MPI Chicago Area Chapter

Ask the Expert - How to Be a Successful Leader

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There is a position coming available in my section as the director that I may pursue. My current position does have some leadership responsibilities but this position would require far more leadership. How do you suggest I prepare myself if I choose to pursue the position?

To pursue the next position in your section, I would consider how well you know the current director and how you perceive their leadership abilities. If you feel that individual was successful, examine what qualities you possess that mirror that individual. Think about the situations that arose when the current director had to make a difficult decision and how comfortable you believe you would have handled the situation. Leadership is not a case of how well you are liked, but how you are respected by your peers and superiors.

We are anticipating some situations in the next few months which will require certain staff to be re-assigned plus creating some potentially challenging working groups. My concern is that some of the decisions I may need to make will not be popular, but I want to keep a “cordial atmosphere” if possible. Do you have any suggestions on how I should approach this?

The first thing I will tell you is if you are in command, then command and make the best decision you feel possible. When you are in a leadership position not every decision you make will be popular and you may lose some staff based on the situation. You must remember that you are making a business decision and not running a fraternity. Many staff that may leave due to organizational changes were not truly dedicated to the group or not willing to understand the changes and the organization needed. They may be looking for an easy job where they can make the minimum contribution.

We have a director who is not very engaged with his section. We rarely have staff meetings and when we do he is less than inspiring. How would you suggest we operate in such an environment?

First, let me tell you that your situation is rather common and is more prevalent in certain types of organizations. In this case, let me suggest you operate on the basis of it is easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. In other words, make the decisions and take the actions that you feel are the most appropriate and use your own leadership skills to advance the organization. When there is a lack of leadership, then you must take the initiative so the organization does not fail. However, I caution you to be discreet in your actions as flaunting your actions with other staff can be detrimental.

There is something I have always wanted to ask and never seemed to find the right one to ask. How do you truly define leadership?

Leadership is a combination of knowing how to give direction and the ability to be a mentor to a subordinate or another leader. Giving direction comes from the conviction of knowing what must be done and how your group can best accomplish each task. It is speaking with authority without being overbearing or demeaning. It is talking to the group and not at the group. It is the ability to recognize when someone is struggling and being willing to help them. Finally, it is the ability to understand that people make mistakes and if handled correctly becomes a learning experience for everyone involved. Working as a disciplinarian is not leadership – it is being petty.