Harnessing Leadership Potential


"Good Afternoon and Welcome. I am truly honoured to be given the opportunity to talk to all of you, the graduates of the third run of this incredible programme. Sometimes, we as employees can take for granted what is offered to us, and it is great to see all of you taking advantage of this opportunity.

I would like to extend a big thank you to the Organisational Development team for making this programme the success that it is. I have experienced glimpses of the research and effort that is put into preparing every session to ensure the quality is of the best standard. And the quality is first class! I don’t believe you will find anything anywhere else in the world that will better set you up for success on your journey towards being the best leader you can be, especially at Digi.

The importance of growing the talent within our organisation is something dear to my heart, both from a soft skills point of view as well as technically. We have, of late, been setting up not only internally run sessions, but have brought in great external technical skills sessions in order to grow our teams - and 2020 will see this increasing.

As a company, we find ourselves having to accommodate incredible growth in ways we never imagined, although it would seem that someone did imagine it and it is one of the key reasons why this programme exists. The Potential Leadership programme is about nurturing young talent and setting you all up for success as you look to grow your leadership skills, and, in turn, your career and ambitions. It is exactly this programme that has given us the confidence to hand-pick some of the best talent we have and allow them to focus on some of the new markets we are looking to enter next year.

I was asked to speak today as David, our fearless leader, is away on business and so unfortunately was not able to attend. Indeed, big shoes to fill, of which I won’t even try. From the first time I met David, his approach to what makes someone a successful leader both scared and inspired me. I am not a person who commits to memory entire sentences, but I do focus on the intention of what is being said, and what David made me realise quickly is that the only way to be successful is to continuously seek ways to improve yourself. Never accept that enough is enough and never rest on previous success. "You are only as strong as your next move."

This ties into what it takes to be a good leader. If I look back at my own life, when I was young and starting out, I made the false assumption that someone senior in a leadership role knew all there was to know. Today, I know that every day is an opportunity to grow as a leader. Something new and unexpected always seems to occur, where you find yourself uncertain of how to deal with the situation. It is exactly in these moments that a true leader shines, and what you have been taught over the last four months becomes critical in your success. I can promise you that these are the moments when Googling the answer will quite simply not work. Rather see each new challenge as an opportunity to grow yourself as a leader, working hard to overcome them, playing to your strengths, knowing when to lean on others, learning from them, and improving for next time. This cycle of continuous improvement is something well known in all areas of life and critical to success as a leader.

Over my lifetime I've been fortunate to experience many different leadership styles, good and bad, and even more fortunate to have failings within my own leadership. The support from both my peers and the company has really helped me become a better leader, but I know that I still have so much more to learn. As humans none of us are perfect.

So take learnings from my journey. I started out at Digi as a technical specialist, not responsible for leading, no "manager" job title. I had passions, determination, and was quick to make technical decisions, back them with all of my heart, and see them through. These turned out to be some key traits of a good leader. I quickly noticed my team mates looking to me for advice and guidance. I was there for them, making time to listen and guide them. This really highlights the importance of being passionate about what you do. If you are passionate about what you are trying to achieve, others quickly realise it and want in on that, it becomes infectious. Passion motivates others, it inspires them. I think that if you had to look back at every great leader in history it certainly all started with passion. I tried to Google this quote and it doesn’t really seem to be owned by one person, but remember it, it is something that I live by: 'If you are not having fun, stop and do something else.' Perhaps Steve Job sums it up best:

'…The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.'

So remember that without passion for what you do, great leadership will be next to impossible.

Next up in my time at Digi I experienced the joy of poor leadership, where I found myself reporting to individuals with personal agendas, who were more focused on their own image and careers than their teams or the company. It comes as no surprise that these leaders failed. A true leader remains humble and grounded, leading by example and focusing on delivering what is needed by utilising and promoting the skills within his/her team. They are quite okay with taking a back seat. Do not underestimate the value of giving credit vs taking the credit, never fear that it will make you look bad, this is nonsense. A true leader does not worry about that, their team's success is their success. We will often hear the term "servant leader" which speaks to this. For me the key here is to lead without an ego, ensuring that you are approachable and open to accept criticism or different opinions. Be open to this, sometimes you are not right, and often if you have nurtured the right talent within your team, they should know more than you. There are very few that can truly check their egos at the door, and I urge you work on that every day that you arrive at work. I have seen this in my own life. Do not get me wrong, I had or even have an ego (the most important step towards improving is accepting fault after all).

I designed the infrastructure for this company, every single cable connecting to every single device, and as we grew and brought in new talent it was at first not easy to be told that there is a better way to do something. My first reaction was, 'just do it my way!' Over time I learnt, I improved as a leader, I trusted, I listened, and I expressed my opinion clearly. We worked together and in the end came to an agreement where it no longer mattered who won the battle, but rather that the best solution had won.

Later on in my career, and now officially leading a team, I had the opportunity to appreciate the importance of having a vision and communicating this vision. Let's face it, we work for a dynamic, fast-paced company. It is easy to get tunnel vision and focus on only the most pressing concerns, and to forget about where it is that we are trying to get to. In my specific situation I was focused on the technical aspect of the job and less so on my team and giving them needed direction. So while I was working extremely hard, the guys in my team were not entirely sure of their purpose, and so their enthusiasm dwindled to a point where we as a team were not performing, even though I thought I was as an individual. Thanks to another key skill within leadership, namely the ability to have "honest conversations", I was given the wake-up call that I needed to realise something had to change. The solution was surprisingly simple - defining a vision that was aligned with the needs of the business, high-level enough to not tell your team exactly how to do their job but rather to give them the needed guidance to know what is it they should be aiming to achieve. If you want your team to buy into a strategy make them part of the journey in realising that strategy or vision. Do not dictate to them how it should be done.

And finally, do not underestimate the importance of writing down this vision and sharing it with your team. This can be done in an email, by death by PowerPoint, or more recently I find myself using Confluence and blogging it (and for someone who does not enjoy social networks, that is strange!) I have definitely seen the value in taking the time to do this. I see the positive reactions from teams when what seems obvious, when put in writing, give someone who is uncertain the required clarity to make the decision and progress.

This ties directly into my last and most important learning in 'The Life of Craig' - the importance of balance. While a more personal lesson for me I think it is crucial to consider this and share it.

David spoke about this in a leadership session earlier this year, mentioning how everyone has a different interpretation of balance. Whether that means 50/50 work/home, or 90/10, it does not matter, but know what works for you. Finding that balance is critical, you cannot perform professionally if your home life is in disarray. Home should be your foundation, giving it the needed attention should never be forgotten.

In my life I have struggled with this. I mostly follow the 90/10 rule - always on my phone, always thinking about work. When I was much younger, I had blinkers on and ignored all of the signs that were telling me that I needed to focus more on my home life. For me it contributed towards a failed marriage, and it taught me the importance of adjusting that 90/10 balance. You have to be self-aware of this. This applies to work hours too, think of the balance between meetings, alone time, and time with your team members, all of which are required and must not be forgotten.

A last word of advice around balance is to focus on what you are good at, play to your strengths, and where you are weak lean on others. When you have too much on your plate or you need help, ask for it. Without having the strength to call it for what it is, your balance will quickly swing in the wrong direction.

Finally to sum up the key points I would like to encourage you to take along with you on your journey of becoming a better leader:
•    Continuously seek to improve your leadership skills
•    Be passionate about what you do, and have fun doing it
•    Always remain humble, and if you have one, check your ego at the door
•    Have a clear vision and share it with your team
•    Maintain the balance

I thank you all for your time and for listening to my story. I wish you all the best of success as you continue along your journey to becoming a stronger and better leader. Remember, it is coming up to the festive period, and so it is the perfect time to adjust that balance."

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