Cultivating a Leadership State of Mind

The product and design team at Axial is only 6 people (3 in each discipline, excluding me) so we run as a very flat group, working in cross-functional teams. But the flatness of an organization doesn’t mean that everyone in the team can’t try to improve their leadership game.

Leadership isn’t bossing people around. It’s not writing reviews or determining when someone gets a raise. It’s not managing a budget. Those are things you often have to do as a leader, but they aren’t leadership.

Leadership is raising the level of the team, and the individuals on the team, to do great work.

When you think of it that way, you realize that it doesn’t require a job title. You don’t need hard power when people welcome your influence. The most important thing is to have a leadership state of mind.

  • Are you raising the optimism and morale of the team?
  • Are you actively helping to ensure shared focus and shared understanding across the team?
  • Are you thinking about ways to not only improve your own skills but the skills of people around you? most importantly, are you taking action on those ideas?
  • Are you mentoring, collaborating, challenging, and inspiring the team to do better work? are you doing this in a way that does not come across as arrogant – meaning that you are a good listener and open to others’ ideas?
  • When you interview job candidates, are you setting a really high bar? are you thinking about finding someone with new perspectives? are you thinking about how the person will fit in as a puzzle piece to lift up vs weight down the team?
  • Are you thinking about the impact and connectivity of the team on and to the rest of the organization?

You don’t need to get permission from a boss to do and help with those things. A leadership state of mind means you think about them and you take action on them. Of course, a good boss will very much appreciate when you engage her with ideas and a proclivity towards action on these ideas.

And a final note: I’ve learned the hard way that people who wait to be handed the crown won’t be great at what they do with it when they get it.

(originally posted on Medium)