This series presents some of the questions, related to the role of a new leader, put up by the participants of the Being an Effective New Leader open course and answered by the Course Director Mrityunjay Kumar (MK henceforth). Many of these relate to these new leader’s attempt make sense of real life scenarios they face, while others stem from their attempt to better understand the nuances of being an effective leader.
Ankur Asija: How can a new leader encourage creative thinking within organization?
MK: This is hard for a new leader as his primary focus is on being good at leading the existing operational aspects of the business (delivery, people development, project leadership, etc.). Environment can be created that supports creative thinking; it can’t be encouraged beyond a certain point. Such an environment needs ability to experiment, and fail, as well as time to engage in thinking, brainstorming, ideating – most organizations think such time as idle time and hence they try to stuff the person’s calendar with revenue-generating work.
Prashant Kumar: Is there some technic to be self- motivated as a leader and to understand members in your group?
MK: Motivating self as a leader:
- Strive for Excellence: One of the most important things you can do towards this is to set your bar for yourself as a leader very high, and then continually strive to meet/exceed that bar. The desire to excel (esp. when you see success while doing so) is a great motivator. I can share an example from my personal experience. As a leader in early days of my career, I wanted to make sure that I can be a good mentor to my team members, even when what they need mentorship in, could conflict with organization goals. And it made me feel proud of myself when one day, one of the team members came to me asking for some guidance about whether he should accept an offer he has received from a large company. He trusted me enough to know I would not mislead him just to keep him. This doubled my resolve to be a good mentor for my team.
- Read about great leaders – Read about lots of leaders all over the world – there are lots of autobiographies written by successful people. When you compare yourself with another leader around you, you may feel you are done – but when you read, you realize that you have miles to go and tons to do.
- Seek out challenges – Leadership is not an exact science, there are no defined solutions to problems. Get into new and complex leadership challenges as much as you can. Leadership is rare in organizations, and problems galore.
Understanding team members: This is time consuming but well-worth the effort.
- Spend informal time. Find opportunities to spend time with your team, individually and in groups. Go out for lunch, organize outings, attend function at someone”s house, screen movies within office, etc. Idea is to see the team members in action when they are not talking work.
- Respect 1-1 time: There are many leaders who set up 1-1 because they have been told it is a good thing, but keep pushing it around or skipping it with the excuse of more urgent thing coming along. This is cardinal sin. If you don”t respect the person, you break trust. So always have 1-1 on designated time (or reschedule much in advance), and be willing to skip an important impromptu meeting in order to meet your 1-1 schedule. This sends a strong message.
- Listen: Unfortunately, few people listen well. If you can be a good listener, people will tell you everything. Listen in your 1-1, listen when you go out for information outings, listen (for non-verbal cues) when the person comes and talks to you about project issues.
- Be humble: When your actions suggest you have an authority, you lose opportunity to learn. Use your authority to help, not to throw it around.
Anit Khare: What if your mentor is not supportive or not willing to let you develop as a leader? How does one tackle this situation and earn the respect of team?
MK: It is incorrect to assume that a new leader cannot develop without mentorship of a senior manager who understands organizational culture and process. It does make it easy if you have such a mentor available.
Leadership is about acquiring certain skills and learning from leadership experience. A mentor definitely can help in identifying right skills to invest in and can share some experiences, as well as suggest right experience to get (by picking right projects for example). You can do it on your own, and you can do it with the help of mentors from outside the organization (say from your previous organization).
A person who “is not supportive or not willing to let you develop as a leader”, by definition, is not a mentor! He is a detractor, which a new leader has to deal with. Dealing with such people in an organization is an important skill to pick up for anyone, and not only a leader.