A presentation on Leadership
Last month I had the privilege of speaking to a leadership class at Ankeny High School. They sent me a list of questions about leadership, my style of leadership and what traits and characteristics I thought made a good leader. Before I had a chance to think much about the assignment, I said yes. About a week before I was to give this 30 minute presentation, I started to panic because I don’t think that I have ever verbalized my opinions on leadership. Sure I have studied different aspects of leadership my whole working life, but I was never asked to put my views into something that might be interesting. This was going to be harder than I thought, I couldn’t just wing it.
I talked about my roots as a leader, starting with my very first true leadership position, ditor for my high school yearbook. After the book was sent for publication, I had a chance to sit down with my adult advisor. She told me that she chose me for the job not because I was the most qualified, as there were several people with more experience and more technical expertise. She chose me because she felt that I could help the rest of the staff work together to produce a quality product. For a high school senior, I felt empowered to continue to use those skills as I moved forward.
In college I was able to become the student leader for freshmen orientation. Again, the job was more about getting people to work together than it was working the details. Frankly I thought it was the best way to meet the freshmen girls before most of the other upperclassmen. But as I started working in different jobs, I realized that my way of leadership was not the only way or sometimes even the best way.
One of the hardest questions that I was asked to talk about was, what are the most important leadership traits. I did a little bit of research online and found an article where someone listed the 100 most important traits of an effective leader. As I read through the list, I found myself agreeing with some of the comments and disagreeing with others. In the end I came up with my own list of top 5 traits, and listed them:
Integrity – People need to know what you stand for, and what you won’t stand for. This is the way you will conduct business, and how you actually handle situations.
Empathy – The last thing a good leader should want is an organization of people just like themselves. They will be really good in some things, absolutely awful in a lot of others. Since we will not have an organization of clones, we need to understand what others need, how they think, how they feel and how to help achieve the goals.
Communication – Unless you can communicate your vision for the organization, your integrity and empathy, you cannot be effective.
Hire the best – give them what they need to succeed, and then get out of their way.
Say Thank You – a lot. With sincerity.
During the presentation I asked for questions from the students and got several good ones. But mostly it seemed like they just wanted to listen to what I had to say, which is OK. I spent time putting together a killer power point presentation including pictures of me as a high school senior and great charts and graphs. Unfortunately I screwed up in copying it to a thumb drive. It went to prove my last point that leaders, try as they might, simply are human and can make mistakes too.