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The Leadership Experiment

On October 23rd, 2011 I reached my eleven year milestone at Cisco, and to my surprise it triggered some deep reflection. Why had I stayed at ONE company for a third of my life !? Was there still an opportunity to grow? Could Cisco give me what I needed next in my career ? The short answer is YES, but it took an Aha! to get me there. I had clarity that I wanted a job where I could lead a local team, did not involve a lot of travel, had fun daily challenges, and would stretch my leadership skills. I wanted to GROW. I also realized that I love my current global virtual leadership role, but that it was missing a sense of “new”. Bottom line, I had to figure out how I was going to add some sparkle to my current job or get a new one.

And then I had the Aha ! I was at a leadership seminar where we explored leadership styles. We were put in different scenarios, some of which my default style was effective and others where it was NOT. I suddenly realized that I had so much to learn. I needed to develop a leadership toolkit. I needed to have several different leadership approaches depending on the scenario. My default leadership style is to jump up and lead, moving the team forward as quickly as possible with exuberance and cheer. But, just like a car has different gears, so does leadership. I realized that I have been driving in fifth gear for years, and I needed to learn how to drive in first, second and third gear.

And so it turns out the role I have today is exactly what I need. It is the ultimate field for experimenting with different leadership styles. My new daily challenge was to try out different leadership approaches, become comfortable using them, and learn how and when to apply them. So I jumped right in. For two days at my leadership training I did not jump up and lead. instead I took it to an extreme, I went last for every activity. It almost killed me. My heart raced, voices of “why don’t you jump up” ran through my head, sweat beaded on my forehead. But I did it and since them I continue to feel more comfortable leading by pausing and listening instead of jumping right in. The really great part about this leadership approach is that you give others the opportunity to grow and lead!

Bill Reddin identified 5 basic different leadership styles and how they influence your overall effectiveness. He describes the managerial styles as being task oriented (dedicated to managerial style), relationship oriented related managerial style), less task and relationship oriented (seperated managerial styles), or both behaviours together (integrated managerial style). My new job is to explore these four styles and to learn how to excel in them all, and be the most effective leader I can be. Bring on the experimentation!

So, after 11 years at Cisco, I don’t need a new job, I just needed a new perspective.

Is there a way you can turn your job today into the ultimate leadership experiment? What might you try on Monday to build your leadership toolkit?

5 Responses to “The Leadership Experiment”

  • Very interesting – it’s true about different leadership styles being like switching gears. When I was working in South America, I had to consciously switch gears into a more relationship-based leadership style. It wasn’t an easy transition at first, because my way of being was so deeply programmed – must get things done NOW! But in the long run I am so glad I had that experience because it prepared me to evaluate and respond to situations thoughtfully, rather than simply relying on my own instinct or opinions and jumping in. When I returned to South America again, this time as a volunteer project manager, I had a whole other gear to find. All very rich experiences! So glad you are enjoying filling up your toolbox – I look forward to most posts on how you progress! :)

  • Very intreresting blog. It was very relavant. I was looking exaxtly for this. Thank you for your effort. I hope you will write more such useful posts.

  • Very useful post. It was very useful. I was searching exaxtly for this. Thank you for your effort. I hope you will write more such interesting posts.

  • Hello Martha!
    Just checking out your website for the first time since we met at the Social Media Conference at Queens the other day, and this really resounded with me!
    I know on my resume I talk the talk about my leadership qualities and ability to organize a group of people, but I often wondered if I had what it took to be the one to start something, to always push the envelope. But after reading this, I realize that I CAN be the leader I want to be, and that is a big relief to my resume!
    It makes me wonder though, if there are different leading styles, are there different following styles? There are certainly different team dynamics that are going to arise as a result of leadership style, but how much of it depends on the way people react to your leadership?
    I guess my question really is: what is more important when gauging what type of leader you want to be? The project or the team you’re working with?

Rosalind Menzies on January 29th, 2012 at 7:07 pm
  • Hi Rosalind – great questions. I think the most important thing for you to ask yourself when you are trying to figure out what kind of leader you want to be is how do you want to show up as a leader ? What are some qualities that you really admire or look up to in leaders you highly respect ? Are those traits that you also associate with yourself or that you can embrace while also being authentically you ? Think about who YOU want to be and what being you looks like as a leader.