Saturday, December 21, 2013

Youthful Leadership

"That's it?!" The response I get when I tell people my age: 26. I was fortunate to become a technical manufacturing supervisor at 23. Fresh out of college, I was enthusiastic and ready to take on the world. Looking back, I know less today than I did three years ago (well to some degree.) 

As I mentioned in some of my other writings (, humility was a common theme for me in 2013. And it all came down to being able to learn and keep my mind open. Day-in and day-out, I'm asked to take on different responsibilities given my technical background. And the common question I get asked is- "don't you want to be an engineer?" I smile. 
In my role, my key objective is to develop my team members through the creation of different systems or solutions to achieve our organizations goals. Through that I learn and grow just a little bit each day. 

Peter Drucker developed the term "knowledge worker" in the late 20th century. It was meant to recognize that the team knew more than what we give them credit for and to help give them the empowerment they deserve. 

It wasn't until recently that I truly understood what it meant to respect the knowledge worker. To break it down, there are three key aspects to it. 

Listen to what they're not saying 

Most team members aren't empowered to say the 'truth.' It's not that they lie but they abstain from certain information either because they may get chastised or because we don't do anything with the information. Recently, I've found to observe what key words or phrases they effectively listen to and follow up on it over time. This gets them more comfortable with being able to talk to me about key issues. To give credit to Sir Drucker once more, he said "the most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said."

Hand them your problem 

The last quarter our organization released two new products for clinical trial studies. Given the miniaturization of these devices, we were faced with incredibly new challenges on the manufacturing line. Rather than sitting in a conference room brainstorming on solutions, I took the problems straight to the floor with a humble attitude of "I need help. What's the best way to process this device at this step?" At first it brought fear that we were introducing new products with new challenges, but within a month we had multiple solutions in place to support our high quality objectives. Solutions that seemed so simple, meant the world in how they manufacture the device. 

Learn with them 

Leadership is about looking out. Developing your team and leading them towards the next big initiative, are common goals. But most leaders are self-fish and we don't always admit it. Honestly, the main reason I get up every morning is in anticipation of learning something new from my team. I get up with the mindset that they rely on me; they need me. In actuality, it is I who need them. Although we must be strong and confident when we take the helm, humility helps us recognize how we can grow more quickly if we grow together. I thrive off the conversations in my stand up meeting and most of time the time, I'm asking coaching questions to stimulate their mind. 

Being a young leader isn't easy. Some days I want to throw in the towel and take some engineering position building systems in my cube. However, reflecting over my leadership skills and how I've grown, it's all due to the time I've spent developing my team. 

Humility is a tough characteristic to practice, especially for a conceited gal like myself. What humility has taught me is that it's okay not to know the answer but rather how we can get the answer. It takes a leader to stop and ask questions either to stimulate the minds or in humbleness, to seek support. And it takes a strong leader to reach out to the team for both. 

To end with a quote Peter T. McIntyre, "confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong." 

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