Thoughts on Talent, Leadership, and Teams
I had the distinct pleasure of returning to my Alma Mater - Texas A&M University at College Station, TX on February 14-15, 2020. The weekend for lovers brought me back to the place where I developed a love for leadership. Now that's what I call a perfect match. The Office of the Commandant is in the midst of a multi-year leadership series that brings together speakers and experts to talk "shop". The audience were members of the Corps of Cadets (a great mix of students Freshmen - Seniors); faculty, and staff members. They were committed and excited to learn - my kind of crowd.
I had two 1-hour sessions during the conference to give the students, faculty, and staff in attendance my take on developing your talent and bringing that talent into a team for the purpose of excelling as a team. I did not take the time to relay my own leadership journey in those sessions - one hour goes quickly! I thought it would be more appropriate to share some more on the blog. There are some key moments in my own life that fed my desire to strive for greatness and to be a leader. Here's some highlights:
I recall watching my father in conversation and action as he tackled tough issues and stood out as a leader at Allstate Insurance Company. I would eventually come to know his impact through the many accounts of his friends and colleagues after his passing. Learning from my mother's insistence and persistence of educational excellence. Neither one of my parents were going to raise a mediocre child! They required the same of my younger brother. They shared their experiences living through the 1960s as teens and young adults. That's an education for the ages.
Leaders are students of life early and often.
What can I say about my first love? Everything about the sport I loved, and I wanted to be a big part of USA Gymnastics (from the time I was two years old). The sport allowed me to develop passion and patience. I learned how to envision a big dream PLUS align activities that will get you there. There was pain, setbacks, injuries, joys, and medals. I learned how to learn from and trust your coach in development - a critical skill for growth as a leader. I developed lifelong friendships with people who had a similar mindset.
Leaders develop their skills through experience and repetition.
In competing a Speech during a Regional Oratory competition for Future Business Leaders of America, I was told that while I performed better than my competitors that I was going to be awarded 2nd place because I quoted Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. I was told because of those references I was considered "militant". The speech title was "The Value of an Education". My usage was as follows:
[Mid Speech] "...and like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I too have a dream..."
[End of Speech] "...I'd like to close with the indelible words of Malcolm X. 'Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.'"
I refused to accept the 2nd place award at the ceremony. I did qualify for state competition. During that time I was asked by my advisers to change the references. I refused. I was passionate about the words I wrote. I saw nothing wrong with it. I refused to bow down to make others with a weak understanding of life win. If it meant I would lose, I would lose with dignity. In the end, I won more than 1st place, I won the award for trusting in yourself, your beliefs, and maintaining your dignity. The desire to win cannot compromise your standards.
Winning should drive you to win within your standards (not at all costs - there's a difference).
There are many key moments, too many to delineate in this blog format, however a pivotal moment was the passing of my father while I was a sophomore. He died during the Christmas holiday and we buried him on Christmas Eve. Life changed dramatically for me. I recalled telling everyone I had "aged". My meaning structures had all flipped. My ideas about life and death were clarified. In that moment I was no longer 19, I was a young adult that needed to be strong for her family. I was a student leader who needed to be focused and sharp for her organization. Challenged with racial divide and conflict while in school, I learned to tackle problems by collaboration and not conflict. The adage, "If you can't beat them join them" seemed like surrendering and losing, until I understood it meant collaboration and success. My challenges and obstacles taught me those invaluable lessons.
Leaders must be willing to grow from old thinking.
Starting the workforce at 21 years old with a degree was challenging. People looked at my age and made assumptions. I was fully prepared to breakthrough all of those ideas to showcase my talent. The challenges were tough. I remember there was a job that presented so many human challenges that I had to go to church everyday at lunch (and skip eating) just to muster the professionalism to make it through the day. I have had some major OBSTACLES thrown my direction. The only reason I didn't lose my cool was because the satisfaction of professional success was worth more to me than the satisfaction of a good old fashioned curse out session.
Leaders grow through the pain to feed their future.
It is our experiences that are the teachers of life. But it is our willingness to pay attention to the teacher that determines if we will advance. The most pivotal moment in my life that allowed me to understand this was the passing of my father. To see things differently with intentionality starting at 19 years old was a difference-maker.
Career Turning Point
I believe all professionals experience this epiphany, "What's the Point of It All?" I was no different. I had reached a point that I was doing very well for myself but I realized I was giving the best of my talents away to other people and leaving not much for myself and for the people and places I loved. I made some key decisions to retire from Corporate in what I considered my "prime" and figure out how to apply my best to the people and places I was most passionate about. The recipients of this "epiphany were:
- My daughter - paused my broadcasting and consulting businesses to home school my daughter and be present for her development
- My Alma Mater - committed to becoming a donor at my school and become more involved with growth for Texas A&M. This resulted in me dreaming up and executing a podcast show "Aggie Up" which was designed to talk all things TAMU while listeners heard from diverse voices (hosts and guests).
- Myself - I had to learn that jam packing my days did not mean success. Taking time to rest and reflect is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.
Leaders live to apply their talents, goals, and vision for the betterment of more than just themselves. When it becomes about more than yourself, you're on pace toward leadership.
You are given many talents that will emerge as your top talents at different phases of your life. Your challenge is to find that top talent within each phase and use it. Along the way you'll have to protect your top talent from distraction, sabotage, and fatigue. If you do that, you will see breakthroughs and successes like crazy! Some ideas on how you find your top talents
- Take a psychometric assessment (i.e. Cifton StrengthsFinder, STRONG Interest Inventory, MBTI, etc.)
- Work with an adviser, academic/career counselor
- Take inventory of what your activities are (the things you spend most of your time on and that energize you will provide clues to your interests and talents)
- Read, read, and read again (reading helps place your own thoughts into perspective.
- Speak with your family and friends who know you best. Get their opinions of your talents.
- Self reflection - what energizes you? What do you believe your best talent is? Your opinion on the matter means everything. Trust your gut.
Which came first? The Chicken (talent); or the Egg (your goals)? ANSWER: Your talent.
As you clarify your talents it's time to match them with your goals. Remember if the talent cannot meet your current goals, you've selected the wrong goals. The talent drives you to the goals you've set.
HOW DO WE SET GOALS? Answer: Early and often. You will become better at setting goals through repetition and honesty.
LOW TECH APPROACH - in the age of apps, I still recommend this low tech strategy to meeting your goals. Get a Dry Erase Marker and write down your goals for the day on the mirror. I want you to see yourself in that mirror as you're seeing your desired goals. Leave it up. At the end of the day when you return to that mirror, look at it again. Whether you'e meeting your goals or not, it's time for self-reflection:
- Did this goal matter today?
- Was this goal too big or too small from the beginning?
- How dd I contribute positively or negatively to meeting my goal?
- How did others contribute (positively or negatively) to my goals?
- What will I do in the same way or better tomorrow?
- Did I celebrate the "today win" for my goals?
Clean off the mirror and get ready for tomorrow. Win, lose, or draw the day is over and you must look ahead.
New days present new opportunities for leaders.
It is a journey by which you develop strength within yourself through your experiences. Leadership implies you have mastered leading yourself. Leadership means you are at a phase in life where you have the ability to impact and influence others to maximize their own performance in concert with a shared vision. Leadership is not a title. Leadership will always emanate from self, and is designed to be shared. Your desire to lead others should originate from your desire to help others into the future. Leadership is not a title that can be awarded by the administrative act of promotion.
No one can make you a leader. You must work to make yourself a leader.
Creating a new entity is nothing short of challenging. For many reasons, teams are formed and forgotten about. There is an assumption that placing top individual performers together should create top performing teams BY MAGIC. Smoke and mirrors type of thinking gives you tricks and no treat. There is no "Just Add Water" formula to create a high functioning team. Like any good recipe or formula, there is a process to make the new product.
Key takeaways for transforming a group of individuals into a team:
- Be prepared
- Be growing
- Want to win
- Know what winning looks like for your teammates
- Communicate (yes it's listed twice)
Setting a Plan
One of the best moments in my life working with teams was during my Masters Program at University of Phoenix. We were virtual teams assigned by the professor. I didn't know them and that was a bit scary. UOP had a system of creating a Team Plan at the start of the semester for the virtual teams. Teaming was a critical component of the educational programs at UOP. We had to complete a document that became our Teaming Contract. It asked us to identify our availability, strengths, weaknesses, technology abilities, ideas about conflict management, and goals for the course. This was the first assignment before we were given actual coursework to complete. If there were issues during the course, we were expected to utilize our Team Plan to resolve them. At the end of the day, we didn't have "problems" because the expectations were set. I was proudly a member of many great virtual teams largely due to our Team Plan.
If you want to check out my Expanded Speakers Notes click on the image below:
It was a pleasure sharing my Lessons of Talent, Leadership, and Teams at Texas A&M University on February 15, 2020. The questions the students and other audience members asked were phenomenal. If you hadn't heard, I used the development of Shaq and Kobe as individuals and eventually teammates to illustrate the talk plus Muhammad Ali inspiration. It was an energizing time at TAMU. Hope you all enjoy!
Jennifer "drJ" Thibeaux is an American author, publisher, speaker, and entrepreneur. Leading The Thibeaux Company®, drJ hopes to impact human performance in a variety of industries. Working with executives and key influencers in Fortune 100 companies, drJ has developed a keen sense of performance in action. Earning business and education advanced degrees, drJ continues to insert intelligence into the performance conversation. Hosting and appearing on a variety of radio shows, podcasts, and other broadcast mediums, drJ has no "stop" in sight. To find out more about Jennifer "drJ" Thibeaux or products and projects from The Thibeaux Company®, be sure to visit www.Thibeaux.org