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CSU Leadership Institute's Shana Young speaks to Kiwanis DoCo

Special to the Metro

Leadership is vital in any type of organization, whether it be corporate, nonprofit, government, or even the home.  It can open the door to either success or failure in achieving a mission or realizing goals.

Shana Young, executive director for leadership and operations of the Leadership Institute at Columbus State University – accompanied by her colleague Jessica Drake, assistant director for development/marketing - visited Albany on June 1 to speak to the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County. In a decade at the institute she has participated in numerous leadership sessions and forums and gleaned insights and lessons from high-profile personalities in the business and political worlds, such as General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and broadcast journalist Norah O’Donnell, among others.

Young related ten lessons for leadership. “We’ve been doing for 10 Years now,” she said, “and during that 10 years we’ve come across some truths, some things we know to be true about leadership development with businesses and organizations we’ve worked with.”

She started with number 10 and worked her way in descending order to number one. The first one, she said, that resonated came from a former three-star general who formerly headed the leadership institute. “A leader too far removed from their troops starts to look like the enemy. We don’t spend enough time with our team, don’t put in the face time, don’t put in the attendance, and they start to feel like you don’t know what’s really going on inside your own business or organization or family…We find that sometimes the best thing you can do as the leader of an organization is just to remind people that you’re there for them, just to pop your head in and say ‘How can I help?’, ‘How’s it going?”, ‘Do you need anything?’ A lot of times we get so caught up and so busy in what we’re trying to do that we really forget just to say thanks or see if anybody needs help.”

Number 9 stressed choosing the right person for a job or promotion, on what they know rather than who they know or just their charming personality. Leaders also need to hire excellent people for administrative-assistant or receptionist positions. “They become the gatekeepers to you and to your organization. It is one of the most important roles in your business you will ever fill. A lot of the time people think how your administrative assistant or receptionist treats them when they come in is a representation of who you are as a person,” so it reflects on the organization as a whole.

Number 8 focused on honesty and being upfront with employees. Approving an employee’s suggestion for a project and telling them to work on it when there was never any intention to use  it causes employees to become disengaged, said Young. “Most people would prefer you to be honest. They just want you to tell them the truth. ‘That’s a great idea but we don’t have the money, or the time, the manpower to make that happen this year, but maybe next year,’ or, ‘Don’t lose that thought, we’ll come back to it.’ But sending people off to work on projects or ideas or things that are never going  to happen are the quickest way to get people really disengaged, not really wanting to participate anymore.”

At number 7, “A leader who fears holding other people accountable isn’t leading anybody…There is nothing wrong with holding people accountable. People don’t get up in the morning – most people, there are exceptions to every rule – wanting to a bad job or not wanting to fulfill their obligations. Holding people accountable allows them to rise to expectations, to be as good as they can be and exceed your expectations.”

Number 6 was “Leadership is about solving problems” or leading people to solve problems themselves. Young recalled a forum remark by Gen. Colin Powell that “when people stop bringing you their problems, they either think that you don’t know how to solve it or that you don’t care. And either one is a failure of leadership.” Still, “A lot of times people do know how to solve their own problems, they just need to somebody to listen, they need to say it out loud, to talk it through. A lot of times your goal in solving  problems as a leader is just to be the  listener, and when they’re done just say, ‘Now what are you doing to do about that?’”

Number 5 was don’t be afraid to be wrong or make mistakes. If things don’t go the way they were planned or a project isn’t completed,, “There are lessons to be learned from that.  Be open to what those lessons are, to letting your team or group learn those lessons, too. Some of your greatest things you learn are from things” that didn’t go as they were planned, what you won’t do again or will do differently.

Number 4 – Don’t put blinders on, or so focused on goals that you ignore potential opportunities or help to do things differently in ways that could save money, time or effort.

Number 3 – There has been a “fundamental paradigm shift” toward a more servant style of leadership, or a collaborative style where “we do this together, everybody works on this together.” But someone needs to ask “are we out front of the changes that are coming, are we looking to say we are the leader in best practices.”

Number 2 is to recognize how differences in personalities can result in communication failure. Most people, said Young, fall into one of two groups, either task-oriented or people-oriented, “and we violate each other’s trust without even realizing it because of these two simple things. A task-oriented leader must be able to trust you with a with task first before they can like you as a person, to know that you can get the job done before they even feel like they can like you as a person. People-oriented people, they have to like you as a person before they’re going to do anything for you.”

The number one lesson Young related brought some laughs from her audience. “Remember, as a leader you must have followers, otherwise you’re just a lone nut. You’re just a person out there with a big idea but nobody around to hear it or listen to it or believe in it. So having followers is just as important as being a leader.”

PHOTO CAPTIONS:Shana Young of the Leadership Institute at Columbus State University relates to Kiwanis of Dougherty members the “10 Lessons of Leadership” she has gleaned over the past decade. (Photos by David Shivers)