When you think of a leader, who comes to mind? Perhaps it’s a business leader, like Bill Gates, a political leader like Hillary Clinton, or the leader of a social movement, like Martin Luther King, Jr.
Paul Schmitz, the CEO of Public Allies and the author of Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up, challenges his readers to think differently about leadership. Schmitz says that every person not only has the innate capacity to lead, but he or she can also develop important leadership skills for the 21st century.
Personal Ownership and Team Building
The mission of Public Allies, a national nonprofit organization, is to advance new leadership to strengthen communities, nonprofits and civic participation. Schmitz writes about the organization’s uncommon view of leadership:
“At Public Allies, we talk about leadership in terms of an action one takes, not in terms of a position one holds. Leadership is about taking responsibility — both personal and social — for working with others on shared goals.”
This approach has implications for the workplace because every person on a team is responsible for successful outcomes, not just the boss. Each person has unique strengths to contribute to a project and the responsibility to do so. This is an important point to communicate during the process of team building because it fosters ownership and personal investment in team goals.
Five Core Leadership Skills of Public Allies
1. Recognizing and mobilizing community assets
Schmitz emphasizes that every person has both strengths and shortcomings, even though certain people are recognized mainly for one or the other. Acknowledging the truth that “we are all both half full and half empty” means that no member of a team has the right to act superior to any other; instead, we each have a responsibility to draw out and make use of the strengths of each person — including ourselves. Team building won’t work with an “us” versus “them” attitude; the assets approach requires humility and compassion.
2. Connecting across cultures
Public Allies has a true commitment to diversity, in both philosophy and practice. People at every level of the organization, from young people participating in its leadership development program to the executive staff, reflect the nation’s diversity in race, socioeconomic status, gender, and sexual orientation. The organization intentionally recruits talent from many different places, not only prestigious universities, because it recognizes that talented leaders come from many walks of life. Diversity in background and leadership skills means a stronger team that can relate to a diverse client base, and a team that can respond to the many different types of challenges that arise in the workplace.
3. Facilitating collaborative action
Self-awareness and teamwork are the two keys to collaboration, says Schmitz. He writes, “Leadership is inherently a collaborative process. Leaders inspire, persuade, and engage others to work with them on common goals.”
Public Allies uses a variety of personality tests and work style tests with its participants, including the leadership compass, to improve communication and team building. These assessments help people understand their own style and those of their colleagues. In addition, core training in which people get to know each other on a personal level will build trust and camaraderie that develop strong group dynamics.
4. Continuously learning and improving
It’s important for a team to be learning and improving all the time, and Schmitz shares three ways that Public Allies promotes this outcome:
a. Create an effective learning environment and community
b. Provide coaching and critical feedback to support learning
c. Facilitate critical reflection to help leaders learn from their experience
You can foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement by encouraging sharing of skills and knowledge, and by using regular 360 evaluations, in which each person on the team gives feedback to the others and herself.
5. Being accountable to ourselves and others
“Leadership requires a strong inner core,” writes Schmitz. “It is important for a leader to have a clear sense of the purpose and values that drive his or her decisions and actions.”
Your business should have strong core principles that encourage each employee to have strong personal principles. In your professional development sessions, consider asking each person to write a personal mission statement. Then invite them to reflect on the alignment of their missions with their job roles. It’s essential to build a culture of accountability to oneself, one’s team, and the business as a whole.
Explore a variety of online tools that develop strong leadership skills.