust yourself and you’ll be fine. That’s how you grew to be a leader in the first place.

One Response to “Observations in leadership from a youngin’”
  1. Becky Kurtz says:

    I love the viewpoint from a young ‘un in the workplace. What do you see, what have you experienced, what’s worked and what hasn’t? Well done, young leader!

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