I had an opportunity to talk about leadership with Gregg Davis. Until recently, Gregg was the Sr. VP at Teach for America, one of the biggest non-profit organizations in the US. As a highly experienced and very successful Senior Executive, Gregg has provided some interesting aspects of leadership. It is interesting to note that understanding exactly what is to be achieved (vision) and being one amongst the team are key points that Gregg makes during this interview.
Kay: What in your opinion, are the most important qualities of a leader?
1. Ability to inspire others to improve their performance
2. Ability to connect the dots from big picture strategy to execution, ie. having a clear vision
3. Communicating this path effectively
4. Leaving ego at door and caring about the people who work for you
Kay:What are some of the important factors that you think prevent someone from taking the initiative to lead?
1. Lack of support from leadership
3. Indecision (lack of courage)
Kay: Is leadership overrated? After all, you could get good managers to get tasks accomplished
Gregg: No. Leadership identifies the direction we need to go and makes sure we stay on track and/or we adjust course when appropriate. Management gets the job done within these parameters – we need both.
Kay: Which areas should budding leaders focus if they are to become effective “everyday” leaders?
Gregg: Figure out where your enthusiasm lies. Recognize where your weaknesses are and either commit to addressing them or learn how to surround yourself with people who compensate for them.
Kay: Is there any technique or something that you’ve deliberately practiced to hone your leadership skill?
Gregg: Refrain from projecting blame onto others. First assume the best intentions from others.
Prior to a meeting take a minute to visualize the best possible outcome.
I am also practicing the art of the right question (not only the question, but also on phrasing it in an impactful manner).
Kay: How would you categorize your leadership style?
Gregg: My style is collaborative – I tend to set an example and pull people along with me. I make it a point to not have any airs about me, but be one with the team.
Kay: What are the things that you try as a leader to avoid?
Gregg: I try to avoid missed communications which create the impression I am either not interested or not on the ball.
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?
Gregg: I try to be a subject matter expert and gain more domain expertise related to my lines of business.
Kay: What is your biggest leadership success story? Either your own where you led a team, or where you followed a charismatic leader, or just anything that comes to mind. You can also provide more than one story.
Gregg: I followed a popular, very talented and charismatic leader in leading an organization and there was a lot of doubt about whether I was up to the job. By forming positive relationships with stakeholders, listening as well as laying out a vision, working incredibly hard, executing, bringing in good advisors I was able to forge my own course for the organization. This helped inspire confidence in all stakeholders, leading the organization through a trying period of challenge to very positive results.
Kay: Fantastic. Thank you very much Gregg, for some terrific insights into some key leadership skills.