I was asked recently what my leadership philosophy was and how I exemplify these qualities in my work and community. I reflected on the various jobs I had the great privilege to work on and I summed it up in four basic beliefs.
I believe in leadership by example. When your staff see you converse with your members and lead in an engaging manner and when you keep your staff accountable by measuring progress against a goal – you set the bar.
In 2010, I was hired to be the executive director for a small town business association that had been wrecked by unprofessionalism and factionalism reaching even to the board of directors. To mitigate the issue and allow for the organization to move forward, I scheduled face-to-face meetings with each member and leader in an effort to get to know them, their business, their frustrations, their hopes for the association and services they needed. I took the time to listen and understand each perspective. I found out that most everyone had two things in common: love for their community and a desire to help each other. After two months of these visits, I reported to the board what I had learned, and how we might want to make changes to the programs we were offering.
Hearing about the common goals everyone shared, the board came to appreciate the value of reaching out to perceived critics. Soon, board meetings transformed from sessions of member complaints to issue-driven collaboration, then member meetings transformed into interactive and positive places to be. We designed programs that met the needs of the broad membership, including a business expo which allowed all local business owners of the town to promote themselves. It became a win-win-win situation.
I believe in leadership by positive reinforcement. Every successful parent knows how to get children to repeat good behavior: Praise! I believe we never out-grow the desire to feel recognized and valued. Do you see your staff producing an extremely well-written communication piece? Write a quick note to tell him or her what you thought was done well. Praise where everyone else can hear, and pretty soon everyone else will be encouraged to do better as well. In this digital age, the hand-written note is a dying art form. I have a stack of “Kudos” cards in my drawer ready to be shared every time a team member does something effective or exceptional. It never fails to motivate my staff and vendors to do more for and with me.
I believe that success is in the details of communicating vision. The secret to insanely awesome Apple products is in working-out all the details so that the product confronting the consumer provides a complete vision. If Apple glossed details, it could not convince us that a product we never even considered before is the one thing we need.
A few years ago, I volunteered to lead an event marking the culmination of a 50-year effort to restore Lake Belle View. Long-time residents and municipal leaders had great interest in recognizing those involved and announcing that it was safe to begin enjoying the lake once more. The organizing committee initially planned an afternoon of speeches. I had never organized a community event like that before, but was sure a program of mere speeches would not translate into community engagement and excitement. I researched lake events, and found several around the country — one 30 miles from our town. I personally visited the organizer, interviewed her, and requested a copy of the poster they distributed. It listed activities like canoe rides, water education talks, and a sunset activity. Showing these possibilities to the town’s leaders opened their eyes. Then I presented a list of similar activities paralleling the items in the Lake Belle View mission statement. Belleville Lakefest was born!
We held a photography contest, brought in naturalists to explain the ecosystem, worked with DNR folks to showcase local fishes and birds, held a pre-K lake-themed story time organized by the public library, and brought in a fitness instructor to teach Tai-Chi by the lake. There were canoe rides hosted by the Boys Scouts and a mini-triathlon. Add live musicians, local businesses showcasing themselves in 10 x 10 pop-up tents, and we had a community success! I planned the grand opening in minute detail, and the people in attendance witnessed a vision of how a lake can bring a diverse community together. What was supposed to be a one-time event has been repeated annually for the last three years by other organizers.
I believe in leadership by action. Analysis of data helps provide clarity for one’s decisions. Thoughtful pre-work, including research and due diligence, clears the path toward a desired end result. Discussion among stakeholders elicits support and endorsement, giving the go signal to pursue bold decisions. Only action is real. Only action can improve performance. Only action allows one to achieve. I believe that an effective leader is a leader who goes to work with a sense of urgency. With clear purpose in mind and a deep intention in the heart—a leader works the hardest and gives the most. She leads by example – through action.
I have been fortunate to serve various companies and organization in various capacities, roles, and cultures; I left each better than I found it. From my starting job in cable television, where the channel I created became the most watched channel, to spearheading a marketing department for a shopping center, where I was the youngest department manager ever promoted, to the USAID-funded program in the Philippines (even to this day, the credit co-ops band themselves based on the work we did), to the business association whose culture changed to professionalism, to a fundraising organization, where the previously untapped leadership giving donor segment I organized is now leading the charge, to a dozen international meetings I organized, each of which achieved new heights in attendance or attendee satisfaction ratings – I am a turn-around artist. If I am to be honest about my secret to blooming wherever I am planted, I must admit it is less in a leadership philosophy than in my drive to make things happen.