A SEAT at THE TABLE: Conversations with Today's Top Industry Leaders

The Core Values Behind Every Great Leader

October 22, 2022 Maria Kelly, Executive Coach & Business Consultant Season 9 Episode 19
A SEAT at THE TABLE: Conversations with Today's Top Industry Leaders
The Core Values Behind Every Great Leader
Show Notes Transcript

There’s a lot of conversations around leadership these days.  From what generally makes someone a good leader to narrower focuses on leadership styles, decision making, conflict management and just about anything else you can think of.

There’s ongoing debate over which leadership playbook is the best way - and what skills are most important to develop in order to effectively lead an organisation - especially in what looks to be uncertain times .

But what if we didn’t need ‘new skills’.  What if the answer lay in going back to core values, character building and even old fashioned ethics?

I’m Jane Singer and thanks for joining me here and being part of our international community.  

We’ve got Maria Kelly with us today and she’ll be talking about what she sees as the simple, but not always easy-to-follow principles that define good leaders.

Maria is an executive coach, mentor and business consultant, who strengthens her client’s leadership development and ongoing professional growth. 

With over 20 years of experience, she supports emerging and C-Suite leaders, internationally renowned experts, and many others, giving them the tools to lead bravely with their head and heart. 

Maria’s mission is to empower managers and leaders who care about their people and their social impact, to become more effective, better communicators and courageous leaders.

She’ll be talking about:

  • What she sees at the most important skill today’s leaders need to have.
  • The critical importance of being decisive.
  • Why good leadership often rests on simply being courageous.

… and a lot more.

Speaking of leadership, one of the biggest challenges companies face is trying to find top talent - particularly to fill critical leadership roles.  Nowadays, having the right people can really determine a company’s success or failure.

That’s why top corporations and even smaller enterprises rely on Asianet Consultants to help them fill key positions.  Since 1988 Asianet has been working in partnership with its global clients to help them make the right strategic hires.  They have a well-earned reputation for being able to fill even those difficult to fill positions.

So if you need to recruit new talent - or think that you might be doing that soon, head on over to their website and check them out.  That’s asiannetconsultants.com.  

Now, let’s hear what Maria has to say about what it takes to be a great leader.
Connect with Maria Kelly on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/askmariakelly/

Maria Kelly’s website:   https://AskMariaKelly.com

Asianet Consultants website:   https://www.asianetconsultants.com/

Visit A Seat at The Table's website at https://seat.fm

[00:00:00] Jane Singer: [00:00:00] Maria, I am really delighted that you've been able to take the time to join me here on a seat at the table. Leadership is really such a big topic, and particularly now  because we are coming out of one very challenging situation, which was the pandemic, and now we're heading into what looks to be equally as,  turbulent times. So people not only have to be good leaders, they really are being challenged to be great leaders and in many ways to face situations  that they might not have had to deal with before. So I really think that what you have to share is very important. 

[00:00:36] Maria Kelly: [00:00:36] Thank you. Well have, thank you for having me here today and, I'm very happy to be able to participate in the conversation.

[00:00:44] Jane Singer: [00:00:44] Well, maybe we can start by, if you could just share your opinion on if there was one trait or core value,  and I'm sure there's more than one core value, but if just one comes to mind that defines a successful leader, what would that be? 

[00:00:57]Maria Kelly: [00:00:57] I think as you say, there's not one only it's, I think a [00:01:00] combination, a good leader has to be a combination of lots of things.  There's not only one core value.

[00:01:02] But I think today, especially with what's going on in the world,  being able to manage yourself,  self-management, being self-aware, having that resilience and flexibility to adapt to a situation, I think is something that all leaders and new leaders are going to have to work on developing as a skill because of what life has been drawing at us recently, and I think it's,  with all these conversations about working from home or not, and  there's a lot of,  turmoil right now in the workplace and there's lots of conversations going on about lots of things.

[00:01:35] I'm sure it's very unsettling for many leaders,  not knowing  what way things are going. So I think having that capacity to step back, take a breath, be resilient, and adapt to the situation as it goes, and follow the flow and still, be the leader that need that  your people need you to be, to be there for them.

[00:01:56] Guide them and  model the behavior you'd like them [00:02:00] to have  is really important. 

[00:02:02]Jane Singer: [00:02:02] I agree.  I think if I'm understanding you correctly,  what you're saying is you have to have those strong core values in place so that regardless of what the situation is, unpredictable as it may be, you can always fall back on those fundamental core values that define you as a person and as a leader.

[00:02:23] Maria Kelly: [00:02:23] Absolutely, Jane.  I think that's important. I think for any leader, having those core values,  knowing who you are and what you believe in, what moves you forward, what's your purpose, are all things  that are going tomake you stronger as a person as well. So, Absolutely. 

[00:02:37] Jane Singer: [00:02:37] Yes.. Now, based on your experience, what skills would you advise leaders to develop that could really make a difference in their success?

[00:02:46]There's a lot of different leadership skills, but based on what you've seen, what, what would you advise people to sort of double down on right now? 

[00:02:56] Maria Kelly: [00:02:56] I think one of the skills. I [00:03:00] feel I don't see enough is courage.  Interesting. And I feel that's something that if you develop it, it can really make a difference.

[00:03:08] It can make you stand out from all the other leaders and having, And when I'm talking about courage, it's about having the courage to step into a conversation, having the courage to say what you believe in and, to disagree. Having the courage to give feedback or have those difficult conversations.

[00:03:28] And as you said earlier, sticking to your values. I think those are all things that you don't learn and nobody teaches you those values, I think it's a shame.  They're not encouraged. And I've seen many successful leaders at high, high levels  of leadership  in businesses who don't have the courage, who don't have that courage.

[00:03:51] And they're good at their job, but they just can't have that difficult conversation. They can't even knowing that not doing that is [00:04:00] going to have a knock on effect on the business, on the people. And I think  that's the skill that  if you develop it, if you step outside your comfort zone and you do it, you quickly see the benefits, in your career.

[00:04:13]Jane Singer: [00:04:13] I'm really glad you brought that up because that's really true.

[00:04:16] I think you're right. We definitely see a lack of courage and that courage, as you've pointed out, it is the ability to have those tough conversations. And perhaps part of it is because we've been living in an environment that's become  hypersensitive, Right. We've gone from being politically correct to,  completely going off the rails, in my opinion.

[00:04:38] So I suppose it is a little bit, scary for lack of a better word for people in leadership roles to to be courageous, for fear of, of massive repercussions. But at the same time, as you're pointing out, if you don't do it, the repercussions could be worse. 

[00:04:56] What do you recommend?  What could help people [00:05:00] take steps to move in that direction of being more courage?

[00:05:04] Maria Kelly: [00:05:04] Yeah. And I think being courageous doesn't mean being a bully, being rude, being right. You know, disrespectful. I think  it's about being brave, right? Yes. It's about having that,   inner courage  to take a step in the right direction and do the things that need to be done, even if it's unpopular.

[00:05:20] Right. And I think.  building that courage. It's little steps.  You have to step outside your comfort zone. You have to do things that are going to seem pretty scary maybe at first, don't do the big scary thing first. Right.  Right. Do the little scary things. But I think goes back to what we said at the beginning about being self-aware.

[00:05:39] Knowing what, what are these things that  you're trying to avoid or that you're not comfortable with? And, and having that self-awareness and. Confronting it and thinking, Okay, so this is something I'm uncomfortable with. I know my strengths, but what are my weaknesses? And these are my weaknesses, so how, what could I do to work on them?

[00:05:56] And it's, it's little steps, and it doesn't have to [00:06:00] be something big, but the more you do it, the better you get at it and the less scarier it becomes, right. So it's like everything. It's practice and it's habits and it's consistent. 

[00:06:11] Jane Singer: [00:06:11] Absolutely. I mean, consistency, habits, this is all  the fundamentals, right?

[00:06:16] That sound easy, but that are actually challenging when you have to execute on them every single day.  I've heard it said that, addressing what you were talking about in terms of courage,  do something out of your comfort zone every day.

[00:06:29] Even if it's like you're saying one small thing in order to build up what you're talking about, which is the ability to then do the bigger things. . 

[00:06:38] Maria Kelly: [00:06:38] Yeah. It's like a muscle. It's like everything, I think every habit , is a muscle that you have to do  every day a little bit more. And then you realize that actually you're doing it.

[00:06:47] Jane Singer: [00:06:47] Right.  Exactly. Now one of the biggest challenges that leaders face is resolving workplace conflicts. We just talked about the fact that we are  in a very sensitive environment [00:07:00] now.  From your experience are some of the tactics that you would advise leaders to use when facing these kind of situations?

[00:07:08]What would make them more effective?

[00:07:10]Maria Kelly: [00:07:10] Yeah. Well actually, it's interesting that you mentioned that because I read  a study the other day that was saying that   workers spend two to three hours a week dealing with conflict, which adds up to  a day, a month, which is Wow. Huge when you think of it.

[00:07:22] Yeah. And so, yes, it's absolutely,  imagine  the impact it has on the business, on the people around you.  But again, I think it's something  that we're not trained to do as leaders, as managers,  often people get thrown, and I know my experience, I got thrown into a managerial role overnight , with absolutely no training. And my first leadership training came six years later. 

[00:07:44]Jane Singer: [00:07:44] Oh really? 

[00:07:45] Maria Kelly: [00:07:45] And I'm not, Yes, and I'm not the only one  in that situation. I've done some research and it seems like over over 50% of managers or leaders find themselves in a position of leadership without any training.

[00:07:58] So typically dealing [00:08:00] with conflict is not something that we usually learn at home or in school. And if you don't get any proper training, Everybody deals with the cards they have.  And some better than others. And I think that yes, there is, again, it's something that young managers and young leaders should be taught much earlier on.  It would, it would avoid so many problems in  businesses in general and save money  in the long term.

[00:08:25] I think going back to what we were saying earlier, one of the things to start with is about being brave, you know? Right. It's about  dealing with the conflict.  Not trying to avoid it. So when something comes up, whether it's between you and somebody else,  okay, let's not let this get to a point where it gets bad.

[00:08:43] Let's deal with it straight away. If it's in between two people that are coming to you for mediation,  organize a  sit down and have a conversation with these people and get them to speak to together. So it's about being brave, about communicating, not hiding away from the problem. [00:09:00] Trying to get it all out on the table.

[00:09:02] It's also about showing empathy and listening to what the other person has to say. We often think we're right and not seeing the other person's point of view can be. Something that's going to stall the conversation. So taking the time to really listen to the person, to  acknowledging their point of view, understanding it, even if you don't agree, I think that's fine. But acknowledging it and respecting it is very important.

[00:09:26]It's about preserving the relationship over the actual being right situation. So I think going into these conversations, if you are  going in with a mindset that you want to resolve the conflict. This is about finding a solution to be able to move forward together.

[00:09:43] It's not about winning. Right. And I think that's really important , whether you're going into a feedback conversation or you're going into a conversation where you know it's going to be difficult if you go in with a with a mindset of I want to win. nobody is going to win, and it's not going to end well.

[00:09:59] If you go into [00:10:00] that conversation with the mindset, Okay, we need to resolve this,  even if we agree to disagree at the end, that's fine. But  we need to find a solution together that will help move forward the whole conversation  and unblock the situation. So it's about being brave, it's about listening, it's about communicating.

[00:10:18] It's about  trying to find that win-win situation and having the right mindset,  when you try and address the problem. 

[00:10:26]Jane Singer: [00:10:26] I like the way you frame that. The win is really in resolving the conflict, not in winning the argument.  I think that's really important for people on all sides of the table to understand.

[00:10:38] Maria Kelly: [00:10:38] Yes. Because the thing is, at the end of the day, people forget. And I found myself mediating a lot of these because  I realized that it was something that needed to happen. I would have lots of people come to me with problems and having to remind people we work for the same company work. We have the same goals.

[00:10:57] Being right is not going to resolve anything for anybody.  [00:11:00] Being able to resolve it and move forward we're all going to be able to do our job, and that's what's most important. 

[00:11:05]Jane Singer: [00:11:05] Absolutely.  I've always wondered why these kind of skills are not taught throughout one's education or,  throughout one's tenure at the workplace.

[00:11:16] Essentially the basics of being able to be able to interact with people successfully , and that never comes up in training. It's more product training, technical skills, but it's never these fundamentals, which as you point out, can really have such a heavy impact on the work environment. 

[00:11:35]Maria Kelly: [00:11:35] Yeah, absolutely.

[00:11:36]I mean, don't get me started on schools and education because I feel like there's so many things I learned in school that are useless and so many skills that would've been so great to have early on. Right.  And the whole concept of giving people,  charge of budgets and people  without any training you wouldn't go to a doctor that doesn't have any training. You wouldn't get on plane  if the pilot hadn't done some sort of training. [00:12:00] Why are we giving the keys to our business and to  people's lives? Because at the end of the day,  that's what for me, the business is one thing.

[00:12:08] If you choose to give it to somebody who hasn't had training, that's your choice. You're running your business as you want, but you are also giving all the people who that person reports to their lives is in their hand in this person's hand in a way because. You know, whether they're going to be successful or not depends a lot of that person  and if they don't have the right tools and they haven't been trained properly on how to deal with different things, conflict and, and just managing people in general, it can have a huge impact on a lot of people's lives.

[00:12:36]That's what I think  is very sad somewhere  and a shame because   some people don't pay attention enough to that or don't care. 

[00:12:44] Jane Singer: [00:12:44] Yeah, exactly. And then you end up with , a company that doesn't function as well as it could. You end up with people leaving. And half of your energy is dissipated on things that don't contribute to the overall success and growth of the company.

[00:12:57] So, yes, I, I think you're a hundred percent right on [00:13:00] that.  

[00:13:00]Now, I think that one of the biggest challenges that leaders are facing today is being able to either win team members back who've given their resignation or who are about to do so. From your experience, are there things that leadership can do to save those people?

[00:13:21] Maria Kelly: [00:13:21] The question is first, why is this person leaving? Right?  There's many reasons why a person is leaving. And depending  what their reasons are, you may or may not want to hold them back. Right. But I think  I would say the problem is you shouldn't  get to that point. If somebody is good and you want to keep them, unless they've been poached and there was something totally unexpected,

[00:13:42] if it's any other reason because  they feel underappreciated, undervalued, that they haven't been given the flexibility they want- all these things that if you know your people, you should know this is coming. You should know this person is unsatisfied and you should have addressed that before the moment they come and give you the letter, because the minute [00:14:00] they give you the letter, they've made up their mind.

[00:14:02] And trying to get someone back from that is, first of all, is veryhard.  It could make things worse because starting to throw money at somebody because they resigned, but when they were loyal and doing their job, you wouldn't give them the money, it's sending a terrible message. The trust is broken somewhere.

[00:14:20] So do you really want to keep this person?  And  even if you manage to  get them on, if they're leaving because they're upset with whatever way they have been  treated or anything like that, you might keep them on for another six months? They're not going to be totally happy about it, and then they'll probably leave anyway.

[00:14:37] So I think there's times where you have to let people go if it's because they haven't had opportunity. If they don't have opportunity for growth in your business and they're leaving because of that, good for them. Great , encourage them. Say, Okay, I'm sorry I wasn't able to do that for you.

[00:14:51] I'm very happy that you found something else.   You can't always hold back good people.  But if they're leaving because  they don't feel happy, well sometimes [00:15:00] it's better to let them.

[00:15:01]Jane Singer: [00:15:01] I think that's a good point. I think that the focus has shifted so much to stopping people from leaving that we've almost forgotten, as you're saying that some people leaving is actually for the better for both parties.  

[00:15:14] Maria Kelly: [00:15:14] Sometimes it's just too late.

[00:15:15] You need to take care of them when they're happy. Something that  I always got very annoyed about is seeing people being rewarded for jumping from company to company every year, every two years with bigger bonus, bigger salary,  and then the loyal ones that are working hard and staying, they don't get anything.

[00:15:32]All these guys  have jumped from a company previously are going to jump the next year. . So something's wrong here. Our values are not in the right place. We should be incentivizing the people we have to do their best job and while they're here and being loyal and not playing that game.

[00:15:46]Jane Singer: [00:15:46] That's such a good point. You're pointing out that we're actually rewarding bad behavior. We're rewarding the very behavior that we want to prevent. 

[00:15:55] Maria Kelly: [00:15:55] Exactly.  And  we do that a lot in business. The way our incentive systems  are, [00:16:00] especially in corporate world,  we don't incentivize teamwork.

[00:16:02] We incentivize individuals.  Then afterwards, you're trying to tell people you need to work as a team. You need to do this together. But in that case,  if they're being incentivized, they're getting a bonus for doing something on their own and taking the business from somebody else, you're sending mixed messages. 

[00:16:15]So  there's, there's a lot of things  that need to be shifted in the way we do business if we want to put people first. 

[00:16:21] Jane Singer: [00:16:21] Oh, absolutely. Now you mentioned the importance of leaders being decisive. Can you talk about that ?

[00:16:28]Maria Kelly: [00:16:28] It's interestingly,  a few of my clientsthat  I've been speaking to recently, and I don't know if it's because of the current  things that are going on in the world and people are feeling very unsettled and,   all the uncertainty has maybe rattled people, but one thing that I've been hearing a lot is that a lot of leaders are struggling to make decisions, because they're afraid to make the wrong decision.

[00:16:55] And for me,  as a leader, you can't do that.  You have to be decisive. You have to be able to [00:17:00] make a decision.  You're never going to get a hundred percent right.  You're goiong to make mistakes and you have to be okay with making mistakes because that's how you learn.

[00:17:07] But  being the person that is able to make a decision when things need to move forward is really important because everybody's looking at you. You have to be the guide. And if you look at your leader and you see them  dancing around wondering if they should do something- well, you're not going to respect that person.

[00:17:25] Are you going to follow them? Are you going to feel confident that  they have your back and that they're going to do what needs to be done  to get things done? No. So  you need to be able to have a -  whether it's a process or something that you feel happy or comfortable with in gathering enough information to make a decision. Whether it's speaking to other people, whether it's getting data, but then you need to make a decision one way or another and and you can't try it out. Right. 

[00:17:53] I feel that  you need to get to that place where you feel like, okay, I feel comfortable enough.  And it's about taking [00:18:00] responsibility and accountability also.

[00:18:01] And I think that's where the indecisiveness lies for a lot of people is they don't feel comfortable. Taking the responsibility and the consequences. And, you can't be a leader if you're not willing to take that. You can't have the salary, the bonus, the title if you're not ready to take the responsibility  and live with the consequences of the mistakes you might make.

[00:18:22] And you will make mistakes because otherwise, you're not going to move forward. 

[00:18:26] Jane Singer: [00:18:26] That's such an important message, Maria. And it's something that truly needed to be said. I think you expressed what so many people have been feeling and have been thinking about leadership, and that  your last, paragraph, I think just summed that up really, really well.

[00:18:42] I want to thank you so much for joining us here today. How can people connect with you? Where can we find you? 

[00:18:49] Maria Kelly: [00:18:49] So, I'm the most active on LinkedIn right now. Okay. So, Ask Maria Kelly is my handle. Okay. And And you can also find my [00:19:00] website, which is askmariakelly.com. 

[00:19:03] Jane Singer: [00:19:03] Well, I'm going to put all of those links in the show notes just to make sure that people have the exact right connection.

[00:19:09] And I want to thank you once again for being with us. 

[00:19:12] Maria Kelly: [00:19:12] Thank you so much, Dean. It was great speaking to you.