A Lesson In the Making of Great Leaders

May 19, 2016 – With the advent of technology touching most every aspect of our lives, it’s easy for executives of all stripes to lose sight of what modern tools can and can’t do for their organizations. The best leaders understand that as powerful an impact as technology and the information it yields can have on their business, it’s all for naught without individuals who know how to leverage them in support of the company’s strategy and to achieve its goals. It’s a collaboration – a mutually beneficial effort of ‘technology and teams,’ that wins the day. And leaders who overlook the people factor do so at their own peril.

“Effective leaders view technology for what it is and that it’s a vehicle to drive a company, but not to be dominated by it,” says Keith Mullin of Mullin International, the New York-based career management firm. “There is a real balance between viewing technology as a critical instrument in the day-to-day growth, development, and ongoing operations of a company. But good leaders will know and understand that you cannot over-rely on technology; it is there to buttress a leader’s most critical asset, which is people.” Understanding how to balance the human elements with the technological elements, he says, especially in the times we live where technology has become so dominant, “is really hard to do but a skilled leader will figure it out.”

What Makes a Leader

As CEO, Keith oversees Mullin International’s impressive efforts in the redeployment, outplacement, and coaching of senior leaders. Heading a team of 1,400 consultants and an expansive staff across 145 worldwide offices, he knows about leading people, from what drives them, to their motivation, to what they value most in their lives and work.

I spoke with Keith recently about leadership and what makes a good leader in these challenging days for businesses and executives who want to succeed. “Leadership is unique to each individual,” he told me. “The best leaders understand themselves first and they have an appreciation of how they are perceived and how they impact others. They are confident, not arrogant. They listen with intent and hear what is not being said. They ask questions and communicate frequently. Decisions are made and follow-through is consistent. They provide an environment in which open dialogue is respected, not just tolerated. They treat people fairly and with respect. The skill required to lead teams that are constantly in transition is built on trust. And that trust is earned daily and through repeated actions. Finally, great leaders own their mistakes and they move on.”

Keith feels he was fortunate at the start of his career. After graduating from college, he was hired into a management training program for a prestigious financial services concern that gave him exposure beyond just a single role in the firm. “What was so great was that our class was rotated through every facet of the company – front office to back,” he remembers. “We sat on trading desks; we all worked in the ‘vault’ and came in on occasional weekends to count certificates; and we met with clients and sat in on important meetings. We were taught firsthand about how a company works, how clients were serviced, and we were given extensive exposure to leadership.”

Why Trust Underpins Everything

Essentially, he says, he got to know and understand the direction of the company — as much as any newly-minted graduate could. “That complete training in all matters technical and subjective has guided me throughout my career and how we run our business today. The positive impact this program afforded me and the lessons learned have contributed to how we approach and engage our clients.”

Coaching and training of top professionals has caught on in the business world, Keith says, and the results have been encouraging. Many of the leading companies, in fact, are handling it exceptionally well. “When we speak with clients, they are telling us the more they engage in providing targeted coaching and training they see a sustainable improvement in performance,” Keith says. “It is positive and rewarding. It is long past the ‘broken wing’ philosophy and all about how leaders and companies collaborate to allow any professional to be the most effective leader in an organization.”

When asked how he best measures leaders and how he knows when those leaders are running on all cylinders, Keith replied with just one word, before elaborating. “Trust,” he said simply. “When a leader is running on all cylinders, as you say, they have the trust of the organization, the teams they work with, and the group they are responsible for. If motives are constantly under scrutiny then confidence is undermined and this negatively impacts performance.”

In his outplacement business, Keith says the best companies treat exiting employees well and as professionally as when they hired them in. “It sends a message of trust and affords dignity, and it helps to minimize any negative impact associated with a departing employee,” he says. In the end, the organization is building trust with the very people they thought enough of to hire in the first place, and that sends a very powerful message to employees and potential new recruits. “Great leadership always starts and ends with trust.”

Contributed by Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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