Written by Joanna Li
Held in Vancouver, BC on October 23, 2018, The Art of Leadership for Women conference was yet another fantastic reminder that leadership is an affair of the heart (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). Messages of life-long learning, value creation and self-awareness echoed throughout the event with this incredible line-up of speakers: Whitney Johnson, Jacqueline Carter, Morten Hansen, Ram Charan and Alan Mulally. As leading practitioners and thinkers, each shared unique experiences and insights contributing to our understanding of what constitutes leadership, organizational development and change. At the risk of oversimplifying the many golden nuggets I’ve taken away from this conference, the following are four key common factors I have gleaned from the speakers.
- Leadership starts with mindfully leading self.
From exploring how we spend our time to what we stress about, the speakers remind us that in order to effectively lead others, we must first mindfully learn to lead ourselves. We must consistently commit to setting time aside for self-reflection. What is most important to me? What are my priorities? What am I doing that takes me closer to my top three goals and vision? Conversely, what am I doing that takes time away from my priorities (i.e., am I spreading myself too thin?)? Be present by practicing mindfulness and focusing on your priorities. Leadership, as Jacqueline Carter reminds us, starts with the mind.
- Know what’s important to the organization and staff teams…
Just as importantly as ‘knowing thyself’ is the significance of identifying what is important to your organization and its members. What kind of skillsets, expertise, knowledge is needed within your organization? Who in your organization can offer these skills and support? If none, Whitney Johnson urges us to hire for potential, Morten Hansen says to hire for purpose and keep it front of mind every day, and Ram Charan stresses the value of recruiting people better than you. Leadership is everybody’s business (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). Connect with and build trust with those within and external to your industry. See the world from different angles and perspectives – this helps you build capability and capacity (Charan, 2018). Doing so could help you better support your organization and those around you.
- …and learn to prioritize them!
Engage in tasks that take you closer to your goals and are aligned with shared values. This could mean helping staff members grow with stretch assignments (Johnson, 2018); being mindful, selfless (other-oriented) and compassionate (Carter, 2018); focusing on Passion (what you love) and Purpose (what contributes) (Hansen, 2018); and finally, as mentioned above, actively building and doubling your capacity and capabilities every three years (Charan, 2018). Alan Mulally ties this all together by sharing how his journey was shaped by life principles he learned growing up. These are principles, practices, processes and behaviours that are important to him and that for which he has zero-tolerance for violation. There’s nothing more powerful to encourage others in their quest for self-awareness and being true to their personal and organizational values than for us to prioritize and model it first.
- Keep learning.
We have all heard of the old adage, “Change is the only constant”. To change and adapt is to learn a new way of being. Change is not easy and thus not always well-received. We can fight it but there will be repercussions; it could impact our organizational system in one way or another. Johnson (2018) asserts that everyone is on a learning curve (re: S-curve); an organization is a collection of learning curves. Knowing the potential negative outcomes of not willing to change, we must make it scarier not to change. And Carter (2018) reminds us, the creativity and innovation that come from quiet self-reflection often spark the magic of deeper learning and understanding. Creativity happens when the mind wanders but we must be in the present moment to make the most of it. Further, continually ask, “What’s new?” as you connect with your networks (Charan, 2018). This will not only help you build capacity but also your capability as you learn to become exceptional in the focused tasks you do to have superior execution (Hansen, 2018). Finally, learn everything you can about something or someone – be prepared to serve and give people value (Mullaly, 2018).
When we model what it means to prioritize our goals and values, when we engage and support others in co-learning, we create a culture of self-awareness, vulnerability and learning. It is in this learning environment that not only do we grow individually and as a team, but also organizationally as we collaboratively expand its capacity to create our shared future.
Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2012). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (5th ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.