This is an excerpt from an interview with Beth Dyson, Program Manager for NFTE, Philadelphia (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) a non-profit organization. The organization works with high school children teaching them entrepreneurial skills thus developing youth leadership qualities in them. Beth helps motivate and inspire students in eighteen schools in the Philadelphia area, manages a tough uncompromising schedule, several volunteers and guest speakers.
Let’s get on with the interview.
Kay: What, in your experience, are the three most important qualities of a leader (think about this as something that will make you automatically look up to the person who possesses these).
Beth: Vision is the first thing that comes to mind. Without a clear vision, a leader cannot be effective. Other qualities I feel are important in a leader are clear communication/ability to share responsibility and building trust in the team. If the team does not trust each other or the leader, then it is sub-optimal and the team cannot succeed.
Kay: Have you ever felt pulled back at taking on a task or assignment that includes managing and leading people?
Beth: Stepping on someone else’s toes. This has always been my concern and I have missed taking on some initiatives, thinking about this.
Other factors that would prevent me from stepping up to take the lead are not feeling empowered or trusted and not having a clear idea of the desired/needed outcome. These would be cases where the objective is not clear or is ambiguous and I get the feeling that I am being set up for failure.
Kay: Is leadership overrated? Aren’t good managers enough?
Beth: I think while good leaders make good managers, it need not be true the other way around. There is more to leadership than just management. In my experience leadership is an internal characteristic or trait and management is more a position that you can achieve. The best managers understand the qualities of a good leader and how to cultivate them in others. Leadership goes far beyond just the task.
Kay: What would be your advice to a budding leader? Which areas to concentrate?
Beth: Find a mentor to help you make a good plan. Learn to communicate your ideas clearly to others so they can buy into your vision and join you.
Kay: Is there any technique or something that you’ve deliberately practiced to hone your leadership skill?
Beth: Backward planning- learning to identify the end goal/outcome and then make a backward plan to achieving them. This backward plan should include very specific steps and people who are included in accomplishing this goal
Kay: What is your leadership style?
Beth: I am more of a coach/mentor, though honestly I usually use the term shepherding. My style tends to be to be available and lead by example. I have described my style as tapping things back on course much like a shepherd follows his/her herd to move the sheep from behind.
Kay: Who is your idol? Who did you look up to? Why? Any examples that really had you eating out of his/her hand?
Beth: My “idols” are really role models who are simply other folks I know. I look up to a man named Jason Hsu because he will coordinate people and events with ease. He teases out the pieces of a project so that others can work on it and share the ownership with him. The other person I really look up to is a woman named Stacy Bartholomew, she easily navigates conversation and empowering others to accomplish the task at hand. I just learned about Sheryl Sandberg, and I look forward to learning more about her style as a leader because I think I will resonate with it.
Kay: What are the things that you try as a leader to avoid?
Beth: Confusion- I want to be as clear as possible so others know what is needed and how to accomplish it.
Kay: Would you consider anything that is still in progress with your development – if you had the time and resources to develop just one more skill to add to your repertoire, what would it be?
Beth: Of course! I am still learning new ways to be more efficient and refining my own communication style to empower and share my vision with others.
Kay: What is your biggest leadership success story?
Beth: Most recently, I coordinated 20 adult friends and 8 children to go on a weekend away. I led a team to coordinate food, rides, housing, and activities. I am VERY proud of this accomplishment even though it’s not what typically emerges as leadership. I am also proud of the way the students are progressing toward their business plan goals though NFTE.
(Kay: We’d like to state that managing the whole weekend getaway does constitute “everyday” leadership. After all, Beth had to manage a bunch of people in planning, organizing and executing the weekend getaway. All activities such as having a vision for the getaway, planning the tasks, assigning or delegating sub-tasks, managing resources, being one amongst the group, etc. come to the fore in such an event. These are activities where EVERYDAY leaders step up. For every Beth that steps up to organize and successfully accomplish such an event, there are others that step back and get daunted by such responsibilities)
Kay: What would you advise budding leaders to guard against?
Beth: Burn out! Be sure to have other things than your project to think about or do.
Kay: Well, thank you Beth for sharing your thoughts with us on this very interesting topic.
Beth: My pleasure.