Are you a good leader? What makes you good? What are your leadership strengths and weaknesses?
This week, in preparation for an upcoming assignment I had to connect with a co-worker, a classmate in my doctoral program, and a personal friend. I had to ask each of these people to identify my leadership strengths, and leadership skills I should work on. I got feedback on my leadership strengths from a friend from work (a teacher and my committee co-leader), and from a doctoral program peer (a classmate with whom I worked closely on two projects last semester), and a close personal friend, I found some consistent themes that helped me understand my leadership strengths and areas for me to focus. Read more to find out what those are.
Some of this is going to read like I’m answering questions in an interview — but that’s only because I am reflecting on strengths and areas of growth. In future ‘episodes,’ I’ll be sure to explore leadership from more of a third person perspective.
My Leadership Strengths
Rather than strictly exhibiting management skills, my peers pointed out that I have certain valuable leadership strengths, including: demonstrable task-oriented competency (Chemers, 2000), initiative-taking and on-the-spot thinking (Toor, 2011), and strong interpersonal skills (Chemers, 2000; Toor, 2011).
Competence – My co-worker indicated I come across as competent, which is pretty important, since leaders need “task-relevant competencies” (Chemers, 2000, p. 38). To this end, my co-worker also pointed out that I seem smart and well-educated, which might lend to my credibility. I am also task-oriented, which, along with my organization skills might lead to me being perceived as competent, and thus, more likely to be respected as a leader.
Ability to synthesize others’ ideas – According to my classmate, I listen to and synthesize others’ ideas well, and can lead a group to consensus (classmate, personal communication, June 1, 2015). This matters, since leadership demands being “open to new ideas” (Toor, 2011, p. 316), and a leader should “ensure that the goal pursued is in the collective interest” (Chemers, 2000, p. 38).
Initiative taking – My co-worker, my classmate, and my friend all suggested that I am proactive, and able to produce well-thought out solutions to problems — sometimes on the spot — which shows flexibility, an important leadership trait (Toor, 2011, p. 313).
Relationship-building – According to my co-worker, I am also “amiable” and successfully build positive relationships with my team (which, I think, is more a by-product of being a decent human being than being a leader). These personality traits are not just decent, but are valuable leadership traits, since leaders should facilitate “good morale” (Chemers, 2000, p. 28), and when successful, should use “relational influence [rather than position] to gain authority” (Toor, 2011, p. 319). These factors, along with the fact that I am punctual, and facilitate meetings by managing group time effectively, may also lead to my leadership being appreciated by my group.
Areas for me to Focus on Improving
So in all fairness, this entire reflection is inherently biased. As Nesbit (2012) points out,
“People generally value, seek, and readily accept positive feedback about themselves but reject or distort feedback that is inconsistent with one’s self-concept” (p. 207).
That said, I made a genuine effort to be open minded to the opinions of these three people, who in their differing capacities, had come to know something about me as a leader… and there were some valuable pieces of guidance I received in this assignment.
Flexibility – My classmate pointed out that, like him, I tend to plan in advance, and am fairly structured with my approach to accomplishing tasks. He suggested I work on developing my flexibility with those who do not work on my planning-in-advance schedule. He’s absolutely right — after all, strong “leaders are flexible and open to change” (Toor, 2011, p. 313).
Speaking out, even if it’s not solicited – My co-worker suggested I should “be more comfortable taking a stand,” even if I feel I am “standing alone” or feel that it is not my place to say something. I tend to agree with this advice — when I reflect on leaders I respect, the tendency toward this kind of behavior is something I admire in them. But I –like other teachers — can feel uncomfortable or out of place speaking up — or “stirring the pot.” Much of this comes down to the delicate balance between standing up for what one believes, and keeping the peace in a political environment (and this is in spite of the fact that I very genuinely love my job, and I’m in a genuinely fantastic and supportive school and district). I’ll have to play around with as my career progresses, but any classroom teacher will admit that it is easy to feel a little bit disenfranchised.
Having a confidant – My friend suggested I am at my best when I have a “trusted peer” or mentor to “discuss and refine ideas with,” so within my career, I should always seek out a trusted mentor or a professional peer or confidant to support me in my effectiveness.
Both within the context of continuing my research, and in the context of advancing my career, I will need to continue developing and honing the leadership skills I already possess, and developing those that need more attention. I will need to become more flexible with team members who do not follow my structured way of planning, perhaps more willing to speak up as times goes on, and at all stages of leadership will definitely need to seek out a trusted confidant to discuss and refine ideas with.
What are your leadership strengths? What are your leadership weaknesses?
(Photo of Michelle Obama by Collier Schorr for the New York Times)
References if you’re interested:
Nesbit, P.L. (2012). The role of self-reflection, emotional management of feedback, and self-regulation processes in self-directed leadership development. Human Resource Development Review, 11, 203-225. doi:10.1177/1534484312439196
Toor, S. (2011). Differentiating leadership from management: An empirical investigation of leaders and managers. Leadership and Management in Engineering, 11, 310-320. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)LM.1943-5630.0000138