The Corporate Maverick: Your Secret Sauce. At some point, many of us must answer the question, “what skills do you have that will help us?”
When I was thirty, I interviewed for the position of executive assistant to the President of a $1.5 billion international company. (I was the first for this new position designed to help turn high flyers into future leaders by giving them a bird’s eye view of the company.) I thought about it for a second and then said,
“I have just three skills.
- I see all the paths that go up that mountain and can pick out the best ones.
- I get people excited about moving with me thru the challenges, up that mountain.
- I work my tail off alongside those people to get them up to the top safely, happily, and joyfully”.
The Corporate Maverick: Your Secret Sauce … My future boss, 30 years older than I, stared at me over his glasses. Then he grinned and said, “Lady, that is what a damn good leader is. Welcome to my team”.
To be honest, at the time, I did not understand the depths of my answer. Nor did I know that very few measure themselves by an ability to move people up mountains. I only knew that I thoroughly enjoyed leading, forming, and moulding a band of misfits and succeeding where nobody thought it was possible.
Fast forward two decades. After delivering extraordinary results with ordinary people, inside companies ranging from $10 million to $4 billion, I still say my bankable skills are those original three. However, I have a hugely different view of what Corporate Maverick and authentic leadership is.
I spell it C-O-U-R-A-G-E. Let me explain.
C stands for Challenge. Leaders see EVERYTHING as a challenge and an opportunity. A leader never sees a negative. She only sees positives, which means there is an opportunity (no matter how small) somewhere and everywhere. Do you notice the mindset shift happening there? That shift is crucial. Any problem, any lousy issue is nothing more than a lesson waiting to be learned and turned into a triumph.
O stands for Outside and Outcomes. A good leader, no matter how well respected, is always on the outside looking in. She never quite fits or belongs IN the team. Because being FOR the team is her real focus. The job of a leader is about Outcomes, aka results – thru the team. The Leader’s Mantra is ‘What are the outcomes?’ And the most focused question is always “how are we making out in our quest to get there?”
U stands for Understanding. Some might call this empathy, others self-awareness. What it means is that the leader understands herself, her strengths, her less than strengths, her team and its strengths and less than strengths and the situation. Now here is the real nub. No leader will ever get or have all the answers. And honestly, that is okay. She becomes exceptionally comfortable moving with only part of the solution and then moving forward without a complete deck of information. She skilfully operates with half a pack full of facts and a truckload of intuition. Because analysis paralysis never moves anything forward.
R means Resilience. The truth is every leader gets knocked around, tossed down, yelled at, and often (rhetorically) punched and kicked. My expression is plucking the pin feathers until the duck is exposed, naked and shivering. Despite that, great leaders always find the strength to get back up. Every single day. Every single week. Every single month. Every single year. With little to NO thanks. I learned to accept it, compartmentalise it and keep moving forward generously. That is what resilience is for a leader.
A stands for Accountability. This word has so many meanings. For me, it means OWN IT – and more explicitly, just the mistakes, the errors, and the delays. I learned never to own the successes and accolades because those belong to the team. Frankly, in the beginning, it is tough some days. Who wants to own the bad parts, give away the best parts and never reap a bit of personal glory? Trust me when I say leaders are not in it for the short-term highs. Leaders learn how to gladly give away all the good parts and keep just the bad bits. Because the most liberating and exhilarating part of leadership is watching others celebrate, grow, and expand themselves.
G is for Guts and Gall. In slang terms, this is known as having a pair or owning a set of brass ones. (Yup, it is indeed found on males. Naturally.) Please do not confuse this with silly behaviours caused by feelings of inferiority. What I am trying to portray here is leaders are quite comfortable with having a backbone and standing firm. With knowing when to say NO. With standing in their own power. Staying humble but being firm in their convictions. Guts and Gall.
E is all about Enthusiasm. The leader sets the bar, the standards, the speed, and the level for the entire team to rise above. When we feel crappy and allow that to be our regular modus operandi, the team feels and acts crappy too. If we behave in a less than stellar way, so does the team. A leader must learn to be situationally attuned. People are attracted to and will follow genuine enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a natural energy booster, a fantastic mood enhancer and a positive results generator. And THAT is the biggest reason why every leader must be enthusiastic.
The Corporate Maverick: Your Secret Sauce … You, my friend, want to define the awesome secret sauce you own. Because you will lean on it throughout your entire career. All leaders are not equal. The great leaders I know have massive amounts of courage because authentic Leadership is NOT for the faint of heart.
This is the first of a three part series about Maverick Leadership in a multi-million-dollar organisation.