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Leadership 101

Published: December 5, 2012

Author: Melissa Kowalke

In my first year of management, I’ve experienced a wide spectrum of leadership challenges and situations that have shaped my approach and view as both a manager and employee.
Last month, my fellow managers and I attended the SkillPath Seminar: Excelling as a Manager or Supervisor, which focused on the core strategies and concepts that help create strong and influential managers. The biggest takeaway from the seminar was also the most basic and logical step any manager can take: to be a great manager, you must first be a great leader.
Although this seems simple enough, it is a concept frequently overlooked when new or current managers access their approach to working with their team of employees. Below are 3 simple but crucial steps every manager should take to be an effective leader, in any position:
1. Listen and learn 
When an employee comes into your office (or in my case, turns his/her chair towards mine) and starts to ask a question, how many voices do you usually hear? In my case, it’s two. Not because I hear voices in my head, but because I am already trying to figure out a solution to the question that was just asked. I want to be as efficient with both my and my employee’s time by figuring out a way to answer the question.
However, this often leads to missing an important factor: focusing in solely on what the person is saying, allowing you to learn why they are asking the question and where the problem originated from. Sometimes a team member doesn’t need to know the solution, but rather how and why the solution is derived. Just like back in math class, having an answer without showing your process can lead to partial credit and, in this case, a missed opportunity to learn.
2.       Be available and visible, but not 24/7
Training and mentorship are important components of a strong leader, but also knowing when and when not to help is just as important. At PPC Associates, we are encouraged to collaborate and ask questions, which is a great tool when solving a problem or implementing a new strategy. However, not all questions are created equal, and some will teach you more if you figure them out on your own.
Practice does not make perfect, but if does make things permanent. The more employees use their own skills to figure out a problem, the more they will learn from it and remember the solution the next time it arises. Striking a balance of support and independence with your team members will encourage both trust and growth.
3. Be confident and inspire confidence
Simple enough, right? For a self-proclaimed introvert like me, commanding attention in front of a group of people has never been a strength. However, I’ve learned that confidence does not always come in the form of what you say, but more so in what you do. A leader needs to prove to their team that there is a reason to follow them, and there is no stronger argument than leading by example. When people can see the work and dedication you provide for the team, they are more willing to put in that same work and dedication. You can’t make people confident or want to work hard, but you can demonstrate and inspire them to do so on their own.
Developing your own personal leadership style is a constant process; the Skillpath seminar was a great opportunity to gain a new perspective on my own leadership style and draw on the experiences of other managers. It’s easy to write about best practices for leadership, but in the end, it really comes down to experience and application of what you’ve learned.
The caveat of such simple and broad concepts is that it leaves a lot of room for interpretation and implementation. However, every person is going to have a unique approach and take on what makes a strong leader, and those differences will allow for growth between managers and their teams.

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