Leadership was ranked by our coworkers as an important quality throughout a company's team. Some people think leadership is guiding others to complete a task. Others believe it means motivating people to be their best selves. And because definitions can vary, let's meet a few of our leaders in our organization and see what they've learned about leadership throughout their career.
Deirdre Gonzalez is the president of workers' compenation for ACM and works out of our downtown San Diego office. Her leadership style evolved over time as she learned to go from presenting herself as someone she thought people wanted her to be, to being her authentic self.
Let's be real - by Deirdre Gonzalez, President, ACM Workers' Compensation
I was on the phone with a friend and colleague earlier today listening to him express frustration over his boss and his management tendencies. He asked me what I would have done differently and then asked, “What is your leadership style?” I have been asked that question a lot over the years. My response, “Well…. I seem to wear a lot of black”. Humor seems to work to diffuse the mood immediately. My friend laughs.
All kidding aside, that is a very difficult question to answer. What is the right answer? I am not sure I have ever really responded in the way I was suppose to or said what was expected of me. I often mistook management for leadership. The fact of the matter is, you may be a good manager of something, but leadership skills are not always as instinctive. They can be acquired but first you have to understand how they differ from management skills. I started my journey of management not really thinking much at all about the concept of leading people and what that might mean. The voices in my pea-brain at the time said:
- Control the situation: Someone put you in charge so your way must be the best way.
- Put on your game face: Never let them see you sweat and always act like you know what you are doing.
- Always deliver the A: Even if you have to do it all by yourself.
- Be a mystery: It is good to keep people guessing, it is okay if they fear you a little bit.
I am embarrassed to put this in writing but in the interest of honesty those were all just lessons engrained in me from childhood. No one promotes you and then gives you a handbook on how to be a leader. Instead, I MANAGED my way through various daily situations, taking control of all aspects of the process, to ensure it was delivered exactly the way I wanted. Isn’t that what I am supposed to do?
All I can say is thank goodness for those around me who were patient, tolerant, honest and brave enough to open my eyes to my own shortcomings. Failure struck and vulnerability met with the aspiring "A" student in me, which gave me the courage to listen, to learn and to change my way of thinking. I had to rewrite the script that had played in my head for so many years.
Evolving leadership to be real
The evolution of my leadership style has landed me a spot in reality. Simply put, BE REAL. In order to lead people, they need to trust you. For people to put their trust in you, I believe they need to know you. They need to get a sense for what you are like, what you stand for, what motivates you, what inspires you, what scares you, what your interests are, what you do for fun on weekends. They want to know you are human, that you are just like they are. They want to relate to you in some way so they can find a common ground they themselves can connect to. Leadership is about trust, connection, inspiration and motivation.
No one wants a know-it-all
Employees are not inspired by a know-it-all because it leaves no room for their own creativity and sense of achievement. They don’t trust “perfect” because perfection is not real, it is not authentic. They do not relate to the smartest person in the room because that makes them feel inadequate which attacks their self esteem.
I am somewhat oversimplifying leadership to prove a point. The uncomplicated truth is people instinctively want to feel good about where they work, who they work with and who they work for. To like someone is to know them. If you don’t like me after you get to know me that is perfectly fine. I am probably not a good leader for you and that is okay. There are a lot of great leaders out there and it is important to find the one you can relate to.
My leadership style is to be real with people. I am now self-aware which means I have a full understanding of my strengths and my weaknesses. I am not the best, I am not the smartest, I do not have all the answers and I am a fully flawed human being who makes a lot of mistakes. I am however, strong, confident and have the ability to influence, inspire, and motivate people by being vulnerable and authentic. I believe that is why I am trusted with the honor of helping others through leadership.
Companies have leaders at all levels, not just management
All of us will fall into two categories, the leaders and those that are in need our leadership. Many of you reading this may not be in management and therefore don’t consider yourselves a leader. This could not be farther from the truth. Management is not leadership. All companies have leaders at all levels of the organization. So don’t wait for someone to promote you, promote yourself. But before you do, the question I pose to you is, “Are you for real?”
Contact Deirdre if you have questions about books she's read, courses she's taken or where she gets her inspiration from.
Paul Boehm, senior vice president of OnPoint Underwriting's Denver-based Tribal Program, says he's worked with various leaders throughout the years who have influenced his leadership style today.
Lessons in Leadership- by Paul Boehm, SVP OnPoint Tribal
I’ve noticed several common qualities of leaders I’ve worked for in the past which have influenced how I lead today. These leaders ran successful companies and divisions but were not always popular in their decisions nor easy to work for. Each had their own style, personality and form of delivery, but these common traits seemed to bring the most out of their people and drive success. Here are the three traits I learned from them.
Connect & Communicate
In my first job out of college, my boss was great at connecting and communicating with his staff. Charged with building a new department, he created a team made up of employees at different levels and varying experience. I watched closely, because I didn’t have a clue on how things were to be done for his department to be successful, let alone how to succeed myself.
He took time with each of us to connect personally through getting to know about our family, hobbies, interests, etc., even though many of us didn’t directly report to him. Equally sharing about himself built a comfort and trust among his team, versus being distant with very little communication except when things weren’t going well (I’ve had a few of those too!).
The way he communicated with his team is what set him apart. He was able to deliver the same message many different ways depending on the audience. I witnessed this through attending several meetings during my training, and I was intrigued by how he did this. In his managers’ meetings he used acronyms, industry terms, a lot of data and a fairly direct tone. In a general staff meeting on the same topic, he used a completely different style and tone. While his message was specific, he didn’t include much of the data and was more conversational.
What did I learn? How to tailor your message when communicating at different levels of the organization to gain understanding, and the importance of connecting with your team to build trust.
Build a Vision
The ability to build a vision and lay out a roadmap is another quality that I’ve seen leaders use to bring clarity to their message or strategy. One manager used sports analogies to help us catch the vision, since many of our team enjoyed sports. We were able to understand where we were as an organization and where we were headed when he’d say we were “only in the 5th inning with a lot of game left to play” or “we just started this race so we need to pace ourselves.”
In building our strategy, he’d explain “we need to get back to the X’s & O’s” for this to work. His “game plan” would illustrate chosen strategies, describing what was needed to prepare us to “win the game” and how the execution of a solid game plan would play out to ultimately lead to a winning outcome. He was also clear on who played what position or role and how that role contributed to the strategy or winning the game.
What did I learn? How to build a winning strategy and communicate it effectively to my team.
Challenge & Stretch
Another common leadership trait is to challenge the status quo, never satisfied with the answer “we’ve always done it that way.” I had managed a department for a couple years when my supervisor came to me with an opportunity to run a larger, more complicated product team which I knew very little about. Because the team had been operating the same way for many years without the results expected, she was looking for a manager who would lead in the change required to bring success. She knew this would not only stretch me as a manager, but also challenge the status quo of the underperforming department. It was a tough assignment at first, given the amount of change needed and the fact that I knew very little about the product.
Encouraging me to stick with it, she agreed it wouldn’t be easy but to encourage the team to stretch their capabilities and expand their roles in order to succeed. Because “they’d always done things this way,” some were not open to change. Difficult decisions ensued as to how various players would fit on our team, but it was better to make these decisions up front rather than linger until changes would be made for us. Finally, break-through occurred: After a difficult two-year period, we led the region in profit and growth.
What did I learn? Real change takes time and is not easy but choosing the right course of action and staying that course pays off not only for company profitability – but also in the personal growth of the team who perseveres.
Contact Paul if you have questions about books he's read, courses he's taken or where he gets his inspiration from.