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Finding the leader in you

A familiar face at GCN’s Nonprofit University, Yvonne Bryant Johnson has coached hundreds of nonprofit professionals with a self-described “passion for helping teach leaders to be the best they can be.”

In her role as facilitator of the opening session of our 2014 High Potential Diverse Leaders (HPDL) program, Bryant worked with a cohort of 30 “rising stars” each year to help prepare them for executive careers in the sector.

The process begins with building self-awareness, as she challenges them to “get to know yourself,” gently yet persistently pressing them, through individual and group exercises, to consider how their personality and approach impact those around them.

First, know yourself and how others see you.

“People are often clue­less about how those around them perceive them and their work style,” she says, which is why it’s critical to conduct a “360-degree feedback exercise” assessment with anony­mous questionnaires completed by yourself, your supervisor, your peers, and your direct reports that provides “non-judgmental” insights about your personality and behavior.

As HPDL alumni attest, their ”360 assessment” is a highlight of the program experience. While outcomes are rarely a sur­prise—“This is definitely me!” being a typical reaction—the process sparks heightened sensitivity to the impact one’s behavior has on those around them.

This tool, says Johnson, is invaluable in helping to develop more positive and produc­tive work relationships, especially with those wired differently from you. As an example, she cites the challenge of an individual with a dominant personality supervising someone who is more analytical and introverted, “a combination that can easily spark conflict, just because of style.” And it’s not just about those who report to you, she says: “Leaders must learn to manage up, down and across, effectively managing relationships with their supervisor and peers.”

Follow guiding principles.

In The Leadership Challenge, James Koufes and Barry Posner articulate what Johnson calls a clear set of core practices for “leadership at its best: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and last, but certainly not least, Encourage the Heart.”

Leaders must learn to manage up, down and across, effectively managing relationships with their supervisor and peers.

Johnson elaborates on the five intercon­nected qualities in her work. Modeling the Way means “what you are expecting is what you should be doing—If you don’t want peo­ple to be late, don’t be late.” Inspiring Shared Vision is about “building enthusiasm that is catching.” Challenging the Process means that “leaders must be innovators, and be fearless about challenging assumptions.” En­abling Others to Act requires “looking at oth­ers’ strengths and delegating work to them that will help them grow.” Encouraging the Heart means “taking the time to celebrate successes, even small wins—giving back what they need to feel special and respect­ed.” Learn more at leadershipchallenge.org.

Decide what kind of leader you want to be.

“Why do people follow you? What is the legacy you want to leave?” Johnson asks participants, noting that “leadership is based on title, but we follow people because of what they have done for us and for what they produce.” A key tool that frames classroom discussion is John C. Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership, which provides a step-by-step path for leadership development.

Moving into a leadership role means preparing for "deep change," which requires new ways of thinking and acting. It requires discipline and courage. It also means changing relationships.

One of her key HPDL exercises makes this point by asking the class to put up sticky notes in two categories. On the left: why you follow the boss you like best. On the right: describe the boss you don’t want to work for. After reviewing the results, she asks, “What will you do to be the boss on the left and not on the right?”

Embrace change.

Moving into a leader­ship role means preparing for “deep change,” which requires new ways of thinking and acting. It requires discipline and courage. It also means changing relationships. First-time supervisors are eager to be effective team leaders, but the transition can be a tricky to navigate. A hot topic in each class is: How do I relate to people who used to be my peers? “Setting boundaries is important, as is open communication about how your new role changes these relationships,” says Johnson. Don’t avoid critical conversations: “Communi­cate, communicate, communicate.”

As she closes the first of six daylong HPDL sessions, Johnson leaves the class with three questions to consider: “What will you stop doing?”, “What will you start doing?”, and “What will you continue doing?”

Learn more about High Potential Diverse Leaders and apply—or nominate a rising leader at your organization—for our next cohort.

Betsy Reid is Vice President, Marketing and Comunications, at GCN.

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