Leadership by Jodi Sutton

Recently I was asked, as I look back on my career [spoiler alert:  My career isn’t over! Not by a long shot!] what has been my most impactful contribution.  I knew, I mean I knew, the person fully expected me to recount numbers:  growth numbers over a specified period of time. Revenue, bookings, year-over-year growth, retention percentages, you name it.  The person was genuinely surprised when I answered the question with a single word: leadership. For me, as I look back on my career, it isn’t the numbers (although those are important).  Rather, as cliche as it may sound, it’s the people: the teams you’ve built, the people whose careers and lives you’ve watched blossom, the lasting relationships you’ve forged. That is how I define success.

Earlier this year, I was interviewed by The Software Report, where the focus was, in part, about leadership.  You can scan, if you’re interested, that interview is here.  As I prepped for the interview, one question I was asked:  “How do you get the most out of your people?”  My initial, knee-jerk reaction was:  “Beats the heck out of me.”  So to help me answer this question, I reached out to a number of my former and current direct reports, and I asked them:  “How did I get the most out of you and the team?”  I was humbled (the teary-eyed type of humbleness) by the responses.  At the end of the day, though, I’d say the responses could be reduced to a few themes, some of which I’ll share here and which may resonate with many of you.

  1. Emotional Connection.  I know my teams.  I mean, I really know my teams.  Not just professionally, but personally.  And, I always want the best for them, whatever that is.  I deeply and genuinely care for each and every one of them.  Conversely, they really know me – not just as a manager, but as a person.  With many I have shared my lifeline, warts and all. My teams are totally vulnerable with each other and that builds a level of trust.  With a foundation of vulnerable trust, you can do amazing things.
  2. Stretch Your Teams.  Most of us want to grow, in whatever form:  learn new skills, learn new subjects, perhaps become a manager of sorts.  I purposefully try to tap into a person’s passion. As I said during the interview with The Software report, I “see the potential in people”. 
  3. Have Their Backs.  I support my teams and always have their backs.  This is not to be confused with performance management.  On the contrary, I hold my team accountable…but I believe in them.  I encourage them, including/especially when there are performance issues.  As one former direct report said, “you are critical, yet kind.” And if the team makes mistakes, also as I said in The Software Report interview, the buck stops with me and my team knows that.  I hold myself accountable, and I work through our challenges with the team, as a team.

“Leadership” takes on endless forms and presents itself in infinite ways.  If you’re like me, you may not even know what yours is or how it came to be.  I believe it is individual-specific and is something that evolves for each of us, naturally.

Books Jodi recommends:


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