What does it take to be a strong leader in today’s workforce? What leadership styles work best, and how does one develop the leadership skills necessary to succeed in the STEM world?
We were lucky enough to have three experienced leaders join us to discuss this topic at the most recent BEYA STEM Conference. They answered these questions and more and offered valuable advice to those who aspire to leadership positions.
Jeannice Fairrer Samani, CEO of the Fairrer Samani Group, explained that willingness to collaborate is crucial. Even though confidence and vision are essential attributes for those in leadership roles, those in charge should know when to welcome input and feedback from their teams.
“Some people have this image of leaders being these all-knowing superheroes, but that’s an outdated model,” she says. “Today’s successful leader must be an idealist and know how to put their ideas into action by working with others.”
She explains that great leaders foster a collaborative dynamic within their team while offering mentorship and coaching to each member based on their needs. Striking the perfect balance, according to Samani, is the key to organizational success and individual growth for each member of the team.
“Leadership is about empowerment and moving everyone forward independently so they can grow and have a positive impact on the organization,” she says. “‘Individual coaching and mentorship are the keys to driving an organization forward.”
For Gregory West, chief staff engineer for Northrop Grumman Corporation, trust is the most critical ingredient to a successful team.
He says, “I believe that if I hire someone and do a thorough review, the best thing I can do is give them the authority to do their job and do it well. Over my career, I’ve found that I get the most from my team when I simply empower them to be successful.”
He also emphasizes the importance of listening skills for leaders. He says good listeners can get their teams to trust them, especially when they are new leaders and have not yet proven themselves through experience.
“Every time you share a plan or vision, give [your team] a chance to provide feedback and listen,” he says. “When you show people that you value them, they’ll value you and want to be on your team. But you can’t let their words go in one ear and out the other.”
West admits that his leadership style has changed over time, that he takes a much more “democratic and agile” approach than he did in the earlier days of his career. But, as he and the other panelists agree, willingness to learn and grow is a crucial trait for those who want to lead.
Nodding in agreement with West, Michael Gordon says, “I was much more autocratic in the early days of my career. But as you progress up your leadership chain and have more responsibility and a broader scope, you have to learn to depend on your team. That’s how you leverage your team’s full diversity of thought.”
According to Gordon, VP of Lockheed Martin Corporation, the most important thing for aspiring leaders to understand is that as a leader, your team is your tool kit. And like any set of tools, each member has different needs and skills.
It is the team leader’s job, he says, to know each team member as well as possible to address those needs and leverage their skills to their full potential.
“Your responsibility is to take care of your team, to nurture them, set the vision for them, and guide them,” he says. “Leadership is a contact sport, not a passive one. If you want to be a leader, you have to be committed to it.”