Effective leadership

Apr 25, 2021

To be an effective leader, you have to be authentic, acknowledge what you don’t know, and be willing to make mistakes.

Effective leadership is crucial to advancing one’s career, something I’ve experienced firsthand as president and CEO of Larson Design Group. I shared some advice on the topic at a recent virtual meeting of Leadership Lycoming, a specialized training program operated by the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce designed to develop and motivate effective leaders in their communities. Here are some takeaways from that talk.

Know, go, show. I’ve often looked at my career in three stages, each of which relate to beneficial actions to take in furthering one’s professional goals – a blueprint I think of as “know, go, show.”

To “know” is important early in your career, because it’s the time to do everything you can to learn as much as you can about your business and your path. You have to really learn your craft, look for educational opportunities, and find ways to volunteer in your field or your community. Soak up all the knowledge you can.

By contrast, the “go” stage is all about action. In this stage, you take all that knowledge you’ve collected and do things with it. This is the time to really grow in your career and start positioning yourself to accomplish the professional goals you’ve set for yourself.

In this stage it’s important to find a coach or a mentor who can help you reach important milestones and continue to learn, because even the best still have room to grow. Even Tom Brady has a coach.

Finally, the “show” stage of one’s career is largely what it sounds like: to show others how to be successful. This is when you’ve likely achieved significant successes in your own career, which is the best time to share that knowledge with others. It’s a perfect time to act as a mentor for others, but also to think about vision, strategy, culture, and more – things that will benefit your company or industry in the long-term.

The importance of authenticity (and making mistakes). “Be yourself” might sound like a cliché, but there’s a lot of benefit in remembering that simple advice. Just because you see someone with a different personality type having success in your field doesn’t mean you have to change who you are. Two people can be going in the same direction but each have a different way of getting there, which is good – they can learn from each other.

And don’t forget: While people – and companies – don’t want to be the cautionary tale, mistakes are always going to happen. However, that’s OK, because it means you’re learning. Bad examples have to exist for everyone to learn what not to do. That may sound harsh, but it’s beneficial in a lot of ways.

Know what you don’t know. The COVID-19 pandemic affected every industry dramatically, including the AEC industry. The leadership team at LDG did everything we could to meet challenges head-on – but there was such an abundance of uncertainty that, at times, the best thing to do was to acknowledge what we didn’t know, as well as what we did.

An important aspect of leadership is also not having the answers to everything, and we were up front with our employees about that. We told people, “I don’t know, but let’s find out together,” which is how we approached a lot of 2020. We tried to act as a steady hand, which is crucial when you’re in a position of leadership.

Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems. If your team is getting ahead of themselves on their newest project because they think it’s going to be the next Eiffel Tower, temper expectations. On the other hand, if your office building is on fire, be the one calmly leading people out to safety.

Dave Martin is president and CEO at Larson Design Group. Contact him at dmartin@larsondesigngroup.com.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.