Mei-Mei believes in continuous learning, and has been a student of leadership for 25 years. She is passionate about sharing lessons to help unleash the leadership potential and power within each individual, and often speaks on branding, strategy and innovation.
Most of these columns were originally published by The News-Press, based in Fort Myers, FL, where Mei-Mei was the President and Publisher from 2010-2015.
With appreciation to The News-Press.
"Learn the rules of the game. In every setting there are interpersonal dynamics."
"In a marketplace of talent, it's important to know what distinguishes you."
"In today's lightning speed landscape, initiative and innovation are vital to success."
Five lessons on the leadership journey
Published in The News-Press on 8/31/14
Throughout the community, I speak often about journeys; Journeys of life, of discovery, of purpose and, especially, leadership.
As I have shared, I’m a lifelong student on leadership. How can we most effectively help lead and guide others to success, whether as community members or business owners.
More and more, Southwest Florida recognizes that nurturing our workforce is imperative to our vitality as a community. According to the latest Scarborough regional market data, 30% of our population works full time and 16% work part time. Of full-timers, 60% are male, 55% are in management or professional roles, and 50% are in the 25-44 age bracket.
There are many options for professional development of all kinds throughout the year and region. I applaud those who made time Wednesday to join the Women’s Leadership Conference at Keiser University, hosted by the Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce. Thursday, I was honored to join Bank of America’s Lead for Women empowerment celebration at Hodges University. The Southwest Florida chapter, one of 40 nationally, grew to 175 members in just two years, founded by Heather Potts, Vice President of the Banking Center at Bell Tower, and supported by Julie Schmelzle, Global Commercial Banking Lead and chair of the Partnership for Collier’s Economic Future, and executive sponsor Gerri Moll, Southwest Florida President.
My conversation with the diverse audience of women--and men--included five lessons from my leadership journey to date. Here is a variation that can be applicable to anyone who wants to continue to grow, wherever they are, whatever they’re doing.
1. Learn the rules of the game
In every setting there are interpersonal dynamics. The give and take, the jockeying for attention, the overt and subtle messaging: it’s a game, with rules spoken and not. How can you play, much less win, unless you know what they are?
What they didn’t teach us in school was to be attuned to the game and understand those rules in order to build networks to support and endorse us.
Effective management is 360 degrees: down to staff, sideways with our peers, and up to our boss. The higher you go, the less it’s about the work. It’s about relationships: finding common ground, effectively influencing.
I tell the story of being an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, and learning that a colleague had been named to a cool new position—that had not been posted. The guy was bright and charming but not as talented as I. I asked the boss: help me understand, how did this happen? He said, this guy “was in here every five minutes, with this idea and that. I had to do something with him.”
Oh. Instead of doing my usual excellent work, I was supposed to also be in there making waves. Noted.
2. Know and brand yourself
I’m a big believer in candid self assessment, having a clear view of strengths and areas of development. If you’re not growing, you’re falling behind.
What we contribute is comprised of knowledge, skills and talents. The first two can be taught. Talents can’t. They are inherent—recurring behaviors formed through childhood that make us unique, and can make us extraordinary (Check out the book, Now Discover Your Strengths.) My five strengths are achiever, arranger, command, input, learner. For me, every day starts at zero.
In a marketplace of talent, it’s important to know what distinguishes you. Then you must purposefully brand yourself. Know how you’re perceived, vs. how you want to be perceived. Then work to change perceptions to your reality.
3. Lean in; be open to opportunities
I’ve written before about this “lean in” philosophy, made popular by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book by the same name. It’s about women gaining confidence, getting engaged, being open to possibilities.
Male or female: what drives you? What do you aspire to? What sparks you to lean in? Not everyone will be or should be the top leader. But everyone can find a way to be at the top of their own game. Grow from where you are.
4. Seek diverse views for innovative breakthroughs
In today’s lightning speed landscape, initiative and innovation are vital to success. The best ingredients for innovation? Diverse views, and lots of ideas.
During the high renaissance period in Florence, nurtured by the Medici family, there was an explosion of brilliance because of an intersection of talents including Michelangelo, da Vinci and Galileo. Mixing diverse concepts, and doing so in great quantities, will result in innovation, advocates the book, The Medici Effect.
One local example cited is inventor Thomas Edison. Before he finally figured out the light bulb, he conducted more than 9,000 experiments.
Challenge yourself to seek lots of diverse intersections.
5. Develop a strategic mindset
Many of us doers tend to leap to tasks, the “how.” As leaders, we must focus on the “what” and “why”, setting context and direction.
Strategy requires thoughtful assessment, determining where we want to go, building the roadmap and making the journey. Then, doing that all over again, because it is an iterative journey.
Of these lessons, consider which to focus on to maximize your contributions, your growth, your success, wherever you are. Then establish a strategic plan for your own future. Happy journeys.