Leadership is not a cookie cutter role. Different industries require different styles of leadership. Different teams require different motivators. It's a constantly changing and evolving role. Everyone approaches the role of leader differently. Over the years I have been tasked with different responsibilities, each requiring different skills and personalities. Luckily my soft skill foundation is pretty strong, so I'm able to make adjustments and usually fill the shoes I'm being asked to wear. But I had to acknowledge that certain leadership traits that worked for one leader, could also be a detriment to me. Successful leadership is just as much about acknowledging what make you unique and different, and bringing that to the table.
With each new project I started, I began to notice a common thread with my leadership style. I blended a number of my personality traits that felt most comfortable to me. It made no sense to me to try and emulate a leader I couldn't identify with, even if I thought they were great leaders. What works for an aggressive, 6ft. tall, white man probably won't work for me. Even looking at women leaders like Oprah, Michelle Obama, Ellen and Jane Fonda I could identify with aspects of their styles, but in the end I had to know who I was. I had to create my own role. The result was a blend of leadership styles that fell in line with who I am: Cheerleader, Soccer mom, Confidant, Mediator, Mentor, and a little dash of hot mess / comedian wrapped up in a small, fiery package, aka "the feisty Hobbit." This allowed me to maintain my core values when moving into positions of more authority and power.
Over time, I've been able to break down these traits and assign personalities to them. This has made it easier to transition when a situation arrises that requires me to adjust. As a leader, I'm only so effective if play one note. If I'm just a task master, I run the risk of not being able to be relatable to my team. If I'm always a "hammer," I run the risk of alienating my team and causing more chaos. When project atmospheres shift, my leadership role must also shift. If I want to maintain productivity, trust and morale among the team. I must stay approachable and accessible. Below is the short list of aspects of each personality I lean on as a leader.
The Cheerleader / Soccer Mom:
Despite not being a mom, I am very maternal. Most images of American leadership do not revolve around nurturing traits. In some leadership atmospheres, a caring nature can even be seen as a weakness. A few years ago, I stopped fighting this aspect of my personality. I realized this maternal personality was a really strong bridge builder and morale booster. I began to notice that I was trusted by other colleagues in large part because of my caring nature. Due to the fact that I work in a male dominated field, I think many colleagues appreciated having a counter to the heavy masculine energy that can at times, even cross over into toxic. When I began to embrace the positive strengths of this personality it became a massive enhancement to my leadership style. So I embraced this side of my personality and infused aspects of it in my leadership style.
As a cheerleader, my work day begins and the routine is roughly the same. As I walk to my office, I make eye contact, smile, and say, "Good Morning" to every crew member I see. When I get to my office I burst in and sing some version of a good morning song to my office mate. It's my enthusiastic cheerleader way to begin the day and check in with the team. This energy can be really helpful when needing to create enthusiasm among the team, reminding us we're all in this together.
The other thing I do when I'm in cheerleader / soccer mom mode, is I use compliments like confetti. I throw that shit everywhere. In every conversation I look for something positive to say, even if it's as simple as, "Good job." I want my crew to hear that. I want them to know I value them. I want them to know I'm rooting for them and I've got their back.
I'm also able to hold my team accountable in this mode. "Are you kicking ass on your deadline?", "Did you use your super communication skills to pass off this information to the other department?", "Who took the last bit of coffee without making a new pot?!?" I'm able to balance this because my team also knows it's mixed in with "You are all doing great! Now go out there and kick ass, and please put your dishes in the dishwasher when your done."
The Confidant, Mediator and Mentor:
These roles also share a lot of overlap for me. I take it as a sign of trust when a crew member needs to talk to me about a problem they have. It's something I truly take to heart and honor. Often I will be asked my opinion about interdepartmental struggles, and I have to respect privacy while maintaining professionalism. I always feel deeply humbled when a colleague comes to me with privileged information, I see it as one of my greatest responsibilities to maintain that trust. When it becomes necessary to step into this role, trust and sincerity come to the forefront of my soft skills. Being trusted as a confident strengthens my bond with the crew and deepens how they view me as a leader. It's a role I honored to be tasked with.
Once in a while, I'm asked to step in and mediate a tense situation. I want to make sure each side of the issue is given a voice, and everyone is listened to. More often than not, many of the conflicts or tensions are resolved with productive conversations. But the key is taking each situation seriously, treating each individual with respect and listening to each side with sincerity. I also try not to overstep my leadership role. Leading does not give me eminent domain into every aspect of the studio. I feel it is important to trust the culture each department lead has established and not get bogged down in micro managing of other areas. When mediating, it is a delicate balance of respecting boundaries while seeking productive resolutions.
More often as I coordinate and lead, colleagues ask for advice or guidance. I found stepping into a mentor role surprising at first. Much of my education and experience just came from stumbling into the right moment at the right time. So when asked for my opinion, guidance or council - I give it freely, openly and honestly. I don't claim to be an expert, and I never falsify experience. I just share what I have learned from opportunities.
I want my crew to know that I want what is best for them, even if that means an opportunity may pull them away. I deeply believe that a healthy crew is made up of happy workers, maintaining this takes work. So when a colleague turns to me for advice about their education, skill development, or what I do to practice my leadership, I have an honest conversation with them. I reference past conversations with my mentors and channel those relationships. My hope is it will bring a colleague the clarity or guidance I was lucky to have been given.
Lastly, The hot mess / comedian aka "Feisty Hobbit," gets sprinkled in every now and again because:
1) I believe in the power of humor.
2) I want my team to function confidently without me.
I want the crew to know that they are more capable than they realize. I use humor throughout the day. I may sing a pep song to a crew member when they "save the day," or have joking banter with another member because I want them to enjoy the day. I love when I can hear members laughing in the halls... it's an indication of bonding and a clear metric of morale.
At times, my memos may have typos. I may be wearing my morning tea on my shirt. I may even confuse project titles at times. But when the crew corrects me, I know they're paying attention. I know they are on track and engaged. I know I can have confidence in the fact that they are kicking ass, and I'm supporting them, cheering them on. I also able to step into this role, because I get shit done and I have my team's back. You can only thrive in this role if your crew knows you are working on their behalf, otherwise you just come off like Michael Scott from The Office.
My leadership style focuses on empowering a confident crew who can look out for each other. I speak to each member of the crew as an artist. I acknowledge that they are uniquely adept at the task they are given. This is not to be obsequious, this is because they deserve my respect. This level of care, does not make me weak, in fact it makes me a stronger asset to my team. I want any team I support to be able to lean into the stress through collaboration, communication and laughter. I try to create a culture where it is encouraged to have each other's backs. Many of the best projects I have been a part of carried the stress levels of a journey to Mordor. But, with the right crew, these projects easily felt like an exciting adventure, knowing I was surrounded by, and empowering, a strong fellowship.