Scarlett Letter #149: Observations of a leader: be open; be generous; be an inspiration

Personal coaching is not an ‘official’ service that I proactively market. Yet, every year I somehow secure a handful of clients in a one-on-one, coaching capacity. I’m partial to these assignments because I feel the learning exchange is mutual. With my input and guidance, I hope that my clients grow in their ability to communicate well; tackle the challenges of their professional relationships; and make great strides towards attaining their bigger business goals.

In return, I am able to observe their strong suits, of which there are many. (I’m convinced this is because only self-aware, evolved, ambitious people seek out personal communications coaching). It’s fantastic to be on the ‘outside looking into’ these very proactive, talented professionals.

Most recently, I have had the pleasure of working with a leader in the technology space (outside of my baliwick of architecture, engineering, and construction). Brent (alias) is a senior sales manager, supervising a large pool of sales professionals in the Midwest region. He’s already proven himself in a myriad of ways, and has earned a great deal of respect and recognition from his colleagues. Brent is one of those people with uber high self-expectations. And while he also has high expectations of others (no surprise), his most critical eye is reserved for himself. If Brent were to self-grade his performance as a 91%, that would not be good enough. In his eyes, 91% is no better than 70%. He will not be satisfied until he feels he’s performing at the tip top: 100%. {As an aside, when assessing Brent’s performance during 360-degree reviews, his colleagues score him as a higher performer than he scores himself.}

But his relentless demand of self is not what I admire about Brent. To the contrary. In fact, I hope that someday Brent will perceive himself as others do, and give himself more credit.

Here are just three of the admirable leadership traits that we—in the architecture, engineering, construction industry—can learn from Brent.

1. Be open.  Brent is highly receptive to feedback. He proactively seeks it, and is disappointed if it does not include constructive elements from which he can improve and grow. When we were recently working on an imminent big presentation, Brent accepted my feedback with great ease. Even better, he immediately applied the feedback on the next practice round. He’s a quick learner, and hungry to grow. As another example of his openness, Brent has a direct report that recently expressed discontent with the firm’s product design department. Rather than become defensive, he asked for her recommendations. Her solution included a tighter integration between currently disparate departments. Without delay, he figured out a way to execute her suggestion. He was open, flexible, and collaborative.

2. Be generous.  Brent is generous when giving credit to others. He’s mastered the habit of making others feel like an idea was their own, when in fact he may have guided them towards it. Another example: he consistently deflects credit from himself in order to boost others. For example, his recently received kudos from his boss about an exceptionally well-done job. And yet, instead of accepting the full credit, Brent made a point of emphatically and genuinely describing a colleague’s contribution to the job. Did he give away more credit than deserved? Maybe. But the results? His colleague accepted the praise gratefully, and it makes him that much more motivated to do his best work for—and with—Brent. In turn, this strengthens the overall team, elevating the ‘whole’ to be more effective than the sum of it’s individual ‘parts’.

 3. Be an inspiration. Brent has aligned his personal goals with those of his company. Perhaps he drank the kool-aid; he genuinely believes in the bigger mission, direction, and values of his company. His respect for—and commitment to—the firm’s success is visible and contagious. In multiple contexts, I’ve observed ways in which Brent has inspired his colleagues towards greatness relative to their work and beyond. How is he so effective at inspiration? Well, clearly he leads-by-example. He also proactively strives to tap into others talents and emotions in order to help make them the best they can possibly be. One illustration: Brent recently put enormous effort into preparing a formal talk where his absolute, topmost goal was to inspire others. While the session’s context was around firmwide strategic planning, Brent saw a need—a hole, in fact!—for inspiration.  So he rose to the occasion to make inspiration goal #1. Sharing the strategic plan content became secondary. His instinct was spot-on; the talk was exceptionally—even gratefully—embraced by attendees from across the country.

Do these sound like leadership traits that you have exhibited? Or could exhibit in the future? Remember, regardless of our position within the firm, we can always find creative ways to demonstrate leadership skills.


Tags: AEC best practices, AEC leadership, Anne Scarlett A/E Marketing, Construction, effective leadership in architecture, Engineering, linkedin

Leave a Reply

July 09, 2012