Insight Blog

Leadership at Any Age

by Eileen Koch

April 28, 2020 | Strategic Execution

I was fortunate enough early in my career to work for an incredible leader and mentor.  She was an avid reader and often recommended leadership books that I should read.  To this day, my favorites hail from that time over 20 years ago – authors like John Maxwell, Ken Blanchard, James Collins, Michael Watkins, and Patrick Lencioni.  These aren’t just books to me – they have framed the leader I have become and every time I feel myself slipping, I re-read the principles from these great authors.

So when my college-aged daughter told me that her business school professor recommended his “favorite leadership book” to her class, I jumped at the chance to read it alongside her.  After reading all 250 pages, I concluded that it was brilliant and frustrating all at the same time.  The key messages in the book were spot on but the author shared these concepts in the most complex and convoluted way.  My first instinct was to tell all the college students reading this book that leadership doesn’t have to be that hard – that we can achieve success, tremendous personal satisfaction, and collaborate well with others without losing our minds in the process.  In my opinion, regardless of age or experience, strong (and often exceptional) leadership can be achieved when you focus on three main principles.

  1. Lead with kindness
  2. Do what you say you’ll do
  3. Be prepared

Lead with kindness.  Many years ago while leading a multi-year transformation, I was working with a very large team during an extremely stressful time for the company.  The stakes could not have been higher for the results we needed to achieve.  Lots of emotions ran the gamut on a daily basis.  This client impressed upon all of us one simple principle.  Always assume positive intent.  Don’t think for a moment that people wake up in the morning and think “I’m going to make Bob’s job a nightmare today.”  Or “I can’t wait to be difficult in the daily huddle.”  Everyone comes to their job with a different experience from that morning, perhaps from the night before.  Assuming positive intent gives you permission to take a breath and cut people some slack.  Lead with kindness and engage others with a servant leadership mindset.

Do what you say you’ll do.  If you say you are going to do something, do it.  If you didn’t do what you said you were going to do, own up to it and do better next time.  Great leaders are unafraid to express their own vulnerability.  Someone once told me, the minute you start explaining, you are losing.  Owning up to what you are supposed to get done is so liberating.  The respect people have for you skyrockets and you immediately become the type of team player that others request for future projects.  Lead with vulnerability and admit when you’ve dropped the ball.

Be prepared.  Great leaders assume positive intent, admit when they’ve dropped the ball and always dedicate time for preparation and reflection.  Because there is ALWAYS something you can learn and do differently when working with a team.  For example, if a meeting doesn’t go well that you are facilitating, perhaps you want to blame the executives who couldn’t reach a decision or the conversations that seem to go nowhere.  Try instead to ask yourself, did I prepare people for the meeting in advance by setting expectations, did I preview the material with the executives ahead of time to understand potential challenges, or did I have the courage in the meeting to guide the conversation towards a specific, desired outcome using a strong agenda as my guide?  Lead with purpose towards a common vision and always ask yourself, what could I have done differently?  There’s always something.

I have since added to my list of favorite authors – Susan Cain, Brene Brown, and Mel Robbins to name a few.  I have also benefited from years of working with some of the most dynamic and generous leaders – all whom inspire me to be better every day.  Leading with kindness, vulnerability, and purpose not only delivers bottom line results, it enables a sustainable leadership framework that can be achieved at any age and replicated time and time again.

For more information on how Lake Shore Associates can help you drive your next transformation, visit