Our Responsibility to Develop New Leaders

Tammie McKenzie

It doesn’t just take smarts and skills to build strong leaders. It’s up to us to enable the leaders of the future to engage their teams and give people purpose and fulfillment in the workplace. I am not talking about grade school or high school students in the distant future. I mean the ones we have been neglecting in the workforce ever since we first promoted them. They may have been your top distinguished engineer or your number one performer, but you can’t just assume that he or she can just jump right into managing people.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was published in 1989 by Stephen R. Covey. Now you may be thinking “too much has changed since then for this to be relevant to me.” I have to admit that, when I joined the FranklinCovey team, reacquainting myself with these concepts reminded me how much they had impacted my transition to a leader and helped me to refocus my personal life to get me on the road to personal fulfillment. As a wife, sister, mother, grandmother, friend, and colleague, I recommend some self-reflection around these simple rules for everyone.

Developing good behaviors as a foundation is important for someone you are grooming for leadership. They need to develop personally first, to move from depending on others to an independent, high-functioning, individual contributor that kicks butt!

What does that look like?

First, you need to learn to be proactive and understand that you are responsible for your own happiness. Being proactive is “creating a situation by causing something to happen, rather than responding to it.” You need to understand a few basics related to communication, mutual respect, and positivity. You have a choice to use “yes, and…” language rather than saying “no, but….” You have a choice to pause between stimulus and response by using your self-awareness, imagination, and free will to formulate how you will react. You have a choice to walk away from things you can’t change and focus your energy on the things you can influence. You have a choice. Once you recognize that, you are on your way.

The next thing that you need to tackle on your journey is what sort of outcomes you are looking for as you advance in your life and career. Don’t just wander blindly from situation to situation. If you want success, you have to soul search and figure out your short-term goals and the long-term outcomes you want. You can start with a personal mantra or mission statement to inspire you to be your best self. It can be as simple as, “We enable greatness in people and organizations everywhere,” which is FranklinCovey’s mission statement.

Learning how to spend your time on what is important in all aspects of your life, is the next big step to independence. We call it the big rocks and the gravel. Big rocks are your highest priorities. Gravel is all the little fires you like to put out because you want to be the hero, the meetings you don’t need to be in, the non-stop messaging from multiple sources, etc. You must be able to identify what is the most important, and then stick to your guns when the time comes to prioritize. Managing yourself is one of the most important lessons you should learn to do effectively to move to independence in life and work. It can also be one of the hardest.

If you manage to change these three behaviors and are constant with their practice, you are ready to start the move toward a state of interdependence where collaboration and openness drive innovation and successful leadership begins to take shape. When I use the term “successful leader,” I don’t mean just any success. It’s not making a revenue goal at all costs, or some M&A strategy that happened to work out. I’m talking about creating an inclusive environment where people feel like their work is purpose-driven and that they are valued. Where people feel engaged, their voice is heard, and they are accomplishing their goals individually and as a team.

You must prioritize creating win-win situations, whether at home, with your co-worker, your customer, or your direct report. You need to adopt the mentality that there is  plenty to spare for everyone out there: money, recognition, responsibility, customers, love, you name it. If you believe this, along with having a respectful open dialog about what it means, you will create partnerships that result in mutual success.

We all know that listening can be hard. It’s hard and it’s important. And if you can’t learn how to truly listen, you will shut people down and stop open dialogue cold in its tracks. Always make sure that you understand what the person you’re listening to is trying to say and respond in a thoughtful and respectful way. When you listen and respond empathetically, you create an environment of openness that promotes two-way feedback and trust.

When you believe in your ability to manage yourself and create open, inclusive relationships with the people around you, you naturally move from an individual contributor to a collaborator. Adopting the mindset that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts will catapult you into a new world where you can learn to value the differences in people and their strengths and weaknesses. When you come to the realization that sameness is boring and differences evoke creativity, you increase your team’s ability to succeed tenfold.

Last but not least, none of this matters if you don’t take care of yourself! Plan time for yourself every day to renew and revitalize your body, mind, heart, and spirit.

I would love to hear how you feel about The 7 Habits and how they can impact your personal and professional effectiveness. I would also like to hear if you had some preconceived notions about the practice of The 7 Habits that might have changed after reading this article.

 My mantra is simple: “Get better every day.” What’s yours?

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