Leadership Link

Leadership Link articles are short stories written by Hamilton County leaders that have a great leadership story to share.  The articles may consist of their own leadership story, a story of their favorite leader, meaningful quotes, important leadership traits or how leadership affects business.

What makes a great leader? As I sit here thinking about leadership, my thoughts are drawn to the kind of leader I desire to be.

We’ve all heard these sayings and many others like them.  Model the Way, Walk the Talk, Lead by Example….  I used to think of servant leadership when I heard these phrases and whether those that were leading the organizations I served followed these statements. 

Though I’ve spent most of my professional life as a courtroom litigator, I enjoyed the management and leadership opportunities that arose as I grew into the role of executive partner at my law firm. I am especially grateful for those experiences now that my career path has taken a surprise turn, placing me at the helm of two nonprofit organizations with over 40 full-time employees and hundreds of volunteers.

Throughout the world we live in there is a word that is used with regularity. It is a GREAT word. It is a FANTASTIC word. However, it is a word that must be used with caution.

As leaders of businesses, organizations, groups, and teams, one measure of our success should be in the overall work environment we strive to create. Building an atmosphere where team members feel valued, respected, and empowered enables that team to work at its highest level and to be its most productive.

Movember means mustache season, which is something special to those of us on the staff of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department.

Ironically, it’s a time when we are allowed to break one of our own rules: no full facial hair. Thanks to my colleague Sargent Brian N. Niec, he started this special tradition several years ago. For a donation of $50, you are allowed to bypass the policy during the month of November and grow a beard to your heart’s content – as long as it looks professional.

Any leadership effort that is substantial (building a new business; dramatically changing an organization, pursuing lofty achievements, etc.) comes with uncertainty. During that process, people in your business may ask “where is this business going?”

As a leader in a public service organization, I often find myself in the odd position of cheerleader, soother-in-chief, and, like Carmine in Laverne & Shirley, tasked with teaching folks to just let go and (metaphorically) dance already!

“Volunteer…because change is possible.” This magnet was a fixture on my grandmother’s refrigerator for as long as I can remember, and it now hangs on mine as well. Grandma was always volunteering at the church, organizing and serving church meals, and even helping to serve meals at the Senior Citizen Center until she was 91 years old.

We have all been sitting in that organization’s board meeting that is staring down their large opportunities for improvement, but all the while painstakingly trying to tweak small details of their existing policies, procedures, & practices. Then that lonely member speaks up and challenges one of these existing major practices of the organization...the air gets chilly…

During my fourteen years as Carmel High School principal, I have learned many valuable lessons about leadership. I have learned that successful and healthy leadership is based on three pillars: Service, Balance, and Relationships.

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'" -Eleanor Roosevelt

This quote has been a favorite of mine for many years and started as my mantra after my Ovarian Cancer diagnosis at 19 years old.

A good leader wears a lot of hats. It’s the very nature of organizing a movement, rallying the troops, and influencing change. It’s something we know all too well as Hamilton County school superintendents. In fact, it’s that very leadership skill that we’ll lean on in the coming weeks as we seek to meet the challenges wrought by school funding.

Being an entrepreneur is the toughest job a person can have. You are tasked with taking a vision and growing it into a product or service that people will pay money for. However, the company is only going to grow to a certain point without a team. The “solo-preneur” is now tasked with communicating that story and moving a team in a direction that inspires and motivates.

I recently heard the statement, “We aren’t leaders until we can develop leaders that can develop leaders.” It reminded me of one of my first experiences with empowering leaders. I was a 19 year-old counselor at a YMCA camp in southern Indiana. I had been more of an “inside girl” most of my life and was being challenged by leading a group of kids in the woods, lakes and meadows.

I am certain every aspect of leadership has been analyzed and discussed at length by academics and practitioners far more accomplished then I, but I will do my best to provide some insight from my experiences.

When I began my internship with Hamilton County Leadership Academy in August, I was oblivious to the understanding I would gain from the unparalleled opportunities the organization offers. Attending class days, meeting with prominent leaders in the community, and learning about nonprofit logistics—each of these experiences has increased my appreciation for the inspiring figures who work towards the betterment of Hamilton County.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead said that. And Hamilton County—its history, present and future--proves the cultural anthropologist right.

Since when did ‘compromise’ become such a bad word? In today’s hyper-political, hyper-partisan, ultra-competitive world, some think that we have lost the ability to find common ground and recognize when others succeed. Leadership is often misunderstood as a person’s ability to overpower and always get their way. Compromising, however, is not admitting defeat. Rather, it is acknowledging and building on other’s successes. In a world mildly obsessed with winning (here’s looking at you high school parent), sometimes leaders have to take time to point out and learn from other’s superior attributes.

What a thrill it is looking forward to involvement in the upcoming 26th Hamilton County Leadership Academy class. Once again, deserving applicants were turned away as the awareness of the success of the program continues to attract interested individuals.

Leadership and management are frequently confused as the same. Many people believe that CEOs, Presidents and Directors are leaders, while this is often the case, it is not a certainty. While people in management positions do demonstrate many leadership qualities, that does not necessarily indicate they are leaders. Leadership is much more complicated and ambiguous.

When you see the word “leader,” what image(s) pop into your head?

I get a picture of a (wo)man in a cape, flying through a flowery field, with rainbows, glitter, and unicorns all over the place, and throngs of fans applauding. A bit overdramatic, but leaders have positive halos. They win. They persevere, with grit. They save the day! And ultimately, they succeed. Everybody loves this leader, because this leader is a hero(ine)!

When I think back on my high school or college career, I don’t see a natural course toward leadership. No…ahem…I spent a bit of time at theatre parties, a bit more time “finding myself,” and a bit of time doing what other people told me to do. There may have been a snake pit adventure or two thrown in there too, but I’ll address that later.

Most people reading this article would be classified as “old dogs.” I don’t know about you, but this “old dog” finds it difficult sometimes to learn new tricks. I recently read Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and absolutely loved it. Let’s be honest. My habits (good and bad) were learned, fostered and solidly formed years ago, and they are difficult to change.

Congratulations, you got a promotion… New responsibilities, new challenges, new measures of success. All is great. As you start your new job your focus is understandably on adapting to your new role. But, who is taking care of the work you used to manage or provide? Are the colleagues supporting you also growing to fulfill their new responsibilities? Not effectively filling the void you left could ultimately lead to an organizational failure. This helps no one.

It sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true. And acknowledging that simple fact helped me realize something that should have already been obvious: Leadership has nothing to do with big paychecks, fancy offices or lofty titles.

Every day I feel dumb. Not all day, but yes, every day. As a father, husband, lawyer, businessman, friend, or otherwise I have been asked questions to which I do not know the answer. In fact, I might (and often do) say, “I don’t know.” I feel doubt and uncertainty.

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