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Managing and Leading People

We run a training program to make sure the team gets exposure to the various building blocks of general management skills.  Most of these sessions are led by teammates with considerable experience in a particular area and the content is quite tangible (i.e., slides on how to calculate free cash flow). 

Somehow, we were put in charge of running the “Managing and Leading People” session, a nebulous topic that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a PowerPoint presentation.  Given the countless books, documentaries, and podcasts on leadership, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars some people pay to go to business school to learn how to become a “future leader of the world”, we were a little unsure of where to start.  Yes, we have some experience in the area, but we’re not exactly Jack Welch, and sitting around opining on the topic for 90 minutes seemed a tad egotistical. 

Instead, we took a page from the case study method (see, we did learn something at business school!) and structured prompts to engage the group in a discussion about what good (and bad) leadership means to them.  That’s because, from our perspective, effective leadership and management is in the eye of the beholder; one person’s idea of an excellent leader is another’s idea of evil incorporated (see: the current American election cycle).  It seems leadership is a little bit like pornography—you know it when you see it.  So yes, our grand plan was to ask some questions and shut up. 

When polled about examples of effective leadership, our group threw out names ranging from Queen Elizabeth, Tom Brady, and Winston Churchill to Warren Buffett, Alex Ferguson, and Ted Lasso (apparently, we have a strong soccer bias on our team).  Interestingly, many had names that will not go down in history; it was the junior hockey coach, the second-grade teacher, and the first boss.   

It’s clear leaders come in all shapes and sizes and leadership can be demonstrated in the classroom, in a corporate setting, or at a little league game.  That said, through discussion, the group agreed that there are some commonalities between effective leaders whether they are a CEO or a t-ball coach.  These people are typically authentic, have positive yet steady energy, invest in their people, take responsibility for their actions, give effective feedback, make difficult decisions, hold people accountable, and communicate well.  On the other hand, ineffective leaders tend to be poor communicators, generally unavailable, emotionally volatile, criticize in public, avoid hard conversations, and care about power dynamics. 

We all agreed that leadership is earned, not given; a title doesn’t make you a leader.  We hypothesized that some leaders may be ineffective because they are overcompensating for personal insecurities; humility and being willing to say “I don’t know” can go a long way toward being an authentic leader.  We all agreed that being a good leader and manager is hard but being able to master both essential to being a SMB CEO.  For us, the session drove home that leadership is not a speech or an on-off activity; it is a daily practice that requires constant investment and commitment.  It was also a good reminder that sometimes the most effective leadership approach is to just ask some questions and shut up.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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