Rarely do we get where we’re going alone. Every stage of life and career is influenced by others—and those who see and enable potential in the people around them have some of the greatest impact of all. Personal and professional success comes, in part, as a result of leaders who take an active interest and role in developing team members. When a leader pushes the boundaries of an employee’s perception of his or her capabilities, it not only develops new skills and acumen, it builds the kind of confidence needed in fast-paced, ever-shifting work environments.
We invite you to read a great perspective on recognizing and cultivating potential from one of Milestone Leadership’s Soderquist Fellows:
“When I began working for Milestone Leadership as a new fellow, I walked in the door feeling like I was just a student. I was convinced l was incapable of taking on the things I was told I would be doing.
"I kept thinking to myself, ‘Don’t you know I don’t know how to do this? Why do you trust me enough to give me this role? I’m unqualified…don’t you see this?'
"Yet, every personal doubt of mine was met with encouragement from my leaders. I was surrounded by people who believed in me and my capacity to learn—they saw my potential before I saw it myself.
"I was pushed and stretched in ways I couldn’t have imagined, challenged every day by people who trusted and cared for me. I learned I could be the person they saw in me, and I began to move outside of my comfort zone toward a role bigger than I would have ever defined for myself.
"The expectations were very high, but with that came so much trust in my abilities. That unconditional trust has changed my outlook as a young professional. What an honor it has been to have people believe in me so strongly, while caring for me enough to push me to my fullest potential through meaningful feedback. I learned that receiving ongoing feedback should be normal from a team—not because I was wrong, but because I was capable of more and better.
"As I leave my role at Milestone, I carry with me what we refer to as ‘humble confidence.’ I learned to have confidence in my and my company’s ability to deliver excellence, but with the humbleness that the outcome wasn’t about me. It was always about serving others.
"My leaders trusted and cared enough about me as a person to push me to my fullest potential. I now feel ready and qualified to step into my next opportunity, eager to contribute to others and embrace a fresh mission and culture.”
-Marisa Judson, Soderquist Fellow and Project Coordinator, Milestone Leadership
At Milestone Leadership, we know leaders worth following are those who help team members build from the place of their own strengths, while recognizing and addressing areas that need development. They willingly trust their followers, giving ample room to stretch and grow—but offer meaningful and constructive feedback and the confidence of a soft place to land and regroup when things don’t go as planned.
Who saw and appreciated your potential enough to guide, shape and encourage you along your path? Thank them.
Marisa Judson joined the Milestone Leadership team as a Soderquist Fellow in 2017 and completed her MBA with an emphasis in Market Research and Consumer Insights at John Brown University in the spring of 2019. During her fellowship, she was instrumental in helping coordinate outstanding leadership experiences for hundreds of professionals, as well as managed a wide array of marketing responsibilities for the organization. Marisa will begin the next phase of her career as an account manager with Field Agent, strengthened with the healthy confidence and capabilities that have grown exponentially as a result of working with a team of people who immediately saw and cultivated her enormous potential.
One irony of human nature is the tendency we have to believe everyone around us should be open-minded about our opinions and behaviors, yet so frequently we struggle with people who don’t think and behave the same way we do. On occasion, we encounter someone who demonstrates genuine openness to hearing new perspectives and is uninterested in qualifying everything as good or bad, black or white. Spending time around such a person can have an enormously positive impact, as it gives others tacit permission to express thoughts and capabilities without fear of being judged as right or wrong.
This leadership story helps illustrate the value of having and encouraging an open mind:
“I was a 19-year old college freshman at a tiny liberal arts college, and I decided to take a public speaking course during a short winter term. The faculty was small, so some members covered a variety of subjects—and in this case we had a philosophy professor teaching us the topic.
“The class was made up of almost entirely traditional students, except for one single mom who seemed so much older than the rest of us (in reality, she was probably only in her thirties!) It was this woman’s turn to give her presentation, and part of the routine was for other class members to offer feedback at the conclusion of each speech. We took turns giving our suggestions, but as one member of the class was offering his not-so-constructive comments, the professor promptly interrupted him with this statement, “Be careful what you say. Have an open mind. If your mind is open, it leaves more room for the good stuff.”
“At the time, my professor’s remark didn’t seem all that profound. It was, though, and that guidance and management of the situation has literally stayed with me for decades. I realized her words were actually a kind, yet pointed, way of stopping unpleasantness in its tracks—and a simultaneous reminder that what we fill our heads with is a large determiner of what kind of person we will be. If we keep an open mind, we give ourselves the space to be positive and flexible to different ways of thinking. If we fill our minds with negativity, the likelihood is that we’ll behave in negative ways. I have been inspired by that simple statement and have called it to mind in countless situations over the years.”
-Laura Mabry, Manager of Corporate and Foundation Relations, University of Arkansas
A number of qualities are inherent to open-mindedness: continuous learner, curious spirit, knack for seeing things from fresh perspectives and respect for differing beliefs of others. People who authentically demonstrate these characteristics frequently have a special charisma and way of making those around them feel comfortable and confident.
At Milestone Leadership, we know open-mindedness is an important trait among leaders worth following. They inspire the best thinking, creativity and behavior in others. When followers are encouraged to be their genuine selves, the result is a greater degree of trust among team members, resulting in collective confidence and willingness to take calculated risks, communicate more effectively and bring their best efforts to the group.
Have you pulled the parachute ripcord for your team?
We’ve heard it so many times – employees don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers. Leaders have an enormous influence on employee engagement and morale, but they also have a critical responsibility to make certain team members understand their jobs and how to be successful in their roles. For many companies, training and onboarding is largely conducted by a professional training staff, so often managers feel they can take a back seat for encouraging and overseeing learning and skill development. In this edition of Leadership Chronicles, we offer a real-life example relating to this topic:
“One of my first jobs out of college was in retail management for a major chain clothing store in Princeton, New Jersey. Merchandising and operations were dictated to us at the store level in great detail, and it was our job as managers to hold the staff accountable for meeting the strict standards. The job and the hours were brutal, but what I learned in my two years there has continued to serve me better than almost any professional experience I've had since.
“Our district manager was a no-nonsense man named Lon who had grown up and lived most of his life in Brooklyn, New York. While Lon didn't have much in the way of soft skills, he DID understand retail. Ultimately, his no-nonsense approach taught me a valuable leadership lesson.
“Most of the staff in our store were high school and college students whose concern for how denim was folded took a back seat to the rest of their lives. One day I groaned to Lon on his monthly visit to our store that I thought we were going to have to fire several people because they struggled to meet our standards. The conversation that followed went something like this:
Lon: “Have you trained them?”
Me: “Well, they all went through our orientation.”
Lon: “But nothing since then?”
Me: “I guess not. We shouldn't have to show people more than once how to do something.”
Lon: “If you don't think people are meeting the expectations, you first have to make sure they know what the expectations are. It's your job to develop them to meet the expectations. If you don't like the way the staff is performing, then as the manager, it's your fault.”
“He then went on to explain why it's more costly to hire new people than to develop current staff. Of course, he was right.
“This lesson has come back to me in every role I've ever had. As a leader it's my job to train, develop, and work alongside my staff so they can meet the expectations of their roles, and beyond that, so they can grow into other roles outside of the organization or company. If I'm frustrated with someone, then the first questions to ask myself are, ‘What is MY role in this person's performance? Where have I faltered in my leadership?’”
-Angie Albright, Executive Director, Clinton House Museum
Research tells us that information gained from training on its own without direct application and reinforcement in reality is quickly lost. What team members learn in a classroom setting or through online training is a mere starting point. When leaders identify ways to take ownership in actively reinforcing training on the job, skills begin to really take hold.
At Milestone Leadership, we understand that managers possess great deal of influence over how team members feel about their ability to perform well. Leaders worth following take the time to develop a strategy for each employee that involves regular one-on-one conversations, coaching, opportunities to apply new skills, and a plan for future learning and development. The message to direct reports is clear: they have a leader partner who is vested in their success–and they see firsthand that their skills, knowledge and capabilities both present and future are important to the organization.
"We lead in order to replace ourselves." Russ Crosson, Ronald Blue’s President and CEO, in What Makes a Leader Great.
Bright and early this morning in our nation about 3.1 million leaders stood before their 49.6 million students.That’s right, students.These leaders are the public school teachers who on average will make about $56,353 in salary this year, to do one thing - lead all their students, including the 51% of them who are living in poverty, to overcome their difficulties and become proficient on about 300 national standards…all in 180 days. (data from https://nces.ed.gov)
I have been asked many times, since I retired from P&G, what it was like working on a real High-Performance Team. The truth is that it really only happened to me a few times in my 34+ years—but when I experienced the power of a HPT, it was truly unforgettable.
The first time I experienced a High-Performance Team was when I decided (voluntarily) in 1987 to leave the “mainstream” Procter & Gamble career track and join a small group of managers testing an idea called a multi-functional customer team. This group of pioneers included a handful of district sales managers, a brand manager from Cincinnati, a variety of managers from IT, Logistics, Finance, HR (OEM), a visionary leader named Tom Muccio and a bright and tough operational leader named Bill Toler. We were quite a motley crew, all moving to Northwest Arkansas to start this idea of partnering with our fastest growing customer, Walmart.
April 15, 1947 doesn’t mean much to people outside of the game of baseball. In fact, many baseball fans don’t know the significance of that day. But that is the day that the Brooklyn Dodgers started one Jackie Robinson at first base. Jack Roosevelt Robinson was the first African American to start in Major League Baseball in the modern era. Jackie Robinson was a very good baseball player. When most odds were against him, he succeeded by taking his talents and developing them through hard work and consistent practice. I don’t pretend to be an authority on Jackie Robinson, but what I do know gives me pause to think that perhaps he is one of the best athletes in our nation’s history. While attending UCLA, he lettered in 4 NCAA sports: football, baseball, basketball and track. His courage and willingness to withstand the racial abuses brought an end to 60 years of discrimination in Major League Baseball based solely on a man’s color. One thing is sure, he was honest and full of integrity. He displayed a commitment to his values that served him well when he needed them most.