Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Potential, Not Position (or, what makes me a leader)

Let's play a little word association. When I say the word "leader," what comes to mind?

Specific people? Like Angela Merkel, Nelson Mandela, or President Obama?
Or maybe your list is dominated by qualities? Like integrity, charisma, or decisiveness?

I've never thought of myself as a leader. My work history is marked by several lateral changes to explore new industries and develop new skill sets. As a result, I haven't climbed a traditional career ladder, and have never held a position with any significant power.

However, as a member of the 2016-2017 Women's Leadership Program offered by the Boston Chamber of Commerce, I've started to explore what makes me a leader. At a recent two-day course taught by faculty at the Simmons College School of Management, I've identified the following abilities that make me a leader, regardless of what professional position I hold:

  • Understand, through focused and empathetic listening, what motivates people (and what demotivates them)
  • Build and articulate a shared vision by focusing on what ties groups together
  • Enable others to take action by creating frameworks for getting work done 
  • Enthusiastically and authentically celebrate small victories and create a spirit of community 
  • Identify points of frustration in a process, and then build and execute a plan for mitigating them
This list is built from the five-part leadership framework developed by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner:
  1. Model the way
  2. Inspire a shared vision
  3. Challenge the process
  4. Enable others to act
  5. Encourage the heart

What I appreciate about this model is that is defines power not as an outgrowth of one's position, but rather in relation to one's ability to help others realize their potential. This is in close alignment with my professional mission statement, which I developed in partnership with BMG. It reads,

"I get things done by engaging teams in collaboratively developing compelling goals and strategies, removing obstacles to their success, and achieving positive and measurable outcomes."

Understanding what makes me a leader is inspiring me to begin making some strategic decisions about my career path. As I uncover my own potential, I look forward to sharing it with you on here The Journey of Clownface.

Have you uncovered your own potential? What is it, and how did you uncover it? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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