My name is Samantha Walters and I am what you would consider a “millennial executive” over here at Colocation America. Every Monday (get it, get it, Samantha on Mondays – the S.O.M column) I will write a little something on whatever is on my mind from business practices to current events and everything else in between.
This week’s topic – leadership.
Last June I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel about entrepreneurial spirit at The Channel Company’s Women of the Channel West Conference. On that day, like many others before it, I was asked how I got to where I am now. Thanks to prior conversations with the moderator, Laurie Benson, I had my answer – I am an accidental entrepreneurial. Essentially, life happened and one thing led to another and BAM I am here. Ok, fine, sure, there is more to the story than that but I won’t bore you with the details. To the point, I got here based on a bit of luck, right timing, and, above it all, an ability to lead others.
So here we go, Samantha’s Tricks to Leadership.
Positivity is easy, right? Come on, all you need to do is think of a happy thought, make that negative into a positive and there you go. Then again, if it was that easy everyone would be doing it. Unfortunately, the world is full of negativity. From reality TV shows which focus completely on fighting to news which only shows the woes of the world, negative thought is everywhere. In a work setting, negativity can come in the form of an email, progress report, and/or even time at the water cooler.
According to Health Ambition, it saves our lives. Think of any time you have been scared, that negative emotion has told you to act a certain way. In some situations, that act will save your life. In other times, it just narrows your mind and focus – you shut off the outside world and focus on the negative moment.
Without a doubt, every day you deal with negativity but how do you turn it into positive?
As a leader, it is your job to keep a positive outlook on every situation. Ok, your numbers for the quarter are down, look at it as a learning period, how can you improve? The trick is to not ignore the negative or hardship but embrace it and find the positive – the silver lining – in the situation. When negativity finds its way to your desk, discuss the situation at hand and reassure your team that there is some positive thing that came out of it.
Hey, “all I wanna do is have some fun, I got a feeling I am not the only one.” Oh the wise words of one, Sheryl Crow. Let’s leave this trick short and sweet: people like people who are having fun. Think about it, do you ever want to hang out with that friend of yours that is always complaining? Probably not but, if you’re anything like me, alcohol helps.
Back to the point, there are different kinds of leaders. There are those who lead by fear and those who lead by, in my opinion, laughter. The leaders I aspire to be love to laugh and so do I. Admittedly, I may laugh a little too much – I have a nervous laugh, a tired laugh, a happy laugh, a milk-shot-out-of-my-nose laugh – the list goes on and on. When I am leading my team, I encourage laughter and off-topic moments of “fun.” Inside jokes and moments “you just wouldn’t get” are the things that build a strong team. We laugh together, we laugh at ourselves, and we just plain have fun.
If your years of living hasn’t shown you the power of laughter, let me get you some experts on the subject: Steve Wilson, a psychologist and laugh therapist says laughter makes you happier, Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, proved that you even burn calories laughing, and Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, says laughter has the ability to dull pain.
To sum it up, laugh with your team. Use it as a way to elevate stress, as a segue to discuss a tough subject, or just as a moment to show your team that you’re human too.
To me, this goes hand-in-hand with laughing – admit that you may have done something wrong. So often people think of a strong leader as a leader who does not show weakness. However, what people do not realize is that admitting fault or mistake is a lot harder than pretending you are perfect. Let’s just be honest, no one likes doing something wrong but we all do it. To me the most powerful thing you can do is take ownership of your mistakes and, perhaps, laugh it off.
Now, I do not mean take fault for someone else’s mistake nor should you be admitting all the little things you do like when you perform a California Stop (for those who do not know what this is, it’s a person who comes up to a stop sign but instead of completely stopping, they kind of slow down and roll through it). What I mean is when you do something incorrectly, own up to it! When you admit the things you do wrong, your team will see you as the human you are and, really, trust you more.
Beyond just admitting fault, it’s asking for help to correct it. I am not perfect and I do not know everything, although I would never admit this on a first date. On the occasions I make a mistake, I rely heavily on my network of mentors to guide me in the right direction. Sometimes, it is not even my mentors, it is my own team that helps me. At the end of the day, my team trusts that if there is a mistake, we will correct it – together.
When I think of leadership there are a couple of things that come to mind. For one thing, you cannot be a leader without having people to lead. I know, that is a crazy thought but all too often people are leading, well, no one. Yelling out demands and telling people “how it is” is not leadership it is dictatorship. Yes, at times you tell your team what to do and maybe even how to do it but, if you are leading them, they have some say in it.
Flat out, people do not like being told what to do. So how do you lead without telling?
It’s simple, get them involved in the decision making process. Instead of formulating the greatest strategy known to mankind behind closed doors, get your team involved. Call a meeting, tell your team the idea, and see what they have to say. I would bet that your team has some insights you may have overlooked or may even a better way of doing it. Of course you do not have to take their advice or thoughts into your final decision but at least the team knows you value their opinion enough to ask and, once you put the strategy in motion, the team will be more willing to do it.
They call this lovely thing “ownership mentality.” When you get your team involved in the process, they take ownership of the decision made. Especially when big changes are on the way, you better turn to your team and hear their thoughts. If you force a major change on your team chances are you will have no one to lead. So don’t tell your team the decision, lead them in creating the decision.
Ok, tricks 1 – 4 were good but, for some of you, may be old news. So here is my completely unique leadership trick: make a killer playlist. Yes, I mean a music playlist. No matter what setting I am in, my music playlists gets me respect and is usually the start of people looking at me as a leader. I have found that music is pretty universal, everyone likes it. I use music as a means of making friends, starting conversations, and pumping up the people. I even put musical songs as the titles of each trick – see, this is All Star (I just love the song and I know you do too, long live Smash Mouth).
Sure, you may not always have music around and it may not be appropriate to bust out a little Jay-Z on day one but there are other things you can do. Say you cook, you can bring in some treats for the whole team. Maybe you like playing sports, invite people to join a team or play a pickup game.
See what I am trying to get at is, do something! Make a move, lead the way, and be happy. No matter if you are the head of your company or the help desk guy, you can do something that puts you in a leadership role and it can be as simple as doing something you love and finding others that love it too.
Leadership can look different on everyone but you must be willing to put yourself out there to see what your style is and where it will lead you.