Working in leadership training over the last 10 years, I have been very blessed to be surrounded by some of the greatest leaders Milwaukee has to offer.
So instead of writing another blog post where I talk to you about a concept or some kind of leadership tip, I figured I would step to the side and let some of those great leaders do the talking for me.
I asked them all a simple question; “What does being a leader mean to you?”
Their answers were amazing. Here they are:
1) First, you must be a good listener and understand what your team is telling you whether they are talking to you directly or giving you signals. If you are too set in your ways you will miss many opportunities to improve. I believe it is also important to challenge your team members, not always in a direct manner but understand when they are seeking new challenges and responsibilities. This means that people will sometimes make mistakes which is good. We all learn best from mistakes we have made and a good leader allows room for such mistakes. I also think that it is imperative you focus on people’s strengths and maximize those strengths. Sometimes in today’s very analytical world with personality assessments, etc., I think we work too hard focusing on everyone’s areas of improvement and not enough time on maximizing people’s strengths. I am not suggesting we ignore or not try to help people improve in certain areas but I think it is very important to embrace the good things that set people apart.
Never underestimate the importance of your leadership role and the responsibility that comes with it. You may be responsible for hundreds or thousands of careers and can make decisions that may have a life-altering impact on their lives and their families. For that reason always be humble and treat your associates with great respect and understand that any success you have enjoyed is probably not so much the result of what you did but because those around you made you look good. Lastly, make decisions. People may not always agree with the decisions you make but they will respect you. An indecisive leader is really no leader at all.
– Tom Kissinger | Senior Executive Vice President & General Counsel, The Marcus Corporation
2) I think that being a leader means bringing out the best in the people around you for a common purpose. A good leader creates the environment for success by setting the tone and the pace for the work. You know you’re effectively leading when the team’s personality and performance match the tone and the pace that you’ve established.
– Liz Klug | Executive Director, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
3) To me being a leader means many things. First and possibly foremost it means getting out front. I mean that in many aspects of the word. Whether it is representing the organization publicly, or leading the team inside the company, sometimes pulling and sometimes pushing. It means sharing the credit when you have a win and shouldering the blame when you have a loss. It also means being the chief culture officer. They often say culture trumps strategy every time. As a leader, I assume responsibility for making sure we keep the culture that got us this far in place. I also view it as my job to make sure that we have the best people we can find working in the company. This is not a one-person operation. I think the best leaders realize that and then surround themselves with great people. In the end, leadership is about responsibility. Responsibility to get out front, responsibility to model the right behavior and responsibility to set the table for success.
– Greg Marcus | CEO, Marcus Corporation
4) Teamwork and collaboration; without those 2 elements achieving excellence will always be elusive
– Cindy Heston | Director, Travel & Events – Anthem Inc.
5) I’ve always felt that my role as a leader is to get the best out of those that I work with – to help others attain their goals and be the best person/leader they are meant to be. When I’m leading the charge especially on a work project, my goal is to have my team follow and clearly understand the vision; to have a collaborative process where we all get a voice. I want my team to feel they have a connection to me, good and consistent communication, and we all share in the success and outcomes of our shared vision. I know that when I have a say in the vision I am more engaged all the way through the journey. I want a win-win when all is done, even if things don’t go as planned. We are all in it together. When I think about it “leadership” is really a plural word – can’t be done alone, you always need a group, a team, or another to lead.
– Rose Meagher | Owner/Principal at Meagher Consulting LLC
6) I see being a leader as an opportunity to be trusted to carry out the mission of the work that we do; to set the course and support my people as we navigate through….to sometimes fall with them but also to rise high with them. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to affect change across a system with so many varied personalities and abilities.
– Holly Davis | Executive Director of Department on Aging
7) For me, being a leader is about serving, motivating and empowering others. It requires compassion, vulnerability, and a continuous learning mindset because there is always something to learn and improve upon.
– Tina Madden | Co-CEO and Chief Customer Officer
8) I believe great leaders create a growth-mindset culture with team members that are happy, hungry and humble. At the same time, they develop an easy-to-visualize vision that team members can embrace with passion.
After that, a bit of structure with tasks and rolling three-year achievable goals goes a long way. Leaders are flexible, make adjustments along the way, make sure to have fun and keep on moving forward!
For what it is worth, I also believe these key elements apply to personal self-development and really anything that solidly moves any ball forward toward a vision.
– Linda Mertz | CEO of Mertz Associates
9) Leadership is a broad topic and means different things to people under various circumstances. I would like to share observations related to one set of circumstances. I have been working with a group of leaders recently promoted. I have been coaching them on their development and readiness for their new challenges. While exciting, these new challenges also expose anxiety and internal questioning about what they should do next or if they are capable to lead others.
Most of these leaders have been outstanding individual performers which provided them the opportunity to be promoted to lead others. However, most seem ill-equipped when they realize what brought them to this new opportunity is not the same skill set they need to succeed in their new role. It is that realization which creates the anxiety and also the opportunity to develop into the leader they want to become.
These new leaders must learn the benefit of team building and aligning individuals in an orchestrated manner to achieve mission-critical outcomes. Vital to team building is celebrating the achievements of the team along with providing feedback in a timely manner and in an appropriate way. These leaders must also embrace spending time strategically working on the business versus in the business. This work is essential for the business or division to gain and sustain a competitive advantage. Vision, team values and mutual expectations, operating plans are all components of success on that journey.
A number of new leaders who were very successful as individual performers fail in new leadership positions due to the lack of knowledge of what the role requires. They fall back on what made them successful in the first place and there is misalignment for the new role. Leadership is about self-knowledge and therefore being conscious about a change in skills needed to succeed makes all the difference.
– Mark J. Gmach | Principal and Founder of MG-INSIGHT L.L.C.
10) I like to look for everyday heroes in my life and model their leadership attributes. One of the things I’ve learned along the way is “take the blame and give the credit.” I think this is great advice. If someone working for you makes a mistake, it’s your fault as the leader. You didn’t provide sufficient training or guidance. It’s your responsibility to ensure the people working for you have the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. A leader who takes the blame when things go wrong but who are generous with credit and praise when things go right are the most well-liked and respected leaders. I’ve also learned it’s critical to be able to talk to people of all levels from the senior leadership team to the people cleaning the office with the same level of respect. Everyone plays an important role in the success of your company/career and everyone deserves respect for the effort they put forth. I admire leaders who can just as easily chat with the first-year associates as they can with the senior leaders of the organizations and do it in a genuine way. I strive to emulate these leadership traits in my life.
-Mary Ellen Krueger |Director – Wealth Management, Partner
So what do you think? Did you see any commonalities in these leader’s answers? Did anything surprise you?
What is your answer to the question: What does leadership mean to you?