define leadershipDoes your profession define leadership?

I’m a believer that life’s biggest lessons are derived from the simplest events. Now this is not to say that if you start waxing cars, sanding floors and painting fences you will become a karate black belt. It means that as leaders, executives, or managers, the knowledge or abilities which propelled our careers may have come from that summer job as a teenager, restaurant job for beer money in college, or an entirely different career.

I define leadership as using knowledge, experiences, or resources for the growth of others. Organizations face numerous challenges every day. Some of the best sources of learning how to deal with these challenges can come from the most unlikely professions. Here are five non-corporate professions every business leader can learn from:

Teacher
(People Management, Conflict Resolution, Training & Development)

Teachers are in the people business. They begin the school year with a new crop of individuals with a variety of personalities, all of which are still evolving due to their young age. They are tasked with transforming this group into an inspired team who are anxious to succeed and are willing to work together to see everyone reach their academic goals. This involves learning about each individual, how they think, their strengths & weaknesses, and their potential for success. If the teacher understands their students, it improves their ability to introduce new concepts which may initially have received push back. Teachers are also required to have an acute sense of awareness to know which students are not challenged and which need additionally training (tutors, remedial help, one-on-one).

A large part of management, at any level, is managing those who work for you. People management and understanding the different personalities, work styles, potential, and capabilities is the key to team success. In addition, maintaining team chemistry and resolving conflicts regardless of their relevancy or seriousness is necessary. Talent or ability notwithstanding, personalities which threaten cohesiveness can bring down an entire team. Consider the emphasis placed on professional athletes regarding their locker room presence.

Maintaining order and managing conflict is critical as disruptions not only distract the teaching process but can influence the behaviors of others thereby causing dysfunction and chaos. Like corporate management, if the teacher can manage the team (or class), the opportunities for success are limitless.

Trauma Surgeon
(Crisis Management, Time Management)

Trauma surgeons are in the business of saving lives. They go through some of the most intense training in the field of medicine and must be knowledgeable in a number of general surgical areas. Many of their patients arrive suffering from a multitude of injuries from a particular occurrence (car accident, violence, slip & fall). Under intense stress, often with limited time, limited or partial information and zero margin for error, they must quickly assess the situation, determine which injury is the most critical, and prepare their team to begin working on the patient. Trauma surgeons have an acute sense of time given that a patient’s vital status can turn on a moment’s notice and they may be dealing with multiple critical injuries. Time management is also a factor away from surgery as trauma surgeons are typically on call and can work around the clock.

The ability to handle a crisis and weather storms can be the determining factor in the survival of a company. The additional component when managing crisis is time. In the age of instantaneous information, corporations have a limited window to address situations in order to reduce the impact. Imaging if the Tylenol scare of the early 1980s happened today.

An effective leader must be conscious of the dangers of these potential threats and maintain a crisis management action plan should they arise. While a corporation may not be in the business of saving lives, the inability to navigate through crisis-filled waters could spell doom for an organization and ultimately affect the lives of its employees.

Mixed Martial Artist
(Versatility, Team Development)

The basis of MMA is being skilled in multiple fighting styles and possessing the ability to seamlessly bring them all together. While they usually have their base style as their primary weapon, the most successful ones have above average skill levels in other forms of fighting. A fighter who started their career with a background in collegiate wrestling will likely feel most comfortable fighting on the ground when facing an opponent. As his/her career evolves, they will round out their skill set to include styles such as boxing in order to compete equally as effective while standing.

What many MMA fighters will tell you is that they attribute their ability to improve to the MMA team training culture. Led by various coaches, these fight teams are made up of professional fighters, some who have fought each other professionally. The idea is that rather than using lower-level sparring partners, the high-level competition in practice will better prepare them for fights.

Leaders must continuously evolve personally and professionally. In order to effectively run an organization, we must be willing to bring in those who are more skilled in certain business areas to strengthen us as individuals, as well as strengthen the overall leadership team. During the early stages of a professional career, one would typically look to add various subject matter skills to their “toolbox” (marketing, financials, system development, project management, etc.). This allows us to gain a well-rounded aspect of our business and make us more valuable to the organization. Once we reach management, the next growth phase deals with learning how to lead and develop those around us to make them stronger. Versatility and team development should be synonymous with how you define leadership. Leaders should look to build a cohesive unit among the leadership team where everyone brings specialized training and builds upon the skill levels of their teammates.

Trial Attorney
(Customer Behavior, Sales, Stage Presence)

The argument could be made that there is no greater salesperson than a trial attorney. When examining from a criminal perspective, their job is to convince 12 average citizens with no formal legal training that they should side with them based upon the evidence (or lack thereof) and procedures that took the attorneys years to master. Trial attorneys make a sales pitch every time they enter a courtroom. Irrelevant of which judicial side they are on, their sole purpose is to convince a group of people to unanimously (or sometimes the majority) decide that they are selling the better product. It requires an ability to interpret the jury (expressions, body language), command attention, and demonstrate presence and persuasion. Trial attorneys can spend weeks or longer preparing for a case all in the name of ensuring that they have fully crafted their argument, understanding their product, and can now make the sale.

The art of customer service is inclusive of the ability to understand the behaviors of your customers. What made them happy today could very well make them unhappy tomorrow. Companies dedicate countless resources to understanding consumer behavior due to these constantly changing dynamics. As the head of an organization, it is your duty to be that public face that customers can see and relate to when deciding if they want to purchase your product. When you think of companies like Amazon, Tesla, or JP Morgan Chase, they are all run by extraordinary leaders who are synonymous with the products they sell. Their job is to understand the market they serve, and how to best position their organization to satisfy the demand of that market.

Restaurant Server
(Project Management, Client Relations)

Restaurant servers work under tight time constraints, with demanding, sometimes hostile, customers who have high expectations and little tolerance for error. They deal with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of customers per day, many of which have differing needs and impossible requests. Product expertise, communicating client needs to the production team (kitchen staff) with accuracy and precision, and ensuring an equally great customer experience for all parties are just some of the basic requirements. The flow can vary depending on the level of dining similar to companies of varying size. Chain or upscale restaurants will likely have automated systems (POS systems) and support (Bussers, Maître’D, etc.), while smaller restaurants will likely have more manual processes (handwritten orders). Servers must be able to adapt to sudden issues and make spot decisions that can affect the total client experience. In the end, they are the face of the organization in the eyes of the customer.

Regardless of the work, client engagements are only successful if the client feels they received what they were looking for, and sometimes more. Managers and leaders primary focus should always be maintaining great client relations, which will prove beneficial should there be additional work or should the project run into some trouble. Project management is about managing priorities. Company leaders and executives cannot be successful without the ability to determine “which fire is the hottest”.

Imagine you are leading an ERP system implementation program for a Fortune 500 client (Table of customers). Under this program, there are several simultaneous projects which all must run concurrently. Each project (individual orders) represents a department who will be utilizing the system and has customizations specific to their needs. Additionally, the slightest error on one project (problem with an individual order) could jeopardize the entire program and the client will likely never return. Lastly, imagine executing this program simultaneously with three additional clients (additional tables). This is the everyday life of a restaurant server.

The most invaluable lesson when trying to define leadership is: Have you taken an active role in learning and expanding your knowledge, and have you shared the knowledge to the benefit of others?

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