What comes to mind when you think of a leader? Often, we think of people in the spotlight, like politicians, CEOs, and celebrities. But we can be everyday leaders too, and it doesn’t have to be big to be impactful. You are a leader, you just might not know it yet!
In this episode of Think Tank of Three, the trio talks about everyday leaders and how to become one.
Everyday leaders who become like everyday heroes, at work, in the community, at home. Too often we hear “leader” and think of politicians, CEOs, celebrities. These are usually the leaders in the spotlight, but we can be everyday leaders too and it doesn’t have to be big to be impactful. You are a leader, you just might not know it yet.
Thanks for joining the Think Tank of Three. I’m Julie Holton of mConnexions, here with Audrea Fink and Kathryn Janicek. Today, we are talking about traits that turn otherwise ordinary people into great leaders and bosses, even in ordinary roles.
This is Audrea here. I’m really excited for this topic. I think that a lot of us think, like you said, of celebrities as sort of the leaders, but everyday people actually have incredible abilities to impact their communities. You can see that one-to-one, you might be able to have a much larger impact on someone’s life than maybe a celebrity or a politician, so you can be a really big leader to those around you even though it feels small to you, it probably feels huge to them.
Absolutely. As everyday leaders, we can have a powerful impact from business to charity to hobbies or simply living life to the fullest. One of the first characteristics of a leader that comes to mind for me that can really cause an internal struggle even for the strongest of people is when you risk popularity to make the right decisions.
Kathryn, we worked in newsrooms as executive producers and if there’s someone in the newsroom who risks being unpopular or losing friends, it’s an EP.
Totally. Yeah. You hit on something there, you talked about the internal struggle. I am definitely someone who likes to be liked, but when you’re in management, you’re not liked a lot of the time. I had a goal, I wanted to become an executive producer, I wanted to be a news director. But you’re not often and if you can relate to me when you’re listening to this, who, what company, what corporation, what industry really teaches someone how to be a good manager to how to be a good leader.
I think that oftentimes, no matter what your industry is, Julie and I just happened to be on television and you, we were good producers, we were great producers, solid producers. And then at some point, someone just taps you to an executive producer to actually manage a show or a series of shows. But it’s not necessarily because you have all of the great management traits. And I’m not saying that Julie doesn’t have them, I’m just saying that I don’t think I was truly ready to become an executive producer. I know that for sure. I, it’s not that I don’t think.
I wasn’t truly ready to be a great manager and I look back and it just, I did what I had to do. I had bosses who said, “You’re being hired and we want X, Y and Z to happen.” And I was a Lieutenant, it’s my job to make sure in one case there was an executive producer before me who let people skirt after seven hours of a workday. And when I was hired they asked me – we want people working their full shifts. We want them, we want to utilize them after the show to write for the web.
This is at the beginning when all of a sudden the websites were extremely important. We need people writing for the web and we need them creating posts for social media because people need to see these great stories we’re producing. And I was the one who had come in as the new person and also all these new tasks were put on these people, which were important. They needed to do this, the station needed them to do this. This was important for everybody.
And I definitely was not liked for that, but I believed in it and I believe that that needed to happen. But it definitely didn’t make me likable. So that’s really tough about being a leader. Right? I think we can all… We’ve all experienced that.
And a lot of the toughest decisions are going to be the least popular decisions when you are in fact a good leader.
Exactly. And I will say looking back, I should have focused on, instead of we need to write for the web, we need to write for social media… I should have focused on the WHY all the time. And not that like if we don’t do this, we’re going to lose our jobs because the web is the way of the future.
But if I would’ve just explained how important it is for us to promote our stories digitally or no one’s going to watch, at some point, the numbers are going to drop for television views, which we’ve seen them do that. I should have explained more of the why and gotten people really excited about it and behind the idea instead of me just telling them that this needed to happen, that would have made me a better leader.
I think that’s really important when you’re a leader to think about communicating the why to. A lot of times when you’re in a new management role, it’s really easy to think, “Well, I’m in charge now. People should listen to me.” But it’s not that you’re in charge as at least not as a leader. It’s that you are trying to accomplish something and it’s really important when you’re working with other people to explain the why behind what you’re doing so that they know how to get on board with you as you’re heading to the same destination, right?
Whatever this accomplishment is. I also think good leaders focus on finding solutions instead of just focusing on the problems, right? That’s something that I think is a really good sign of a leader is someone who can take a problem and say okay, let’s figure out what the solution our solutions are, because problems and challenges are only temporary, right?
And for that matter, that come up constantly so your solutions can be more permanent. They can benefit the issue at hand, but also practicing finding solutions can help you train your brain to continue finding solutions. Nobody likes that one person. You can think about it in your office, right? There’s always one person who Monday morning or any morning that comes up to you says like, “Oh man, I’m so upset about insert XYZ.”
I know I’ve worked with people in the past where I would avoid them when I was drinking my morning coffee because I just couldn’t start my day with that. “Oh man, did you hear about this new thing that’s not going right?” If you can’t think of a solution as a leader, you’ve got a problem right?
I think good leaders, not only do they focus on solutions, but they focus on how their team can help them, right? They brainstorm solutions. They use their tribe. I mean, how many times have I talked to you two ladies and been like, “All right, I have this issue and I really, really need help with it.” One tactic that I use currently in my role with my colleagues is we will get in them room and we’ll brainstorm all sorts of examples and no idea is a bad idea in the brainstorming room, even though a lot of them are bad ideas.
So as a good leader, think about how you can try to overcome some of these obstacles with these problems by really focusing on what’s the next right step to get you a solution.
We hear a lot that good leaders demonstrate, they lead by example. They show what needs to be done and I really think that if we take that a step further, good leaders are useful. Good leaders will find a way to serve a purpose bigger than him or herself, no matter how small or large that might be. So, for me, this means that for instance, volunteering is valuable. Whether you’re volunteering in the community for a non-profit group or simply volunteering in your office to help someone out with their job might be copy editing a presentation.
It might be helping someone who you know is slammed when you have some extra time. Just going that extra step to be useful I think is a really great quality of a leader and I think sometimes, I know for me, you walk a fine line. With many of these, there’s a fine line between having people start to count on you to do something for them versus being useful when you have the ability to be helpful.
It sounds to me like what you’re talking about here, which I think is really powerful, is the idea of servant leadership. You’re not coming to the table because you have something to offer and you want to help everyone else who’s around that table for you. There’s this book called the Fred Factor.
It talks about again how this man who’s a man named Fred made this huge impact on this community because of who he was. And I think this topic of being useful is so important for leaders. If you walk into a room and you’re not there, add value, right? To add something more then you’re probably not really needed at that table.
I love that. Growing up, my mom used to say, “If you have to count your work and count it out loud so that everyone knows what you’re doing, then you have more time to be getting more work done.” And so that, I think it comes back to that, that same idea of being useful and you don’t even necessarily need the credit for it. You don’t need to let people to know what you’re doing, but you’re just there to be helpful.
Absolutely. And it’s like what you’re saying is just going beyond the call of duty, right? You may be told like this is my role, this is what I need to do. But if we’re talking to an audience that I think we’re talking to, people at home or listening to this want to move up in their careers, they want to achieve at a higher level. And that means you have to go beyond the call of duty. That means I coach younger people sometimes and I hammer this home, is to move up in your career faster, you don’t just put in those eight hours.
You see what might be lacking or where there might be your help is needed. And you go right up to your boss and you’re like, “Hey, I’m done with what I needed to do today or what you assigned me, but I noticed that X, Y and Z. Can I take that off your plate?” Or “Can I do that for you?” Or “I heard that you might be short staffed this Saturday or Sunday. I’d love to jump in and learn how to do that.” And when you go beyond the call of duty, someone’s going to see you as a leader, right? And then also they might tap you when that other job opens. That might be above your “pay scale,” right?
Always over-deliver. Give more than others expect whether it’s your time, your attention, or support. They’re gifts that you’re giving yourself too, because you’re going to learn more in your job, you’re going to learn more and you’ll be able to move up or go on to another job and actually be paid for those things that you’re now doing. And I know that we all who are talking here today, we remember people who are there for us when they didn’t have to be, who gave us more than than we anticipated.
We also remember those that just kind of didn’t want us to also achieve, who didn’t want us to move up. But we definitely remember those who really made a difference in our lives and nudged us without letting anyone else know they helped us when maybe we didn’t know how to do all of our job. Right? So go beyond the call of duty.
Absolutely. I’m just as you’re speaking like in my head I’m thinking of three people, two who are not bosses, right? They just happened to be leaders that I worked with, who made a huge impact in my professional life simply because they went above and beyond because they cared. Right? Because their heart was in it versus showing up because their title indicated it. So I think that’s another fantastic example of a leader.
I think another really good example of a leader is they turn failure into opportunities. So they’re not necessarily just built on success alone, that the majority of an everyday leader’s success is forged by how many times they can fail, and then pick themselves up and keep moving forward. There was an article in Huffington Post called Seven Ways To be an Everyday Leader, I think. And it talks about failure being the protein for leaders.
You can think about this in terms of how you frame failure as well. Is it that you are failing or is it that you were learning? And I think it’s really important to sort of work on those reframing tactics because if I think about a sales campaign, right? You are sending out emails to clients, calling clients, you are setting in person meetings with clients. You tweak your verbiage every time and you track your success rate for it. There is no sales campaign on Earth, there’s no advertising campaign on Earth that doesn’t adjust, and tweak as their audience dictates.
And if you look at failure as, “Oh, I screwed up and now I don’t know what to do,” you’re not going to get very far. If you look at it as, okay, this is data, I can reassess, I can adjust what I’m doing and I can go back out trying a new tactic or trying something different. That ability to be flexible is going to make you so much more valuable to your community and at work because you’re not going to just take your lumps and go home. You’re going to be really tenacious and really curious and really active and engaged.
I really love that. And you know why? Because I had a week full of protein. I’ll tell you why. I had so much fuel for myself this week and my team and one thing that I say to my team when we do have these things that don’t quite go the way that we’re expecting them to or the way that we’ve planned for them to, and anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner. If nothing else, that’s why I was a good producer because I can plan things out. And so when things don’t go according to plan, I think this is a really great word.
It’s going to become protein now. But that’s one thing that I talk about with my team is when things don’t go according to plan, how are we going to learn from it and how are we going to roll with it the next time? And part of that is in how are we going to approach the client? What’s the tone of voice we’re going to take? What’s the language we’re going to use with them? And certainly being able to say, “You know what? This didn’t go according to plan and here’s what we’re going to do to move forward, to correct it, insert whatever the next action step is.”
I find that that resonates so well with clients because, and again, whether it’s a client or a boss or wherever you are in your role, how you approach that failure so to speak, is really going to set the tone for how you move forward and I have yet to find someone who doesn’t appreciate that. When you can talk about what went wrong and how you’re going to fix it and then they’re ready to move forward with you. It creates that trust. It helps establish you as a leader and they’re on board with you.
Hallelujah. That’s great. That is definitely a terrific leadership quality. Here’s another one. You have a voice, so share it, right? Make sure that you’re adding to the conversation. I’m going to speak specifically about women because I coach a lot of women who have huge jobs. One woman I was coaching was VP of a major, major, major corporation. And she was talking about how she has this role where people are looking for her opinion, but sometimes the room is full of men… She’s one of the only women in a very male-dominated field.
Women are not really breaking through in this industry yet, but she is one of them and she sometimes experiences, which we sometimes experience I’m sure where the male gender sometimes wants to talk just to be heard, right? And she may agree with what they’re talking about, but she doesn’t feel like her voice also needs to be heard, because somebody already said it. So sometimes she’ll leave meetings and she never said a word. They need to know that she’s also an expert. So I’ve pointed out to her, she has to voice something. ANYTHING.
She has to, whether it’s maybe being the first to voice her opinion in a meeting so that way they don’t voice it over and over and over and then she feels like she’s being redundant. You have experiences, you have knowledge, you have opinions, you have a voice, you have to make sure you’re sharing it especially if you’re in a leadership position. You have to make sure you’re heard.
And second, if you want a leadership position, you have to show that you have value. You have value, right? You can be an everyday leader by expressing those thoughts and those ideas, whether it’s in your relationship, in the office, your book club, at the gym, at church. If it’s with your friends, making sure that you… And maybe those are times that you are going to learn how to practice, letting your voice be heard. So when it’s important in a board room or at the office, you don’t feel so nervous. You don’t feel like your stomach is, you know you’ve got all those butterflies and you’re going to puke.
Yes, and in this case, this woman, she’s a very pretty woman. She’s young, but she has a big job. She’s deserved it. She’s worked really hard. She’s had lots of lots of different degrees and has many years in this industry, but she still is like, “I’m afraid that someone’s not going to take me seriously” and they’re going to take you seriously once you open your mouth, right? Once you start using your voice, they’re going to hear your content and that you’re a rock star and that you know your stuff in and out, and that’s when they’re going to take you seriously big time.
So you have that voice, you have to share it. And then also, this is something we talked about before we recorded this podcast. You have to encourage other women to do the same. We have to, the more we can encourage our friends and our fellow women to do the same to use their voice, then we become a better leader also.
And if you want to listen to that podcast, that was podcast number five, so knowing your worth, we talked about what words to avoid. So podcast number five.
I also think it’s incredibly important as a leader to know when to listen and this sort of ties into encouraging other women to speak up. It is very easy for me to speak in a room. I have no shame for talking. What I don’t always do is I don’t listen well and I think a really good leader knows when to listen, and knows when to encourage other people to speak. If you are one of two or three women in a board room, right? You should be listening to when you can encourage those other women to speak, you should be adding onto their conversation, agreeing with them, encouraging them, really helping other women join that conversation.
And when you use your voice, it will be strong, but it will be just as powerful for when you don’t listen. Some of the strongest leaders know when to stay silent. Listening can mean lots of different things too. It can mean just not talking, but it also mean reading or watching or absorbing. It can mean sitting back in a room and looking at body language and deciding, okay, so I’m hearing these conversations happening and I’m watching Ted and Julia over there have some really problematic body language. They’re not comfortable with this conversation. What can I do with that information so that I can help this conversation continue along?
Listen to experts, follow enthusiasts, right? Get those sort of outside perspectives, absorb that. I think one of the most powerful ways to understand how to encourage or strengthen your debate is to understand the other side really well. First, it allows you the ability to have empathy and participate with just that perspective that you disagree with, but on top of that, it allows you to really understand where you’re coming from and what you’re talking about.
The other thing I think leaders need to do is they need to be comfortable with silence. If you let a long pause happen, people feels a need to fill it, including leaders. So it’s really valuable as a leader if you can fit in that silence and let the other side speak, that’s a great way for you to let people feel heard and for you to let people get their voice out by just not trying to contain and shut down that silence.
Can I just bring up a habit I got when I was in my 20s? It’s a terrible habit. It’s been very hard to break and I still deal with it on a day-to-day basis and that is not listening. When I was a young reporter and producer in my 20s and I’d go out and do a story, be interviewing a mayor of some town in Illinois, I would feel like, I don’t want him to know that I don’t know what he’s talking about.
And because I was young and I wanted him to take me seriously and now I look back and he would have taken me more seriously if I would’ve stopped, listened and then just said, “Every day I have to cover two different topics and I know nothing about soybeans. Can you please tell me some of the basics about, how soybeans are sold on the market and how this started here in Illinois?”
It also builds trust when you’re able to allow that silence. So I work with an attorney. We have a phenomenal relationship now, but in the beginning he’s a slow talker. He’s thinks before he speaks kind of person versus me who I get excited and it comes out of my mouth. And so we would have these weekly calls where I could tell he was frustrated because of the tone of his voice. He would have an idea and before he had finished his idea, because he takes pauses and thinks through, I would get excited like, “Oh my God, that’s a great idea. Let’s do this.” Even though I was trying to be supportive and engaging. It was really frustrating for him because he couldn’t get his thought out before Audrea was like, “Yes, let’s add fireworks and banners.” And it took me really working on how to listen to him, how to listen to his pauses, how to listen to his tone, and really, really say, “Okay, can you scribble this in a note?” Right? This is a call you’re not in person, so it’s not like he’s going to notice me putting my head down, scribbling frantically. Can I pause and really listen to what he has to say so that I understand? At this point, we have a phenomenal relationship. I have gotten a lot better and I think he’s gotten used to the fact that if I get really excited, I can’t help myself, but I really can make a huge impact in that leadership space if you build trust them knowing they’re going to be heard.
There’s this book called the art of Active Listening. It’s how to double your communication skills in 30 days. It’s on Amazon, it’s a Kindle book. It’s free I think. I read it thinking, well, “This is a silly free book,” but actually has a ton of use today tactics. It’s one of those books where I keep going back to it, because it really short and it’s take a tactic a day and try it. It’s really applicable. So it’s you’re trying to figure out like when to listen and how to listen. This is a great tool for it.
What I really love that you have both have just touched on is having that self-awareness, knowing enough about ourselves. Because as Kathryn said at the very beginning of this podcast, oftentimes leaders get elevated into a position of leadership before they fully learned how to be a leader. I know for a lot of people, those promotions happen before we’re quite ready. We’re really good at the current job we’re in and so we get promoted to that next level up and we don’t yet know how to manage people.
And so having that self-awareness is key. So let’s take back through some of these things that we’ve talked about because we have touched on a really great list of characteristics of leaders. Risking popularity to make the right decision, focusing on finding solutions instead of just the problems. Being useful. Going beyond the call of duty. Turning failure into opportunity. You have a voice, so share it and then knowing when to quiet your voice and listen.
So how the heck do we do all of this? One final point that we have for you. Everyday leaders emerge when we first overcome our own fears. Fear is a liar, you guys. Courage is about acknowledging those fears, recognizing that you have those fears and then moving past them. So finding out what is causing that fear or anxiety, what’s putting that voice in your head that’s telling you you can’t do something or you shouldn’t do something. And then getting back on with the task at hand. Life is just too short to let that fear hold us back from what we want to achieve.
Fear is a liar. That’s my favorite line from this whole thing. That’s awesome, Julie.
Isn’t that awesome? There’s a song right now by Zach Williams called Fear is a Liar and if you don’t know it, look it up. Whether you like country or not, the lyrics are amazing. It’s all about that still quiet voice in the back of your head that tells you you are not good enough or you’re not right or you’re not strong enough and then conquering that because fear is a liar.
Oh, I’m playing it tonight.
I love it. It’s awesome.
I love the line everyday leaders emerge too. I think that is a really important concepts to understand. You don’t arrive at leadership and you’re like, “Hey, I’m here and I’m a wonderful leader.” Right? Leaders evolve, they change, they adapt, they’re flexible, they have lots of protein failure days. Is by all means the journey, as cheesy as that might be like it is working on leadership. It is not arriving at leadership.
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