Leadership: Points to Remember

As a result of my long tenure as a college president of two institutions — nine years at Gateway Community and Technical College and 22 years now at Borough of Manhattan Community College — as well as my long-standing Executive Coaching practice, I’m often asked by colleagues, to what I attribute my success. As a result, I’ve taken the time to list those points I think are most critical in assisting a leader to be successful and to nurture the growth and success of those around him.

• Find leadership from your inner strength and conviction to do more and be more. Understand and know yourself – strengths, weaknesses and your passion for fulfilling your personal mission.

• When speaking, follow the carpenter’s rule of thumb: Measure twice and cut once. Think twice and only say it once – never having to say, “That’s not what I meant.”

• Identify, hire and empower the best people you can find, then get out of their way and don’t micromanage them. Surround yourself with “great” people – invest in them, show them you trust their judgment and give them clear expectations.

• Create a leadership culture – expect leaders at every level of the organization. Encourage the organization’s creativity.

• Don't get bogged down with micromanaging the details but also don't ignore the details – ask questions of those you have empowered.

• Accept the responsibility to lead: Give credit to others for their successes while allowing them to take responsibility for errors. Show appreciation; don’t play the “blame game.” When you screw up – and you will – try to put your energy into making sure you learn from the mistake rather than assigning blame. Don’t hold anyone’s feet to the fire if you yourself cannot withstand the heat of the same flame.

• Celebrate accomplishments, no matter how small.

• Admit your mistakes – don’t be afraid to apologize.

• Be a good listener – to what is said, and to the feelings beneath the words. Solicit the views of others, listen attentively and give feedback on what you have carried away from the discussion. Create venues for the exchange of ideas on important issues. Respect silence as a part of the communications process. While deliberating, suspend judgment. Know your own assumptions.

• Make decisions in a collegial and collaborative environment. Be open to constructive change and never let your experience and knowledge get in the way of limiting your openness to new ideas. Never try a "one size fits all approach" to problem solving.

• Know the timing of leadership: Don’t make judgments quickly or decisions precipitously. Take time to think and make judgments only when you have enough evidence to support your decision – but don’t wait too long, either.

• Never delay a decision that must be made. Never compromise the Future for an easier Present.

• Be mindful of the context of the situation or conversation.

• Develop with your staff a vision for your organization. Articulate it to all employees and refine it. Visions should be straightforward, in words and deeds that people can relate to and embrace. Without getting folks on board with your vision, you will not be successful.

• Inspire and motivate by your actions, and establish a reputation for honesty and integrity – people will be far more adept at watching you, than they are at listening to you. So integrity, honesty and probity are all essential leadership virtues.

• Communicate important information throughout the organization – people need to know “what’s up.” Create an environment founded on trust and openness. Communicate expectations and instructions specifically, using clear, plain language.

• Have respect for others, even those who oppose you. If you can't interact with others respectfully and develop a level of trust and openness, I don't think you can be effective. Be gentle in criticism, lavish in praise.

• Have a sense of humor and keep things in perspective.

• Be optimistic – see the glass as half full, think of the world as conspiring on your behalf and radiate confidence that all will be well.

• Think strategically, be proactive, have a plan.

• Leaders are not afraid to take a risk.

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