Safe Community Project


Picking the Right Leader

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During the summer, our team goes through some annual growth. That process often includes some promotions. We’re all familiar with moving people into positions of leadership, whether from above, as peers, or as those working in supporting positions. In our organization, we deal with leadership on so many different levels, and as I made some final evaluations prior to promotions, I thought I’d share some thoughts on this issue.

I think the most important thing is that leadership doesn’t equate with promoting. There are postal clerks, production assistants, Navy seaman apprentices (E2) and other entry level workers who all demonstrate superior leadership every day. It isn’t about being the top dog.

In my experience (I’m now 56 years old), the best leaders do so by example. Setting an example is the best motivating tool for those with whom you work. That doesn’t mean doing everything, nor does it involve micromanaging; quite the opposite. It does mean that you set the tone. It also means that everything you do sets an example for those individuals you manage.

Leaders don’t execute change for the sake of change. It’s one of the things I like about the Mayor of Los Angeles. He’s young, considered inexperienced, but is simplifying everything that’s wrong with local government so it can be understood by everyone prior to the next step being taken. Once people “get it,” then forward progress can be made.

When there are problems, the best place to look first is in the mirror. Leadership isn’t something we’re all born with circulating in our bloodstream. Even natural leaders make mistakes. It’a amazing how often the problem might be you (or me). Understanding that, and working on self-improvement is something we should all strive to achieve.

Good leaders surround themselves with the best possible talent. Every one of my team leaders is better at their job than I could possibly be. When I promote someone, I want their next step to be their personal best. Can they rise to the occasion? Can they bring their team with them? It’s easy to promote your friends – there’s trust that exists, but is there the talent to get the job done? Can you argue successfully? Can you hear bad news and welcome it? A rising tide lifts all ships.

Be a mentor. We work with organizations that have countless “leaders” based on their promotional positions. Yet, few of these people engage in mentoring their subordinates. They command, instruct, train, and demand results, but they don’t mentor. Treating your team with respect, and counseling them honestly and in an ongoing manner is essential to strong leadership.

Don’t compute false math. I’ve heard about a leader’s “team failing him,” and metrics for a job that “prohibit” success. Really? Who picked the team? Who rallied the team? Who treated the team poorly – or appropriately? I so dislike to hear about a leader being surrounded by losers. When that happens, it’s time to pull the mirror out again.

Leadership isn’t easy. Those who feel that those in leadership positions have it easy are mistaken. They’re confusing deadweight promoted to positions of power who don’t utilize their opportunity with true leadership.

Leadership isn’t found in a book, a degree, or simply experience. Buying an advanced degree is just that. Reading books is great. Doing the same job for a long time results in experience. Hopefully, those things are contributors to a strong leader’s CV, but they don’t equal a command presence. Understanding what you take in and then applying it and measuring your results is key to the benefits education, experience, and collaboration bring.

And finally, the best candidate is often not the most obvious candidate. Sometimes, a true leader is busy doing their job, while others are competing to be promoted, believing that they are owed something. It’s human nature, so we need to understand that. But, strong leaders will know that you have to look beyond friendships, a golden CV, and the typical letters of endorsement to find the right person.

I’m very lucky. My team is made up of focused, committed, and quality people. In some ways, that makes my job even more difficult. But, that’s okay – I wake up every morning and hug my wife and my two dogs – and know my day will be about making decisions. I’m grateful to those I work with, to my clients, and to those vendor/partners who make our ability to perform a reality. Next week, I’m going to make several promotions. I’m going to review that mirror a few times in the meanwhile.

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