Three Years & Three Lessons on Leadership
I celebrated three years at Kenway this year. As I reflected on everything I’ve learned, the experiences I’ve had, and the relationships I’ve built, there was a common theme that came to the forefront: leadership.
What makes a great leader? When thinking about the people at Kenway who have influenced my thoughts on leadership, I realized there are several common traits all these men and women hold – they always start by listening, give responsibility, and lead with empathy.
Start by Listening
The best leaders with whom I’ve worked have been those who listen. They listen to their colleagues, clients, friends and family. They start by listening because they understand that diversity of thought, experiences and perspectives lead to better decisions, strategies and results.
Kenway has a Guiding Principle about communication that states, “To communicate swiftly and effectively through all channels, at all levels, internally and externally, regardless of whether the information may be perceived well or badly.” Effective communication starts with listening, and it’s something our consultants do very well. By listening and intimately understanding our clients’ problems, business and perspectives, we can correctly identify how best to help.
I saw this in action on a recent client project. The client had asked us to build a solution that would take hundreds, probably thousands of hours to complete. However, the consultants on our team dove deeper and asked more questions to get to the root problem that needed to be solved. After a couple of these meetings, our project team was able to architect a solution that could be built in weeks, not months, and still meet the business need, thus saving our client both time and money. Without our focus on listening and truly understanding what the client needed, we would not have done what was right by them.
The second trait I’ve seen from great leaders is their ability to give responsibility. Great leaders inspire others to take responsibility and ownership in their work, and only take it themselves when things do not go as planned.
A couple of months ago, I saw one of our experienced consultants put this leadership trait into action. We were being asked by our client to do some very complex, technical work. The consultant in question had a choice: either complete the task himself or, give it to someone else and help coach that person to take ownership and learn from the experience. He chose the latter and what I saw transpire over the next several months was the extreme growth and maturation of one of our newer employees.
By giving responsibility, he was able to empower others to take ownership in their work and grow in the process. Great leaders inspire this kind of responsibility because they realize that with it comes trust, purpose and passion – chief components to any successful organization.
Lead with Empathy
The last, and by far the most important, trait I’ve seen in all great leaders is empathy. We all come from different backgrounds, places, perspectives and experiences. No one truly knows what the person next to them is experiencing on a given day. Leading with empathy is the foundation of every successful business and personal relationship. I’ve seen countless situations during my three years at Kenway where our consultants have led with empathy, doing their best to put themselves in the shoes of our clients so they can understand the complexities of every situation and effectively help.
In fact, I experienced this just last week while in a business development meeting. We were explaining to a prospective client what services Kenway offers. The prospective client told us they already had a couple of vendors they used for specific types of projects and that they were looking for an offshore delivery model. So, what happened next? You would think that my colleague would try to explain how our unique staffing model and Guiding Principles differentiate us from our competition. That isn’t what happened.
Instead, my colleague lead with empathy, putting himself in the shoes of the client. He understood and empathized with the reasons the prospective client was giving for going with an offshore delivery model. In fact, my colleague agreed with her because he knew it was the right thing for the client, even if it meant less revenue for Kenway. By leading with this type of empathy, Kenway has been able to develop long lasting and trusting relationships with our clients.
I wrote a blog last year about how great companies succeed by focusing on their people. What I’ve also come to learn is that for any company to grow and thrive, great leadership is required – not by some, but by many. Great leaders start by listening, give responsibility, and lead with empathy. I’m lucky to work for a culturally-driven company that does all three and does them well. I’m constantly learning from people who inspire me to be better both professionally and personally, and who inspire me to lead.
If you’d like to learn more about Kenway’s culture and how it serves as the foundation for why and how we help our clients, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.