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The Fundamentals of Leadership

A few weeks ago, I gratefully attended the Art of Leadership Conference on behalf of the Calgary Marketing Association. The Art of Leadership Calgary was a breath of fresh air which took me out of my norm of “busy-ness” and chaos. It was a strong reminder that to be an effective person, let alone leader, I need to focus on the fundamentals of what it takes to be a cognizant, good human being. Sounds simple, but quite often we get so wrapped up in our responsibilities, we’re distracted and on autopilot which does a disservice to the rest of our team.

From the Art of Leadership Conference, Calgary 2018

As someone who’s newer stepping into this role of leadership, I’ve already had a fair share of trial and error – driving me to be torn some days on either completely calling it quits (“alright, I’ve had enough… let’s go back to a role where I was more under the radar”) or praying to fast forward my life 20 years ahead so I can be as experienced and wise as those who are guiding me in this journey. Despite the steep and uncomfortable learning curve, I know this path of leadership is going to be rewarding, and fulfilling, it offers me an opportunity to be impactful and create change.

Listening to all these inspirational speakers reminded me of the simple, yet powerful, fundamentals of leadership. Below are my consolidated notes from the day:

Don’t be an “out of touch” leader – Leadership starts with you before it can transfer to your people, which then transfers to your organization.

  • Be focused & aware.If you are not mindful yourself, you can’t understand the minds of your people and the culture of the organization.
  • Our job as leaders is to create the conditions for people to Be Happy,Feel Connected, Contribute Positively, and have a Sense of Meaning.
  • The fundamental values of a leader is the ability to be mindful (manage your mind), selfless (keep the ego in check), and compassionate (be grateful & express it).
From the Art of Leadership Conference, Calgary 2018

Develop the talent on your team– “buy low, sell high”.

  • Help people rise, lead them up the “S curve of learning” (see image below). Invest in the inexperienced, nurture and grow them into the ‘sweet spot’ of the curve, lead them to the top.What are you doing to develop your potential talent? Name someone on your team who is in the ‘sweet spot’ of the curve and give them a stretch assignment.
  • Quite often, talent at the top of the curve dies: Time at Organization + Competency = Boredom! Don’t let the talent (the ‘mastery’) die at the top of the curve. Continue motivating your top talent and create opportunities for the Mastery to continue learning.
From the Art of Leadership Conference, Calgary 2018
  • Do less, then obsess – don’t be a master of none, be a master of focus!
    • Be ruthless in your choice of priorities. True focus is saying ‘no’ to a remarkable idea because you need to focus on something else. i.e. After Steve Jobs realized he could create a phone out of the technology that was meant for iPad production, he put the iPad on the shelf for two years to focus on the iPhone. If you can’t eliminate anything, you’re too busy with things that are not valuable – you don’t have time to create new value. (This one hurt! …But so true)
    • Set super clear objectives. If you don’t know where you’re going then your team doesn’t know.
    • Define your problems precisely and go to the end of the earth to find solutions. Who can help you? Identifying and focusing on your value – many managers chase the wrong objectives/metrics. Who are the beneficiaries of your work and what is the measurable value you are creating for them?
  • You are the director of increasing your capacity and capability. The world is changing really
    • Get mentors outside of your industry and outside of your function.
    • How much time do you spend on your top 3 priorities? The trick is you first have to identify your top 3 priorities.
    • Delegate to your direct reports to increase your capacity.
    • What are three things you can do to double your capacity/capability every three years?
    • What are the key focuses of the company now and in the future?
      • Identify your skills
      • What the company values you for
      • Everything that doesn’t fall into this – who else can do it?
      • Where you fall short – how will you fill the gap?
    • What is one thing you do today that you won’t do in six months?

Yes, this is yet another ‘leadership’ blog and yes, not all of this information is brand new. However, we are all guilty of being consumed in our day-to-day, trying to keep up with and get ahead of a world of rapid change, putting out the five fires in front of us while another ten pop up behind us, and trying not to drown in the constantly growing heap of responsibilities. The purpose of a day like the Art of Leadership is to remind us to prioritize building our foundation of being a strong and effective leader – for ourselves, for our team, and for our organization.

Karen Nguyen is the Director of Marketing for McLean & Partners, a $1.3B private boutique wealth management firm with an independent, in-house research team. She is the lead marketing and communications strategist for the firm, and provides support in business development and culture initiatives. Karen has led the rebrand of McLean & Partners, and continues to focus on strengthening the many pillars in building brand advocacy. Outside of work, Karen enjoys indulging in personal and professional development content. She often attends conferences to continue her hunger for progressive learning and to connect with like-minded, driven individuals. Karen sits on the board of the Calgary Marketing Association, which has the vision of elevating, connecting, and celebrating Calgary marketing talent. She is also a Steering Committee member of CWB Women, a group that supports the development and growth of women in our organization.