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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Leadership

One of the wonderful things about humanity is that we’re all so different, and we embody many different traits. Our distinct personalities can lead to powerful innovations, creative solutions, and out-of-the-box thinking. But it can also lead to conflicts, clashing, and misunderstandings. Have you ever tried to assign a highly collaborative leadership task to an extreme introvert? Or asked a “numbers person” to lead a creative brainstorming session.

It can be beneficial, of course, to stretch our abilities and challenge ourselves to reach outside our comfort zones. However, everyone has their limits. A social person who thrives on interpersonal interactions and teamwork can only take solo data entry work for so long. Soon, they’ll be miserable and, possibly, looking for an exit.

As a leader, it’s smart to identify your team members’ strengths and capitalize on them. Develop an understanding of their strengths by doing the following:

1. Ask them directly what they excel at, what they enjoy doing, and what their goals are. You might be surprised by how quickly people open up when talking about these topics.

2. Turn to a trustworthy assessment test for guidance. As an LP of Insights Discovery, I’m a big proponent of the Insights program. Rooted in social science, Insights Discovery identifies four key personality types (Cool Blue, Fiery Red, Sunshine Yellow, Earth Green) and outlines their inherent strengths and weaknesses. This can be used as a starting point to understand each individual’s potential. For more information, see my past blog post on Insights.

3. Observe each person on the job. What tasks do they excel at? How do they respond to different situations? Do they seem energized or drained after certain tasks? Taking note of these cues can help you better understand how to delegate tasks for maximum efficiency.

4. Listen to your team members’ feedback. They may have ideas on how they can best contribute to the team’s goals. They may be frustrated with processes or tasks they feel they are over- or under-qualified for. Address these issues and strive to create an environment in which everyone can utilize their strengths.

Once you’ve determined each team member’s strengths, you can start assigning tasks and roles that challenge and inspire. Letting team members play to their strengths can lead to greater satisfaction, higher morale, and better team performance. As a leader, it’s vitally important to recognize everyone’s unique gifts, and use them to drive the team forward and foster a more motivated, happier team.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE.

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Studies show the best teams are diverse teams—diverse in backgrounds, identity, thought, and more. But sometimes that diversity is squandered. If the majority always rules (or a few voices tend to dominate the conversation), those in the minority may become discouraged and withhold their thoughts and perspectives.

This happens more than you might realize. Women tend to be quieter in a room full of men, and women of color enjoy far less support than their white counterparts. And when it comes to diversity of thoughts and behaviors, introverted folks (those who lead with blue or green energy, if we’re considering this from an Insights Discovery angle) may not take the floor as often as extroverts.

This is unfortunate because innovators and creatives come from all backgrounds and have a wide range of personalities and behaviors. Some of the most brilliant minds in tech, for example, are former misfits (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs). Some of the most successful people in history were introverts (Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein).

As a leader, it’s up to you to include everyone on your team and to equally nurture talent. This is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. How might your team improve if everyone felt valued and engaged? What progress could you make if “all hands were on deck,” instead of just a few?

Let’s talk about a few ways that you can practice inclusive, effective leadership.

1. Actively seek feedback

As a leader, it’s a good idea to continuously gather data from and about your team. This includes feedback. Ideally, providing feedback should be as painless as possible for your team. Give them several different avenues to choose, including one-on-one meetings, anonymous surveys, or a chance to speak out during meetings. Demonstrate that you care about what your people have to say by practicing good listening skills and seriously considering making the changes they suggest.

2. Engage in conversations

If you do not regularly meet one-on-one with your people, I highly encourage you to start. A lot of thoughts, ideas, and frustrations could bubble to the surface once you’re in a private room (or virtual space). Remember: this is a two-way street. Be open and friendly, share some information about yourself, and dare to be a little vulnerable. Set the tone for a candid back-and-forth conversation.

NOTE: Make sure you keep any private information you learn to yourself. Nothing erodes trust faster than gossip.

3. Aim for understanding

It’s smart to keep in mind that not everyone shares the same views, background, and thought patterns as you (and that’s a good thing!). When you’re getting to know your team members, do your best to practice empathy and aim for understanding. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas in a large-group setting, take note and see how you can accommodate them. If another person appreciates time to think over a problem before offering solutions, respect that tendency and encourage the team to not jump into a decision right away.

One way to unearth your team members’ tendencies, perspectives, and ways of thinking is to utilize a science-based assessment test. I have witnessed teams have incredible breakthroughs by using Insights® Discovery (I’m a Licensed Practitioner), but many other excellent assessments exist, such as StrengthsFinder or Enneagrams.

4. Pay attention

This should go without saying, but it’s worth emphasizing: pay attention! Notice when team members are not speaking up, or if they seem uncomfortable. Take note when one or two voices dominate the conversation. Once you see behavior patterns emerge, you can begin to take action.

5. Promote (or initiate) affiliate or networking groups

Sometimes, your team members need support that is more specialized in nature. If someone is part of a minority or underrepresented group (Women, BIPOC people, LGBTQ+ folks, neurodivergent people), they may benefit from meeting with others who share a similar background. There is power and comfort in sitting in the same room as people who are similar (at least in some ways) to you. These affiliate or networking groups can advocate for changes, swap stories, or simply provide a listening ear. If your workplace does not currently have affiliate groups, consider initiating one or two.

There are many ways you, as a leader, can practice inclusivity. It’s time to uplift those at the margins, listen to their ideas, and demonstrate that they are just as valuable as anyone else.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE

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We’re now two and a half years past the beginning of the COVID pandemic, and the business landscape has been forever altered. One of the most obvious changes is the amount of time we spend in virtual meetings. With many people working at home either full- or part-time, it makes sense to connect in a virtual space. But we all know this way of working can have its pitfalls.

Staring into a screen can be draining (or even anxiety-inducing), it’s more difficult to read body language or have side conversations, and the flow of conversation isn’t always natural. On top of that, many of us are experiencing the phenomenon of “Zoom Fatigue,” where we feel burned out by (seemingly endless) virtual meetings.

How can you create an engaging virtual meeting?

As a leader, it’s highly likely you’ll have to lead virtual meetings. Despite their bad rap, you can make online meetings engaging (and maybe even fun!). I suggest trying the following:

1. Keep them short

Studies show that people begin to experience Zoom Fatigue after 30 minutes of constant screen time. Keep that in mind when you’re prepping a meeting. If the meeting will last longer than 30 minutes, consider building in a stretch break or encouraging everyone to shut off their screens for a couple minutes to regroup.

2. Start strong

If you start the meeting by being unenthusiastic or long-winded, people will quickly lose interest and it will set a bad tone for the rest of the meeting. Instead, try kicking off your meeting with an activity. This could be an icebreaker question, a brief round of trivia (think, five questions), or a game (a word search, “spot the differences” pictures, a collaborative round of Wordle). Get everyone’s energy and enthusiasm up.

3. Make it interactive

Whenever it makes sense to ask for input or feedback, ask it. You might hold a brief brainstorming session, ask for ideas/opinions, or simply ask, “Does anyone have any questions so far?” When you ask for feedback, don’t forget to give people time to answer. One or two seconds is not enough for many people. When you sit in silence for 10 or 15 seconds, you’ll find that people will muster up the courage to speak up.

4. Collaborate

Look for opportunities to include your team in the meeting planning and execution. Perhaps it makes sense for someone to deliver an update, or for someone to give a brief tutorial. Adding in another presenter is a great way to keep people’s interest and help them feel included in the meeting.

We all know virtual meetings can be a drag, but they don’t have to be! Take a little time to prep, get creative, and be mindful of when your team needs a break. By emphasizing interaction and team involvement, your meetings might become something people look forward to—a rare thing in the era of Zoom Fatigue.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE

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