Reverse-Engineering Leadership: What Leadership Is Not
By: Jaime Dunagan | Director of Strategic Engagement & Business Development
Leadership. We hear the word thrown around quite a bit – and in countless different situations. From high school sports teams to politics and everything in between, we need leaders in our lives to guide the way the world is being shaped by our collective actions.
In many cases, we learn what leadership is not before we ever learn to recognize leadership models that we would be proud to emulate ourselves – as was my experience growing as a professional in marketing.
Leadership Models Reverse-Engineered
As the Director of Strategic Engagement & Business Development at John Lynch & Associates, I am blessed with countless opportunities to see powerful, transformative leadership models in action every day. However, that was not always the case.
In the early days of my career, I worked at a large insurance company. I started on the corporate side and eventually moved over to the agency side of the business. While the last several years of my career have been in small business, my job at the large insurance company gave me my first taste for corporate life.
My experience in the corporate world was eye-opening, to say the least. The leadership was typical for that time and consisted more of managerial tactics than true leadership. My superiors managed their employees by managing each person’s time, managing corporate quotas, and only addressing other managers rather than engaging with lower level employees.
The company culture that was cultivated as a result was that of paranoia – paranoia about work hours, time spent on breaks and lunches, and the backlash that was waiting around the next corner.
Worse still, everyone had their eye on everyone else – who showed up to work a minute late, who was talking more than they should, and who took a longer in the bathroom than usual. I became hyperaware of my surroundings and very cautious of engaging other employees.
Seeking relief, from there I moved into the world of commercial real estate. Working as a young marketing manager, I was full of ideas and ambition. I wanted to help and, in turn, be appreciated. Yet, my boss led me to think that I was not good enough to fill the role I had been given.
Even though I was given the responsibility of leading a project, I was not given any authority to make decisions or to hold others accountable for getting their portion of the project completed on time. While my work was often received well, it still had to be reviewed and handled by my boss. Inevitably, I grew to believe it was a problem with me, my talents, and my work quality.
Furthermore, I never knew where I stood with my boss. Was she disappointed in me? Was she angry? Was my job in danger? I was fraught with questions and was craving clarity and reassurance.
However, what I eventually came to realize was that my boss’s inability to trust, delegate, and empower her staff was actually a leadership problem. Sadly, the lack of leadership in our office bred feelings of paranoia and quashed any sense of joy in my work.
True Leadership: A Stark Contrast
After leaving that position following the commercial real estate market crash, I craved a collaborative team, personal growth, and entrepreneurial relationships.
Over the next several years, I had various opportunities to see what effective leaders looked like – and, perhaps more importantly, how positive it feels to work with strong leaders.
While most people think of a “leader” as someone who is comfortable speaking in front of large groups or someone who wants to lead a movement and change the world, I have come to realize that a great leader is one who is able to cast a clear vision of the goal and has the ability to guide a team to achieve the goal.
Additionally, a great leader takes great care to accept responsibility for the outcomes of his or her team – so much so that he or she will do whatever it takes to ensure that team’s success.
A great leader:
- Has vision. A great leader is able to project a clear vision of the overall goal and then provide the team with the direction to execute and achieve that goal.
- Provides team members with the tools they need to be successful. If a project fails, a leader takes it upon himself to strengthen the internal resources available to the team rather than passing blame to subordinates.
- Climbs with determination, then reaches back and pulls others up. An effective leader lifts others up and encourages their team to be better for the sake of fulfilling one’s own potential.
- Is humble enough to know what is beyond their knowledge. Leaders are always learning. Leaders are open-minded individuals with a hunger for knowledge who have pledged themselves to helping others by growing themselves.
- Has a strong sense of personal character. To inspire people to follow and respond, a great leader embodies self-discipline, self-reliance, and the integrity to do right when no one is looking.
- Always asks, “How do I add value?” Something as simple as giving a compliment or encouraging a team member can transform the dynamic of a team.
- Is courageous. Effective leaders have the courage to step out and challenge the status quo. They must rely on their teams and trust that their way is not the only (or the best!) way.
Prior to working at John Lynch & Associates, I thought being a leader was a lonely job. Coming from corporate environments, I was taught that company leaders did not talk to subordinates; they looked past you, they had meetings behind closed doors, then gave orders and evaluations. The first leadership models I every learned taught me that a leader had to distance herself from the team so no one looked down at her for not knowing something.
Now, I am grateful to say I have an entirely different leadership model I work with.
The Best Leadership Models Inspire New Leaders
Within a month of working at John Lynch & Associates, true leadership was evident in how Katie and John interact with their team.
Katie goes above and beyond for her team, helping people achieve personal goals, and gives clear, supportive direction. John is a visionary who thinks so far past the here and now that he is able to inspire others and gets everyone moving in the same direction.
The team as a whole is highly collaborative. As the leaders of the company, John and Katie trust their team members to innovate and bring their individual areas of expertise to the forefront, which is what makes John Lynch & Associates able to help our clients in such a profound and unique way compared to other consulting teams.
Today, as I have risen through the ranks and have been uplifted and empowered by my team at John Lynch & Associates, I have stepped into more of a leadership role in my own way. Leading our marketing initiatives, I have been able to hone my leadership skills in both the effectiveness of my direction and the execution of my team.
While leading myself, supporting our contractors, and running point on projects with multiple collaborators, I have had the opportunity to live the leadership models I have seen in action. Though I wish I – and everyone – had a chance to learn what effective leadership is before setting out on my own path, the juxtaposition of leaders throughout my career has led me to where I am today.
Now, I am grateful for the journey as it has allowed me and my team to be flexible to fill the needs of our company and serve the healthcare organizations we work with to the best of my ability.