Last year about this time, I had the opportunity to present on behalf of AMA Iowa for being Bronze Chapter of the Year on an international level in Chicago. I shared the story of being the spark in an organization and in your life—igniting those around you to push them for more, and in return making yourself and your teammates better. After doing more research and digging in, I found books and material on being the Spark, including the book named “Spark.”
So today I want to share about what I have learned and observed in my career, as well as what I have read and researched to hopefully ignite the flame in you.
So let’s take some time for a personal development session and recharge for the afternoon.
Leadership is not about job titles — it’s about action and behavior. And Sparks know just that. Many believe leaders are the rare few at the upper echelons of a business or enterprise. However, leaders aren’t just at the top of an organization and can be at any level. Sparks are also leaders. Sparks invite change and don’t settle for less than extraordinary. They are invested in their organizations and aren’t defined by their spot on an organizational chart. Sparks are the cultivators, the doers, and the catalysts for change in an organization. They remind us that you are defined by your actions, your commitment and your will to get things done.
Sparks make an impact and can change organizations from the inside out—and for the better.
When Sparks are ignited, their actions can directly shape the future. Sparks make things better.
Today I want you to think about how to be the Spark by engaging with your own leadership style. We will discuss how to identify the Sparks in your organization and how you can be a Spark. It’s important to: Understand your behaviors Know your team members and the audience you create experiences for Challenge the norm
To start, it’s important to understand your behaviors.
So let’s talk about the ideas of leadership. Three commonly held (but erroneous) notions of leadership
First you must recognize that you have the potential to be a leader. Many to-be leaders are held back by myths about who and what a leader is. Many people believe that leadership is somewhat a birthright, is a gut feeling or that you finally become a leader when you get a promotion. However, being a Spark is an act of free will and it’s your choice. Leaders aren’t born. They are made.
Researchers from the Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research have studied identical twins separated at birth to explore the question of whether leaders are born or made. Concluded that we’re born with about 30% of our leadership abilities, including qualities like intelligence, extroversion and good looks.
Example: you’re in a meeting and someone rattles off a brilliant idea. Influenced by that person’s intellect and ability to think quickly, you then offer your take on that inspired idea. What this means is that this person has effectively led you—by influencing you and inspiring you.
The other 70% are the Spark qualities you can develop. Focus on developing leadership behaviors that will propel you towards success. The ‘made’ leadership behaviors we promote are attainable by any committed person, in any environment. Spark qualities include adopting and focusing on seven key leadership behaviors.
You will find that the seven keys tie into other areas of the presentation where we will dive deeper into them. Think about the Sparks you know. What is their character like? Are they accountable? Willing to be of service? How’s their credibility, do they act with intent? Are they consistent and do they have confidence? The Sparks I know exude these qualities and work to build on them each and every day.
Your instincts need to be challenged before they can be trusted because instincts aren’t always consistent with Spark behavior.
When we avoid conflict, overreact to bad news, or procrastinate on decisions, we’re acting on our instincts and not influencing our environment. We’re simply reacting which puts us at a disadvantage.
However, cognitive flexibility is commonly described as the ability to switch your thinking in order to solve problems, which we all do really well with the non-people-related challenges we experience. Some examples are, the printer is out of paper, this machine's not working, the caterer didn’t show up for the meeting, etc.
Many times we fall into ruts and routines with people, especially in long-standing relationships, and there are times when we don’t flex in our approach when dealing with tough situations. This can lead to roadblocks, which limits the level of leadership that we provide to others. It limits our ability to be a Spark.
You want to lead? Then go for it and make it happen! When you decide to be a Spark you’ll gain influence necessary to create the change you’d like to see and become the person with whom everyone wants to work. More importantly, you’ll be leading through influence, not through title, and that makes a big, big difference.
When focusing on understanding your behaviors, they are qualities you should focus on developing. These qualities will make you stand out as a Spark and grow as a leader.
Being credible to others so that they trust you – these go hand in hand, you really can’t have one without the other. When people trust you, they see you as credible. If you are credible, they trust you. These are both key to being a Spark and having people trust you as a leader, regardless of level or title.
Holding yourself accountable to your challenges - Becoming a Spark begins with a choice. It requires you to rethink how you respond to the most pressing challenges you’re facing. Do you submit to them, assuming you can’t possibly do anything about them? Do you approach them the same way as you always have, expecting you’ll get a different result? Or do you take a stance and lead? Think carefully before you respond, because your response can change everything, for you, the people who depend upon you, and your organization.
Making good decisions when you’re feeling pressure to act – take the time to think through your decisions. Time and time again I’ve seen quick decisions made in a meeting instead of asking for time to think it over and come back with a response. This has resulted in strained relationships or accepted deadlines that aren’t feasible for your team.
Expressing your confidence in clutch moments – confidence is key in the clutch moments. Sparks are looked to hold it together when the ship is sailing and you missed the boat by a second.
Bringing a group of individuals together to form a full and cohesive team – there’s nothing better than working as a team.
Speaking of teams, here’s a great example why bringing individuals together to form a team is so important. We all struggle with our own egos and limitations. Let’s be honest, we all have them. The Marines is a great example of what true leadership looks like. When in the Marine Corps, you realize that you truly can’t do it alone. Most of the training is done with a team. Marines also know that you experience more success if it’s experienced with a team.
Being a Spark means it’s important to be aware of yourself and your actions.
The Johari Window was developed in the 1950s by two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. The Johari window is a technique used to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others.
There are four aspects of self-awareness. Covers truths about yourself that you have shared and may have become common knowledge among others. Where you grew up, went to college, don’t like conflict, etc. The more you share facts like this and more transparent you are—the more people are influenced by your likeness and feel more comfortable around you and are more willing to disclose information about themselves. This type of exchange can advance relationships. Maybe when you get stressed out you are a poor communicator, or you have a hard time letting go of things when you delegate tasks. Without access to your blind spots, it’s difficult to improve them. And it may be precisely these blind spots that are holding you back from becoming an influential and inspirational leader to help others. These are our secrets. Now don’t go and divulge all of your secrets! However, are there key things that you should share that are holding you back from truly developing relationships with others? Maybe you want a promotion but your boss doesn’t know and can’t advocate for you. Or maybe you are caring for an elderly parent and your home life feels out of control. Untapped potential. We all have it. Maybe you are a great writer or have technical skills no one knows about. If you’ve never explored other areas of your skills, you nor others won’t have access to these skills. As you make attempts to push yourself into new experiences and gain a greater appreciation for your strengths, weaknesses and capabilities, you expand your self-awareness.
Understand your team members and the audience you are creating experiences for. When I was President of AMA Iowa, I focused on it being a personal experience instead of just something that is on a resume. Your team is your family. Support each other. Be all in or all out. You need to take the time to get to know the person. This applies to your team members as well as your audiences.
You can’t be a Spark in your organization without a solid understanding of your values and how these manifest in your character, which determines whether or not people trust you. Values: things that are important to you like fairness, humor, freedom, justice, adventure, family, faith, etc.
When you make choices that hold up to your values it’s freeing and liberating because you’re not distracted by what’s going wrong with your life and trying to fix it. You want to be focused on satisfying pursuits rather than energy-wasting endeavors. You want to find your access to the flow experience – the positive energy you feel when you’re deeply engrossed in your passion and able to channel your efforts into something meaningful and results-oriented.
Galatea Effect – (about a Greek myth and an ivory statue that comes to life) suggests that our images, beliefs and ideas about yourself have a powerful influence on our behavior
If you value honesty, you will be the person that speaks the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable.
If you are dependable, you won’t blow off a volunteer obligation or a commitment after work because you are tired and want to stay home.
If you value excellence, it will show up in your work.
The more you believe in your values, the more you become them. People who live their values exude a quiet confidence—they worry less about what others think and instead focus on being true to themselves. That shows up as an authenticity that’s refreshing to others.
Trust and credibility are the keys for good leaders. Credibility is critical in being a Spark because it contributes to the trust people place in you. It’s in the eye of the beholder and you have to work hard to understand what makes you credible to others so you know the criteria you are being evaluated against. Character and your performance level show your credibility.
To be a seen as a credible spark, here are some actions that you need to take. These actions are interdependent and can be undertaken with conscious effort. These become harder as each is introduced.
Understand the perspective of stakeholders. Do what is brightlined in your job and also work to meet unspoken expectations. What do people expect from you?
The space between your words and your actions is know as the say-do-gap. Example: vendor gets a deadline, they call you two days before and say they will have it to you two days late. Then it shows up at 5 pm that day. You earn influence when you demonstrate a consistently high level of performance. Say-do-gap is a great thing to measure your performance because it keeps you honest about how well you are living up to the expectations you have set.
Managers should share the “what’ and leave the “how” up to the team to figure out. This inspires creative-problem solving, as the team knows the end goal.
Strike up a constructive conversation about what’s not working and how it can be improved. Make accountability discussions part of your organization’s DNA. It’s irresponsibile to let feedback flow without considering it’s impact. After all, feedback is given to inspire growth. The focus of feedback needs to be on the other person and how we can help them. Too often we get caught up on how to deliver it or how we are going to feel when giving it.
To be a Spark, you’ve got to do the tough work on yourself first.
Find a quiet place and dedicate time to reflecting on the values that are most important to you. Identify a list of your top five most important values.
Assess your support network – the people you can rely on as you develop your Spark behaviors. Work to ensure that these people stay present in your life.
Where have you compromised your values in the past? Understand the circumstances in which you have tended to compromise. It may be a situation at work, home or somewhere else. Recognize the changes you need to make to lead more consistently with your intentions and embracing your values. Change is hard so expect this to come with some pain and uncomfortableness. But embrace it! It’s worth it once you work through it. Hold true to your values, as these reinforce the seven key leadership behaviors.
Research from Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University.
Learning and development stop only when we adopt a fixed mindset rather than a growth-oriented mindset. We’ve all heard the saying…you can’t teach a dog new tricks. I know my mom said it to me all the time growing up!
However, you can teach a dog new tricks – as long as the dog is willing to learn. When we unconsciously choose to stop seeking out challenges, we thus are limiting our opportunities for success. We can also make a conscious choice to grow, which opens up a world of possibilities.
Choose to lead. No one else makes you a leader. You make you a leader. Embrace the struggle within—instead of worrying about what you weren’t born with, build upon what you already have. Focus on responding, not reacting, to the people and events you encounter. Reacting vs. cognitive flexibility Anticipate your blind spots—challenge yourself to gain a full view of your strengths and limitations. Be open to examining your beliefs about your abilities and exploring your hidden talents.
As a Spark, Empower: CHALLENGE THE NORM - Give back, give praise. Demonstrate gratefulness and servant leadership. Remind your team and your leaders to inspire. You don’t have to be perfect to inspire people. It’s our job to impact people and leave them better off than they were before.
Your development as a Spark begins when you opt into the process of thinking what real leadership is. You need to adopt a growth mindset and consider two things that go hand-in-hand as you look forward.
Circle of Influence – who are your key relationships? Family, friends, mentors, colleagues, managers, etc. Think about your opportunities to lead within these relationships. And then think about how you influence and inspire these individuals.
Self-awareness – consider your strengths and weaknesses. Write them down and talk about them with someone you trust in your organization or a friend or mentor for an outside perspective. This will help you uncover the qualities that define you and reflect on how you can leverage your strengths in your environment
CONNECT TO PEOPLE – LIKE A SPARKLER – it spreads when you connect with people and then they connect with others.
All it takes is a spark and people coming together to make something bigger happen.
Be better than you were the day before. Make the world a better place one day at a time.
Now go and make a difference. Because I promise, there is nothing stopping you.
Angela ten clay
BE THE SPARK
Angela Ten Clay | Account Manager | Lessing-Flynn
AMA Iowa Raving Fan | @angelatenclay
A boss has the title. A
leader has the people.
– Simon Sinek
Leadership is not
about job titles
— it’s about
1. Understand your behaviors
2. Know your team members and the audience you create experiences for
3. Challenge the norm
THE SEVEN KEYS
3. Be of Service
5. Act with Intent
IDEAS OF LEADERSHIP
2. Leaders trust their instincts.
Reacting vs. Cognitive Flexibility
IDEAS OF LEADERSHIP
3. A title makes you a leader.
QUALITIES YOU CAN DEVELOP
Be credible to others so that they trust you
Hold yourself accountable to your challenges
Make good decisions when you’re feeling pressure to act
Express your confidence in clutch moments
Bring a group of individuals together to form a full and cohesive team
know and no
and no one
Trust and credibility – the keys for good leaders.
Before you lead others, you have to be able to lead yourself.
Before you lead others, you have
to be able to lead yourself.
ACTIONS TO TAKE
1. Understand and meet the standards of others
2. Have a very narrow “say-do-gap”
3. Communicate your intent and expectations to others
4. Hold others accountable when they fail to meet standards
HOW TO BE GROWTH-ORIENTED
Choose to lead. No one else makes you a leader. You make you a leader.
Embrace the struggle within—instead of worrying about what you weren’t born
with, build upon what you already have.
Focus on responding, not reacting, to the people and events you encounter.
Anticipate your blind spots—challenge yourself to gain a full view of your
strengths and limitations.
Be open to examining your beliefs about your abilities and exploring your