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Welcome Jennifer Mackin, author of the book Leaders Deserve Better, and a trainer who helps managers become better leaders. Jennifer considers herself a change agent dedicated to helping businesses and leaders be change agents for the greater good.
2020 forced leaders to reflect and change, which became a tough opportunity for Jennifer. She had to pivot from face-to-face to virtual, and has had to embrace change.
We asked Jennifer what leadership means to her. She thinks of leaders whose job is to develop and lead others. She refers to people who others listen to as influencers, but in her work, she is working with people who have direct management responsibilities over other employees.
Jennifer found that most people are put into leadership roles without any leadership training, and then they struggle to lead effectively. What causes people to struggle? They don’t know how to coach, manage performance and do regular work with their team. BUT, the issue is also in the c-suite where leaders aren’t tying activities like people management and growth into business goals. Not only are they not training their leaders to lead, they’re not helping their people grow or tying their entire team into the success of the business.
Leaders of leaders need to drive an environment of learning, practice and reinforcement within our organizations. Leaders tend to delegate and be task oriented, but not think about overall succession, people and skill growth. Sharing new knowledge and skills, especially in a virtual environment, is the key to showing how effective employees are in the growth in the company.
Before raising your hand for an official leadership role, take a look at who you are, what drives you, and understand the requirements of the role within your organization. After knowing what roles are possible, create a development plan for yourself to get yourself to where you need to be. Talk with your current leaders to ask them what to do to get to where you want to go- drive your career!
Look at others who have grown into leadership roles before you- what did they do? Talk to people, get feedback on what you need to do as well as get an understanding of what you will need to do to move where you want to go.
What does Jennifer see in the best teams she works with? What competencies go across organizations? Besides being strategic and ethical, the best leaders know how to drive strategy through and across their teams. They care about their people and understand how to tie business needs with people needs and people growth. It’s complex, and that’s why people like Jennifer are so important for leaders to learn from. Caring about the people and business and tying them together, and fitting all of the pieces together, celebrating differences, is what the strongest leaders do.
In interviews, when looking for good leadership at a company, see how you’re treated, how they talk about the team, and ask: what skills are valued in each role and each group at the company? Do they care about your questions and do they want to learn about you? Intentionality is key - we’re all learning, but if someone’s intentions are good and they admit what they’re working on, they have leadership potential.
Being present in conversations is so important, as is asking how someone is doing, or mentioning something they talked about before. Being seen by your leadership is a big key in happiness and engagement at work. As a leader, thinking about the combination of wellness, productivity and outcomes is key.
When you’re trying to move in your organization, you don’t want to be a suck up, and it’s important to document your successes, celebrate others, and make sure your leader knows what you’ve contributed and where you want to go. Getting a mentor is important to driving your career and can help you understand what the next stage may look like. A mentor can be outside of your company or inside. It’s not automatic - it’s a relationship that gets built over time based on trust.
When the mentee has the intention to get the most out of the relationship possible, the relationship can really bloom. Being a proactive mentee allows you to learn the most from your mentor.
During the pandemic, the strongest leaders have increased communication, asking people 1:1 what they need, talking with the team about the business and growth, and constantly taking new information and asking how that will affect their people. Getting people involved in the changes involving business direction and encouraging transparency and how changes effect everyone is important to long term success.