I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Vera Ng’oma of ExcellicaGroup. Here’s the second part of our conversation on the power of personal leadership (you can read part 1 of our interview here). The conversation was based upon the methods I write about in One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
Vera Ng’oma: What’s your assessment of the quality of leadership today and what advice would you give someone going into leadership for the first time?
Mike Figliuolo: I know the biggest challenge leaders face is the sheer velocity and volume of issues they’re dealing with at any given time. Resources are tight and they’re being asked to handle more responsibilities and make changes more quickly than ever before. The differentiator in terms of performance is the leader’s ability to see issues coming before they become big issues and their ability to delegate and develop their teams so they can handle the volume of work on their shoulders.
For new leaders, I encourage them to shut up and listen for a few months. Don’t change anything. Learn your business. Learn your people. Understand where you fit in that dynamic. It’s arrogant to think you can walk into a new team and start changing things on Day 1 because you know better than they do as far as what needs doing. Start out trusting their competence until proven otherwise. If you come in and start changing things without a full understanding of why things are the way they are, you’re going to cause unnecessary resistance and resentment. Invest some time in learning before acting.
VN: Are there some key characteristics that you believe every leader should have and what would be your top three?
MF: Every leader needs to be trustworthy, compassionate, and authentic. Period. Their team members need to trust that leader unconditionally and the leader needs to earn and maintain that trust. Leaders need to truly care about the well-being of their team members. They have to respect their values and beliefs. They need to have a desire to help their people grow and overcome the challenges they face. As far as authenticity, leaders need to be themselves. Team members know when their leader is wearing a mask. Those masks lead to mistrust. When you are confident with who you are and what you believe, your team knows what you stand for and they’re more likely to trust you. These three characteristics create a virtuous circle that builds upon itself and gets stronger over time.
VN: “Leading the thinking” is one of the tenets of One Piece of Paper framework. What does that mean and how does it work in practice?
MF: Leading the thinking is about looking past the day-to-day activities and asking what’s around the corner. It’s about investing time in predicting future events and creating contingency plans for how you’ll deal with various scenarios. Too often we get sucked into days full of meetings and fail to look over the horizon at issues that will manifest in the future. The result of that is we’re surprised and unprepared for those events when they occur. In practice, leading the thinking is about setting some “think time” on your calendar (I encourage a block of at least 90 minutes per month) to look at the future and think about challenges you could face or opportunities that could present themselves. Create contingency plans for those events and prepare your team for the possibility they’ll occur. Let your team handle the day-to-day stuff. Your job as the leader is to prepare them for the future environment they’ll face.
VN: Where does thought leadership contribute its greatest value especially with so much focus on doing/action these days?
MF: If you’re leading the thinking well, you’ll know it because there won’t be any major surprises. You won’t be caught off guard by events in your industry or in your organization. When major events do occur, you’re able to react to them quickly because you’ve already thought through contingency plans. It’s that ability to act quickly or even prevent future issues because you see them coming that contributes a tremendous amount of value to the organization.
VN: What are you most proud of in terms of your own leadership and why?
MF: My proudest moments are when members of my team succeeded. Whether it was delivering a project they didn’t think they could deliver, getting promoted, or overcoming a challenge they’ve faced, those moments are the basis of my satisfaction. Watching someone else achieve something and knowing you’ve had some role in that success – whether it was teaching them the skills they needed, providing the encouragement and support to get them through adversity, offering guidance that pointed them in the right direction, or getting them the resources they needed to succeed – gives me a tremendous sense of achievement as a leader.
– If you want to learn more about personal leadership, grab a copy of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. There are plenty of suggestions in there for how you can be a more authentic leader. CLICK HERE to get your copy.
Some background on my interviewer Vera Ng’oma: she is a leadership, career and personal development coach and Founder/CEO of ExcellicaGroup. Her professional experience spans senior roles in various industries including in news media, international development and education and training. She is author of several books including Rules for Rising: How to Kick Mediocrity to the Curb, Class to Corporate: A Practical Guide for a Strong, Smart Start to Your Career, BIG Leadership: How to Lead in a Bold, Inspiring and Gracious Way and Peak Persona: Put the Power of Your Potential to Work. You can learn more about her work at www.excellicaleadershipgroup.com.
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