We Are All Leaders

Photo:  WOCinTech

Photo: WOCinTech

by: Minda Harts, Founder, The Memo

Some of you might not know that I teach a course on Leading Talent Development at NYU Wagner. One of the reasons I decided to add "Professor" next to my name is because I wanted to help influence the next generation of leaders and managers in relation to how they see human capital in the workplace. More importantly, I wanted to reinforce how they should invest in human capital that might not look or identity like they do.

In other words, what is their part in helping create an equitable work environment, and what would it look like to invest in talent in a real way? One book that I intentionally chose for them to read was Arthur Ashe’s Days of Grace. This book follows the late tennis star and activist on his path to becoming a leader. He did it by defying the odds on the court and leading with character off the court. Mr. Ashe didn’t become a leader because he wanted the most “likes” and “follows.” Rather, he challenged himself to be the best human he could be.

One of the many leadership qualities that I admired about Mr. Ashe was his ability to be self-aware, which is something that I have found in my career to be a deficit in many managers. Many managers are so stretched thin they are just trying to make it through the day and are not always thinking about the ways they can potentially support their team. Others are promoted into positions of leadership, not because they have any experience leading and managing talent, but because they hit other metrics. Finally, when you put some people in positions of power, they make everyone else's life a living hell--be it consciously or unconsciously.

We’ve all worked in environments where senior leadership has a track record of transferring the ultimate power to someone who has a track record of poor communication skills and prior staff retention issues. Yet somehow they are managing a new team of people. Does this situation sound familiar to anyone?

Perhaps you have gone to your manager to express how they can better support you, and because you have spoken up you are on the “bad” list and have been shut out from opportunities to advance or silenced. I would bet the farm that this scenario is probably one that hits home with many women of color.Well-intentioned managers are not helping reduce toxic work environments!

So what are we to do? Well, I’m glad you asked. Whether you are currently managing a team of people or you aspire to manage a team someday, I want to share with you my starter kit for leadership to help you think through how you are developing as a leader.

  • Dare To Lead, by Brene Brown:Listen, Linda,” I have read countless leadership books and this one takes the cake. Brene offers tangible and practical examples of how to lead.
  • Difficult Conversations, by Douglas Stone: Do you have a hard time having difficult conversations? As a leader, you will be tasked with having hard conversations with your staff about things from performance to taking too long of a break. And just like anything that might be difficult, one must practice until perfect. I recommend another book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
  • Check Your Privilege at the Door: When managing a diverse group of people, you can’t automatically assume you know what they need or how to support them. In addition, just because someone might not sit with you and your peers in the break room doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be considered for future promotions. We all hold privilege in various ways, and in order to get the most out of our talent, we must be willing to check our egos and privilege at the drop of a dime. Being in a leadership role doesn’t mean you always know what’s best. Allow yourself to be managed as well, and be open to feedback. Ask your team to evaluate your performance.

Don’t let your success as a manager bring someone else pain! Look at how you can invest in yourself by investing in your team.