“Without appreciation and respect for other people, true leadership becomes ineffective, if not impossible.”
― George Foreman
We all have had our fair share of amazing mentors and not-so-great ones. Power dynamics are unhealthy in any relationship, be it personal or professional. When you are treated as an equal, you feel more valued.
A poignant moment happened in my career, during a junior position I was in, at a pharmaceutical company. I had a meeting scheduled with the VP of our team, to review a deck I created. He had a conflict and could have easily just canceled. Instead, he conducted the meeting during his lunch break.
What happened next was what really struck me. Our VP turned his cell phone off and put it upside down on the table. He gave me his undivided attention and listened intently to my market research on mental health insurance policies.
Up to this point, I have had many meetings where the minute a notification popped up on a colleague’s cell phone, they would temporarily divert their attention. Authentic leadership is showing other people respect, regardless of their position. Despite the fact that I was very junior, our VP truly valued my ideas and was willing to hear them. It may sound simple, but taking the time to actually listen to someone demonstrates respect.
Now, I am sure all young women have heard this fact before. In the working world, women are regularly interrupted, talked over, and unheeded. According to research, there are a variety of reasons for these disruptions.
I have experienced this first hand in my professional career. At first, I admit it was annoying, and I felt quite powerless. Gradually, I came to the realization that if I wanted my voice to be heard, I had to learn to speak up on my own. No one was going to do it for me.
Genuine leaders give everyone an equal opportunity to be heard. I have the fortune in my current role, as a Manager of Data Science at a tech start-up, to collaborate with such leaders. During our weekly status meetings, my reporting manager will always end with a round table discussion. Each member of the team is provided an equal right to voice their concerns/opinions about any issues that were raised during the meeting. It does not matter if the member is male/female. I was once interrupted by a male colleague (no surprise!), and my reporting manager remarked, “Let Christine finish!”
Unfortunately, in our society, it is a common misconception that a woman who speaks in an assertive tone is also hostile. Therefore, I was glad when the partner once commented that “You are providing feedback, not challenging them.” I am deeply grateful to be working with these exemplary leaders, and continue to look forward to doing so.
When a team member is appreciated, they will go above and beyond what is expected of them. It is important for effective leaders to give sincere appreciation. When we feel appreciated, our feelings of self-worth are enhanced, and more collaborative relationships are established.
We probably all agree that we need a work-life balance. In addition to our professional titles, we are also parents, siblings, relatives, and friends. In my past experience, there were some authority figures who did not seem to understand the other responsibilities we have, outside of work. A true leader appreciates their team’s work and is respectful of their time.
There were two instances in my working career that were memorable for me. I once heard the CEO tell a client to wrap up a meeting because he had to go pick up his son! As a father, it is important to him that he spends quality time with his child. He could have hired a babysitter, but it obviously would not be the same.
Sometimes, not everything in life is predictable. I was working on a project where the client sent in a last-minute request on a Friday afternoon, with the following Monday deadline. That made it impossible to avoid working on the weekend. The co-founder upon hearing this asked me if I was able to negotiate with the client to extend the due date. I was quite new to my project management role, and did not know that was an even option! He also remarked that since I was spending my weekends updating our system with the client’s new changes, I could enjoy some time off in the future. At that moment, I felt really appreciated for my efforts, and that I was not being taken for granted.
We are all mentors in some shape or form. We must learn from the great leaders that we encounter, and avoid the flaws of those who are not.
Christine Loh is the Manager of Data Science for Retail Management Software. An experienced Data Science Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the telecommunications industry, she is skilled in Communication, Public Speaking, Time Management, Teamwork, and Leadership.