Recently, I had the opportunity to reflect on how I incorporate acts of leadership into my career and how to be more proactive in expanding ways that I can become a leader through small, everyday behaviors. Often, we are all so busy getting our jobs done and meeting the challenges of our day-to-day careers that we typically don’t take the time to think about what truly makes a leader and how we can become better leaders ourselves. As a participant in the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Leadership Program, I had the opportunity to think about the practice of leadership, specifically during the workshop that they sponsor with Simmons College School of Management.
In the workshop we focused on “Learning Leadership: The Five Fundamentals of Becoming an Exemplary Leader” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. In their framework the authors posit that leadership is a skill that can be developed by anyone. Understanding how the concrete actions we take every day fit into their framework of leadership practices can motivate us to regularly act like leaders in new ways.
The five practices that are part of Kouzes and Posner’s framework to learning to lead are:
1. Model the way
– Find your voice by clarifying your personal values.
– Set the example by aligning actions with shared values.
2. Inspire a shared vision
– Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities
– Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.
3. Challenge the process
– Search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve.
– Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from mistakes.
4. Enable others to act
– Foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships.
– Strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence.
5. Encourage the heart
– Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.
During the workshop, each participant was first asked to reflect on a situation in which she felt she demonstrated a personal best in leadership, and to identify specific actions that she took as a leader in that situation. After learning about the leadership framework described above, we were each then asked to think again about our personal best situation and identify which leadership practices our actions corresponded to. By reframing concrete actions within the framework I was able to see how I already behave as a leader, and also which practices I might currently be missing from my everyday actions that I can work on to become a better leader. It is certainly a confidence boosting exercise to gain a new perspective on actions that come easily to me and how they can contribute to my path toward being a leader.
To share how even small actions can be built on to become leadership practices, I have thought about tasks and actions that I take as a project manager at Payette and how they fit into Kouzes and Posner’s framework.
Designing the project schedule
Challenge the process / Enable others to act / Encourage the heart
One of the great tools I have learned to use as a project manager at Payette is a sticky-note project schedule. While it can be a simple time and task management tool, by using it regularly with my team to track progress and help others take ownership of their individual timelines and tasks, it has proven to be a powerful team leadership tool. At weekly team meetings I was able to celebrate the progress my team had made, motivating us through small wins toward larger deadlines and milestones. Each team member felt both responsible for their individually assigned tasks and being able to cross them off each week, but also that they had control over which individual tasks had to take priority and how they fit within the larger context of moving the project forward. The satisfaction of crossing off completed tasks each week had some of team members excited for the mundane task of schedule review!
Setting team goals and expectations
Model the way / Inspire a shared vision
A lesson that I learned from co-managing the competition team for the Fifth XiangYa Hospital was the importance of setting clear expectations about time management for our team, respecting those guidelines and following them myself. At the outset of the competition, we knew it would be an intense process to plan and design over 5 million square feet of hospital in three months. From the first day of the process, our project management team laid out a schedule and expectations for our team that we would work intensely from Monday to Thursday, meet on Thursday afternoons to recap the week, use Fridays to tie up tasks, and let our team members decide how best to use their weekends. We recognized that over the course of the competition, sometimes this expectation of managing our time might mean that a few individuals would need the weekend to complete tasks for move certain aspects of the design forward. At the same time there was also a clear expectation that it was valuable for us to use our weekends for ourselves so that we would not burn out and lost our productivity during the week. As a co-project manager, I designed the project schedule for the team in a way that fit within these expectations, and worked within them myself throughout the competition. I think about setting these kinds of clear expectations that respect my teammates’ time every time I plan a process and schedule deadlines for each new project.
Providing clear opportunities for design critique
Model the way / Inspire a shared vision / Challenge the process / Enable others to act / Encourage the heart
As a project manager, it is my responsibility to provide opportunities for each of my team members to engage in the design process. Design can be a very fluid process and as designers we can often get lost in the tasks that we need to complete in order to meet demanding schedules. There is so much to think about and do to complete the design of complex healthcare and research buildings that individuals can often get lost in their current or immediate tasks, or feel that they are only focusing on completing one task or another instead of contributing to a larger design goal. I have learned from the design culture at Payette that regularly scheduling opportunities for design discussion and critique is vital, not only to improving our overall design deliverables, but to engaging all members of my team. Regular, scheduled team design critiques open opportunities for every member of the team to feel empowered to have an impact on design and to understand how their individual tasks fit and contribute to a larger vision of what our design is striving to accomplish.
Participating in this leadership reflection exercise also made me think of all the leadership practices that I witness and admire in my colleagues around me. I think of my colleagues in our Building Science group who are continuously challenging our design process so that the firm can become a leader in high performance buildings and environmental stewardship. I think of all of my colleagues who are or have been YDC co-chairs who enable so many young designers in our office to develop their competencies in learning new professional skills or meeting the requirements for licensure. I think of the group of people who developed Tom’s List, our in-house platform for connecting people in new ways. I think about how our Communications Editor, Karen Robichaud organized hackathons in our office and with our clients to push new ways of thinking about innovative, collaborative, and inclusive design processes.
Who are the leaders you see around you? Do you want to learn more about the leadership practices that they incorporate into their everyday careers? Go and talk to them about leadership! The more we can all take the time to reflect on our leadership practices the better we can practice our personal best. What actions do you take on a regular basis that you can reframe in terms of leadership to help motivate you to do more to lead? Leadership is not about who you are, but the actions that you take toward your aspirations.