Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What Events Shaped You as a Leader?

Guest post by Great Leadership monthly contributor Beth Armknecht Miller:

I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with the president of a privately held company as part of research for a book I am writing on talent management and development within small to mid-size companies. During our conversation he shared an event he had early on in his career that intrigued me.

He was clearly a high potential early on and was tapped by his CFO to create and lead the new internal audit group for a public company. One day the CFO asked him to attend a board meeting so that he could answer any questions that might arise regarding the internal audit group. His directive: answer those questions asked of him only. Otherwise he was to remain silent and observe. He dutifully sat quietly and after about 90 minutes realized that the people in the room had no earthly idea what was actually going on at this company. There were so many layers of management that what was going on down at “ground force” was not visible. And if these executives didn’t have all the information, how could they be making sound decisions for the company?

So when he was named President of the current company he leads, he remembered this event and instituted Monthly Meetings with Dan. These meetings are comprised of only individual contributors and are confidential. It took several months for employees to trust that the conversations were confidential. Employees did come to realize that Dan genuinely wanted to understand and that their opinions were valued. During these meetings “Dan” gains valuable information that helps him and his executive team make better decisions for the company.

What has helped to shape you as a leader? It may be a series of events both positive and negative. Start the process by thinking back before your career. What events happened at school and at home that have influenced you as a leader? Then think about historical events that might have impacted you as well…9/11, man walking the moon, the Challenger disaster, Boston Red Sox World Series win 2004, or whatever it may be. What changed for you with these events? How are you different as a leader?

And when you self-reflect and become clear about what has influenced you as a leader, it is my belief your leadership becomes more purposeful.  Not only do you connect past learnings with future decisions and actions, you have stories you can share with those you lead. Stories bring context, meaning and understanding to others around you. Suddenly others understand the “why” of your actions; you become more transparent. The more you share about yourself as a person as well as a leader the more real you are to your employees.
As you reveal yourself to others, your modeling will make many feel comfortable in sharing the events that helped shape them as leaders and employees. And, with more insight into those you lead, the better you can lead them! So set aside an hour to increase your leadership effectiveness:

1. Identify those events that were meaningful to you

2. Develop the stories to reveal your “why”, and…

3. Start sharing. 

Then encourage and watch for others to share their stories.
Beth Armknecht Miller, of Atlanta, Georgia, is Founder and President of Executive Velocity, a leadership development advisory firm accelerating the leadership success of CEOs and business leaders. She is also a Vistage Chair and Executive Coach. She is certified in Myers Briggs and Hogan leadership assessment tools and is a Certified Managerial Coach by Kennesaw State University. Visit or or follow her on twitter at SrExecAdvisor.

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