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Intro: Welcome to the E6S-Methods podcast with Jacob and Aaron, your weekly dose of tips and tricks to achieve excellent performance in your business and career. Join us as we explore deeper into the practical worlds of Lean, Six Sigma, Project Management and Design Thinking. In this episode number 194, Part 1 of "Aaron's MBA Homework." Yes, Aaron is recycling some of his homework to double as podcast content. This week Aaron reflects on his own leadership experiences, high and low. If you're just tuning in for the first time, find all our back episodes at our podcast table of contents at e6s-methods.com. If you like this episode, be sure to click the "like" link in the show notes. It's easy. Just tap our logo, click and you're done. Tap-click-done! Here we go. http://bit.ly/E6S-194 Leave a Review! http://bit.ly/E6S-iTunes
My Leadership Profile
Jack Welch Management Institute
JWI 510: Leadership in the 21st Century
October 22, 2017
In his book, Winning, Jack Welch outlines eight rules that should be followed in order to become a well-rounded leader. In this paper, I describe two formative leadership experiences, a college resident assistant and a global quality manager, and describe how my leadership style has evolved from that of a coercive and authoritarian style to one a more affiliative and coaching style. I also highlight which of Jack’s rules and aspects of my emotional intelligence that I need to work on in order improve my social skills, build a network and create an aura of positivity about myself.
My Leadership Experiences
My Current Role
My current role may be best described as a temporary leader. My core duties consist of training and coaching as an internal consultant. I have no direct reports and no formal authority outside the classroom. My teams can be a week-long class full of students, after which we go our separate ways, or they can be a random selection of project managers, whom I coach and manage collectively as if they were part of the same team. At times, I lead a group of leaders who have greater authority than I do. I have the responsibility to challenge, guide, and motivate these teams to stretch beyond their comfort zones, status quo and paradigms. To whichever group I am attached, I am granted the temporary authority of a trusted advisor or subject matter expert.
Key Leadership Experiences
One key leadership experience came during my senior year(s) at the University of Connecticut. In an effort to partially pay my way through school, I worked as a resident assistant (RA). I was responsible to foster a healthy living and study environment for forty residents on my floor and work in cooperation with eleven of my other RA peers, to collectively manage nearly 500 residents in four buildings. On a typical night each RA would be on-duty, make the rounds to ensure there was no drug use or underage drinking, no smoking in common areas, and that quiet hours were being observed. We were like mall cops, and I was good at it. I even earned a nickname from one of my colleagues- “Buster.” If anything was going down, I’d be there to “bust it up.” Often, my peers would ask me to help back them up during rounds, especially as Thursday nights or the weekends approached, and if they did not feel safe doing rounds alone. I was almost always available and on-call.
We had several interesting incidents of breaking up parties, arresting drug dealers, catching vandals, and damage control from campus riots and after a 3-alarm blaze left 120 students homeless. High adrenaline incidents like these and the "Buster" persona really fed into my leadership style at the time, which was more coercive and a bit authoritative. My ego also became enveloped in this persona, and I had a reputation that I was proud of – that is until we had a change in our leadership, a new boss. This, I believe, was the first time I received a negative review about my performance. My boss acknowledged that I was always available and depended on, but I was negligent in other core aspects of the job. There was a reason “residents assistants” were once called “Dorm Moms,” and not “Dorm Cops.” It was because the role is intended to be more well-rounded and holistic, like that of a caregiver. I was not doing my in-service events to foster diversity and inclusion. I was not spending my budget for floor social activities. I was only fulfilling the role of “Buster,” a narrow and one-sided approach.
Receiving a negative review was a real shock to my ego. It was a first for me, but inevitably “Buster” needed to go, and a kinder, gentler “Aaron” emerged.
Another formative experience came over a decade later, when I was a quality manager, supporting a global supply chain for semiconductor fabrication chemistry. The field is extremely challenging, teetering on the hairy edge of technology and capability. I serviced some of the most demanding customers in the world, like Intel, Samsung and TSMC. During this time, I built a very cohesive team, promoted from within and took the department from constant fire-fighting to forging a strategic path for where we needed to be in order to keep our leading market position. Below are a few lessons I have internalized from that experience, some of which I am still trying to mentally sort:
· Leading from the middle is difficult without clear leadership or a vision at the top
· It does not matter how hard you work or how well you perform if your support network is weak
· Perceptions of my negative nature overshadowed my actual accomplishments
I took the role, somewhat begrudgingly, because the company was in dire straits. They needed someone fast, and the leadership team unanimously chose me. I was given only two days of onboarding from the previous quality manager, who held the position for 10+ years and had completely checked out. Some of her final words to me were, “I will miss everyone here, except for [insert my boss’s name].” She was beloved by the company, and she kept the program alive. However, she did so by constantly juggling tactical issues and addressing only the symptoms to systemic problems, but not the problems themselves. I took a different, more transformational approach, and frankly, did not make as many friends. I held other groups accountable for quality work, cut out the unnecessary bureaucracy of the quality management system, automated mundane tasks and upskilled the department. All of this was in-line with the vision of my executive vice president. We made quick progress until the day he was let go from the company. Soon after, I became crowded out by other leaders and detractors. I resigned from the company, somewhat embittered, but I was happy to leave behind the 11 PM telephone calls, Saturday work, cut-throat culture and the fear of falling asleep again during my morning commute.
Not all is lost. Perhaps it only serves to repair my ego, but I have regained some sense of absolution by observing the dysfunction that remained after I left. Two other quality managers were quickly burned through, the scope of the role was reduced to half the size, and the number of supporting engineers increased ten-fold. In addition, 98% of my detractors have since been fired or demoted, while the team members that I developed and recruited were promoted.
My Leadership Strengths
With regards to the teachings of this course, I believe my experiences outlined above embody two of Jack Welch’s foundational principles: #1 Mission and Vision, and #4 Voices and Dignity (Welch, 2005). I believe these experiences also demonstrate rules 1 and 5 of Jack’s 8 Rules of Leadership (Reference):
1. Relentlessly upgrade their team as they recruit and develop superb people, and then make full use of every opportunity to coach, evaluate, and build self-confidence
5. Have the courage to make unpopular decisions when required and gut calls even when they may not have all the information they would like to have
I take great pride in people and team development. This cannot be done without a clear mission and vision or without acknowledging the voice and dignity of each team member. I also found that when upgrading the skills of one team member, or adding a new “A”-player to the mix, other team members tend to up their game as well. The magic formula, though, in my mind is finding where team members complement one another, rather than compete.
Making unpopular decisions and gut calls was part of what made me so unpopular as the quality manager. The mission of the program was to advocate for the customer, not only by what their written requirements were but also for the spirit behind those requirements.
When there is a true north with a mission and vision, it is rather easy to make such difficult decisions. However, the challenge comes when not everyone is following the same mission and vision. Sometimes advocating for the customer puts you at odds with your own operations.
My Emotional Intelligence
The emotional intelligence (EI) strengths I most typically demonstrate are motivation, and empathy (Goleman, 1998). I tend to lead with a mix of coaching, affiliative and democratic styles (Goleman,2000). This, I believe, is more by design and not by my nature. I believe my RA experience helped me find this part of my leadership style. I rarely have formal authority. I can only encourage others to stretch themselves.
However, when I have had formal authority over a team, empathy and motivation were still my “go-to” traits. I believed in a vision of how things could be better, and I delegated great authority to my direct reports so they could help find the path to get there. There were times when I had to receive unhappy news or be told that I was incorrect in some of my assumptions, but I am proud we had such open communication within the team. With each disproven hypothesis, we inched forward toward our vision.
Despite my ability to become more empathetic over the years, I have been more stymied by my inability to be social and outwardly enthusiastic. This goes hand-in-hand with people generally perceiving me as negative, which does not help build the supportive network I need when I am faced with an unpopular decision.
My DiSC Profile
Based on my DiSC profile, high “C&D” (conscientiousness & dominance), I tend to see the world critically with a detailed eye for what is wrong and a belief that I have the power to change it (Wiley, 2012). It makes sense that I gravitated to transformation consulting roles. However, my experience has taught me to lead more with my medium “S” (steadiness), to ensure that wherever I go, I bring a team along. I learned that others are not as readily persuaded by data, but more by emotions and relationships. Nor may they even be willing or believe they are able to change the status quo. Sometimes, especially if I know a project is politically charged, the first order of business is not to look at the data or study the problem, but rather to first focus on the people, join the project teams for lunches, and create relationships before embarking on the potentially divisive work.
Despite my ability to form harmonious teams and create relationships with my medium “S,” my “I” (influence) in DiSC is almost zero. It is not that I cannot influence others. It is that I would rather not, and it takes quite a bit of energy just to stand up and force myself to try. The high “C” in me gets frustrated that others are not motivated by what (to me) seems obvious, and the high “D” in me does not have the patience to persuade them otherwise.
Leadership Skill Development
Based on my experiences, lessons learned, and the JWMI’s teachings so far, it is clear to me I need devote more effort to generating enthusiasm and an optimistic energy around me. This is contrary to my natural tendencies according to my DiSC profile, but it seems to be a clear missing link in my leadership development. This will help develop my EI social skills and help me build my network which I believe will allow me to communicate with greater candor without it being perceived as negativity or criticism (Welch, 2005). To begin this work, I will start small, first by altering my rhetoric to speak more positively about how things could be, rather than focus negatively on what is currently wrong. Searching for the positive words should force me to see the positive aspects of a situation. I will work on my body language and attempt to acquaint myself with new people. Within my own teams, I will more actively look for ways to celebrate small victories in order to build the momentum and confidence to tackle larger challenges.
I briefly described two formative leadership experiences, one as a resident assistant in college and one as a global quality manager supporting the semiconductor industry. My leadership style evolved from coercive and authoritative to a more affiliative and coaching style. I still am lacking in emotional intelligence when it comes to social skills and building a network, and I don’t quite live up to one of Jack’s rules to spread positive energy and optimism. I outlined some small steps to address these, starting with the words I choose and looking for opportunities to accentuate the positive, rather than the negative.
Goleman, D. (1998). What makes a leader. Harvard Business Review 76(6), 93-102.
Goleman, D. (2000), Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review 78(2), 78-79.
Welch, J. & Welch, S. (2005). Winning. New York, NY: Harper
Wiley (2012), Everything DiSC® Workplace®, John Wiley & Sons
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