Leaders: Shut Up & Listen

Growing your leadership rarely happens sans intention and investment. I recently outlined how I intended to nurture some good leadership habits through the summer in “My Leadership Growth Plan: 3 x 3.” The first leadership practice of my 3 x 3 was ‘Listen & Observe More.’ Here’s what that looked like for me last week.

To give you some context, from June through August my work largely circles around our children’s & youth camps. There are provincial directors and teams who put in a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears to make these events an enormous success. They are incredibly passionate and gifted. I get the privilege to help guide that ship in the planning stages, narrow the gaps and grow the synergy between departments, and then champion the leaders from the sidelines through the camp season. Our most recent one was Kids Rock Camp. I’ve led and been part of children’s ministry and camps on countless occasions, but I hadn’t been “here” before. How exactly do you oversee a camp you’ve never attended? This was my first camp conundrum (the second one is a horse of a different colour, and better left for another post). It was the perfect time to sharpen the leadership habit of listening and observing. My resolve was to go in with eyes and ears open, to learn from those around me, and to stay mostly quiet (don’t say it, just don’t). Can you actually lead by listening and observing? Probably not all of the time, but certainly good leadership calls for it some of the time.

I’m learning that a good leader is better at asking the right questions than giving the right answers. This isn’t my natural inclination. Don’t get me wrong, leaders will speak up when needed, but let’s be honest, I’m not usually sitting quietly, debating whether I should say what I’m thinking or not, so that may not need as much practice per se. You know, you can do pretty good things and even get credit for them by selling your own ideas and mandating a team to carry it out. This might qualify as a rough definition of management. Managers talk a lot. If you want to accomplish great things, gather a team around you who bring far more to the table than you do, and let them talk. Guide them, inspire them, bring out the best in them as they build and refine brilliant ideas that will move your organization to a whole new level. This is leadership. You’ll get much further than you would by bringing ‘yes ma’am’s’ around the table to listen to you and stroke your ego.

Our task in leading is not to impress our team with the best ideas, skills, or know-how. In fact, how efficient is a team if the leader has the best skills around the table? When leaders do the real job of leading, they listen and observe more of what’s actually going on, ask better questions, develop better strategies out of real-time observation, and then go further, faster, by focusing on equipping and inspiring the team to be at their best.

So, fellow leaders, cheers to shutting up sometimes.

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3 Marks of Great Leaders: Kerry Pardy

I’ve admired many things about my dad over the years. His ability to get a splinter out of my finger was in high demand when I was 8 and trying to show the boys up by climbing the highest in the tree. Learning to ride my new purple bike wasn’t easy either, but Dad steadied me, ran alongside, gave me a push, and then let me fly – an approach that became very familiar over the years now that I think about it.

Dad has always been a proud blue-collar worker. I love that about him. He could have climbed a corporate ladder but thrived in the daily grind of tough physical work and long days. In fact, I can hear him say almost daily: “It doesn’t matter WHAT you’re doing. Even if you’re shovelling crap against the wind, you work hard and do your best.” That’s my dad.

Today he works with Syncrude Canada where he competently leads a team of people. While his leadership skills are more recognized these days in his newer capacity, 3 characteristics have always stood out about him, ones that are a mark of every great leader.

  1. Selfless team player. Mom and Dad live in Fort McMurray. During the horrific wildfire situation that unfolded in May, they were evacuated from their home and their city in a dangerous situation. Roughly 88,000 people were evacuated in fact. Just two, short, whirlwind days after arriving safely in Edmonton, while the city was still on fire and the remainder of its residents were being brought to safety, my dad told me he was going back into the city to report to work (on his days off I might add). Let’s just say I wasn’t happy about that. I was scared. It made no sense to me. I made my case. My dad’s response to me was simple and unwavering. “Kayla. My colleagues are there. They have not been able to leave for days. My family is safe. Now it is my duty to relieve them so they can be with their families too.” There’s no response to that, except “I don’t like this one bit, put Mom on the phone.” I may not have been happy, but I was never more proud.
  1. Loyal to a fault. I’ve never known anyone more loyal than my father. Yes, to his family and friends, but also to the company he works for. When Dad emphatically and repeatedly says he works for the “greatest company in the world,” we all sort of roll our eyes and smile. We know he believes it, and we almost do too because of that. But then I also recall the positive way he honored a man he worked for years ago. So while I know his views may be, in part, a reflection of his employers and colleagues, I’ve learned that they are really more about my dad’s character. His loyalty is fierce.
  1. Gets things done. Dad doesn’t talk about doing things. He gets up and moves. He loves hard work and holds himself and those around him to a high standard. He doesn’t expect anything of someone else that he wouldn’t do himself. Dad is able to see the big picture, mobilize others, and dig in to meet outrageous goals because he doesn’t stand in front of his team and tell them to “go do,” but goes shoulder to shoulder and says “let’s do.”

So here’s what I’ve learned about leadership from my Dad. Great leaders always put the needs and values of the team ahead of any personal agenda. They have an ability to discuss things they disagree with in private while maintaining the highest loyalty in public. Great leaders inspire their team to work with them as opposed to dictating how the team should work for them.

Here’s to hoping the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

(Happy birthday Dad!)

Leadership Growth Plan: 3 x 3

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We’ve all heard references to “born leaders,” usually in terms of someone who appears to  naturally exercise their leadership capacity without a great deal of effort. Honestly? I think the concept is largely spurious. No doubt some people are gifted with abilities that lend themselves to leadership, and when harnessed well and combined with hard work and strategic investment into personal and professional growth, can help produce effective leadership. Maintaining that a leader is simply “born” however, negates the highest priority a leader can make – to become a lifelong learner.

Growth rarely happens without intention, making this one question essential: “How am I growing my leadership right now?” In an effort to set goals and measure progress, I’m putting some work into a 3 x 3 Personal Leadership Growth Plan – a focus on 3 leadership practices for 3 months. It’s not meant to be complicated or deeply profound, just a simple method I’m using to narrow in on nurturing some good habits over the summer. If you’d like to join me, here’s how:

  1. Identify 3 leadership skills or practices that you should sharpen.
  2. Post them in your office or in another visible space as a daily reminder.
  3. Commit to practicing them with intention for 3 months to better develop them and form them into good leadership habits.
  4. Consider updating a weekly log on how you have been practicing these skills so that at the end of your three months, you’ll be able to reflect on the hard work, progress, and see the new habits in place.

Here are mine for June, July and August: 

Listen & Observe More Exercise Vulnerability Spotlight Other Leaders

In the coming days I’ll unpack the three with you and tell why I’m leaning into these areas in particular.

Interested in joining me in a summer growth strategy? Use this 3 x 3 or a strategy of your own and let me know what areas of leadership you’re sharpening!

Leading Ladies

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Dear Mom,

I write this letter to you with my feet propped up near a large pile of strewn clothing, the aftermath of this morning’s wardrobe crisis. I’m tired and I’m hoping the kids will sleep in tomorrow. It’s late, but there are a few thoughts I wanted to share with you that I figured might best be expressed in a personal note, mom to mom, leader to leader, so here goes…

Young mom, I know that sometimes you think you aren’t doing enough. Your lunches aren’t always fresh and organic, the beds sometimes don’t get made until you’re about to tuck in the little ones again at night, and sometimes, despite what your friends say about cherishing the time because they’re only little once, you’d just like bedtime to come early this evening. I get it. But the way you fill your home with love and laughter in your own unique ways are the reasons your family loves you just the way you are. You’re the only one who can love your kids the way you do. Sometimes you wonder if you have what it takes. You wonder if you have the patience, the character, the time, the resource, the know-how, the intuition, the bravery, to juggle everything at once. But you are enough.

Grandmothers, thanks for being natural allies with your grandchildren. You have a very special role as a support system as you continue the foundation you started many years ago. It will later be ready for the beautiful legacy of love and values you will leave behind. Your children aren’t doing everything the way you would have when you were raising them, but you are proud of them nonetheless. You are enough.

Dear Mom who has grieved the loss of a child. Even death cannot swallow up motherhood. It becomes who you are and grows with you for the rest of time. The people you love today and tomorrow are forever shaped by the person you are and the gift you give them in yourself. You are enough.

To you, caregiver, you tirelessly pour into the lives of children all around you as you teach, nurture, care for, counsel, and befriend. You are an immeasurable gift to the broken, the motherless, the neighbour, the community. The children, the teens, you care for so deeply don’t call you “mom,” but you mother them as if they were your own. You are enough.

To all of you leading ladies, may God guide your every step. May He give you the wisdom you need for each situation, the ability to surrender worry to Him, the perseverance to help build character in the young or grown children you influence. May you have the humility to say I’m sorry, the confidence to set goals and passionately operate in your strengths, so that you can be the best example to those who need you to be you. I want you to know that YOU are the best gift you can give to those you lead. The combination of your hard work, your excellence and your flaws, your confidence and humility, make you exquisite. And you are enough.

Happy Mother’s Day

Learning to Blog

Welcome to my humble abode in the blogosphere! I’m so looking forward to using this space to house ideas and experiences in my own attempts to figure out how to lead well. Maybe I’m so inclined to write after a hiatus from years of documenting my teen life in diaries that I hid under my mattress (don’t worry, here I’ll spare you those boring details). Or maybe it’s the English teacher in me who still loves the art of the writing process and the growth it provokes. Either way, my purpose is two-fold.

First, I’m discovering that leadership is more of a journey than a destination, and writing about a journey not only brings clarity of thought and a better focus, but it also eventually provides a means of healthy reflection on the growth that has taken place and the moments that have shaped who you have become. For me, writing then provides a duel-purpose, almost paradoxical, forum – one of dreaming and one of staying rooted.

Secondly, I think the best learning takes place when we build on the ideas and experiences of one another. You’ll think of things I’ve missed, have a fresh perspective, or disagree completely, and your sharing can spark interesting conversations and growth for everyone.

So consider this an open invitation, and let’s roll.