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Get to know the Unleashing Leaders Change Agents: Jennifer Manning

Interview

Jennifer Manning, MBA


Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?

I can honestly say there is no single person or mentor that has impacted me the “most” as a leader. Rather, it is a collection of specific qualities/traits in leaders and mentors that I have had the privilege of working with that have inspired me.

For more than 5 years I had the privilege of working alongside two extraordinarily passionate physicians in a multidisciplinary ALS clinic. Both providers were unwavering in their advocacy for their patients, humble, and deeply respected the value and unique knowledge that each team member brought forth. These providers taught me a lot about resilience in leadership, the importance of respecting your team and the value each person brings, being a visionary, and knowing when to stand your ground and when to graciously pivot.

Another impactful person in my life is a graduate leadership professor who challenged me to take a deeper dive into self-reflection to better understand my own life’s purpose and the importance of mastering self-leadership, before you can lead others.

Last, the team at Unleashing Leaders (UL) has been a huge inspiration. Truly, you cannot work at a company like UL and not be inspired.  My colleague’s knowledge and leadership skills have spanned nearly every industry. We learn from each other every single day and like those I mentioned earlier, I take “pearls” of wisdom from them every day.

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?

Leaders have the capacity to significantly impact company culture and to me company culture is heavily tied to the happiness of staff and the overall success of an organization. As such, I believe the most important decisions a leader makes are those that surround the culture. This includes, but is not limited to, decisions on how to engage with others (communication), the environment we create (vibe, cultural norms), and the people we surround ourselves with (who we hire, promote, and let go of). 

As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?

As a leader my advice is be genuine, seek support, surround yourself with those who inspire you, and check your ego at the door always, but especially during “difficult” or “uncertain” times.

Leaders are leaders because they inspire others to be and do better; they motivate others to WANT to act. No one feels inspired by a boss who is disingenuous, unsupportive, non-communicative, and siloed off.

When a company grows, or big changes happen it’s scary for EVERYONE. It’s during these times people look to those they expect to lead and those they trust for guidance.

As leaders we keep inspiration alive by modeling it through our own words and especially our actions. We do this by being genuine, seeking the support of those around us, surrounding ourselves with good mentors and people who can inspire us (leaders need inspiration too!) and by never being too proud to admit a mistake, ask for help, or pivot when something isn’t working out as planned.

How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?

By modeling it.  A culture and an environment that supports creative thinking will encourage creative thinkers. 

What is an environment that supports creative thinking?  Well, I don’t think it’s a one size fits all thing. To me it looks a bit different for everyone but overwhelmingly I think it’s one that rewards instead of punishes vulnerability.

Brene Brown says that “there can be no creativity without vulnerability.” I truly believe this.  A leader has to ask themselves; how do I make this a safe space to explore and create unpunished?  I believe it starts with modeling it ourselves as leaders. Allowing ourselves to be human, relatable, vulnerable and unpunished for that vulnerability gives others permission to do the same.

Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?

Everywhere and everyone. 

One of the things we believe at Unleashing Leaders is that successful interdependence cannot occur in the absence of the freedom to be independent. The power of autonomy is massively underrated. I believe when people are given space to grow and exercise their right to choose (even little choices), they feel respected, valued, and overall happier.

Respected, valued, and happy people create an energy that is infectious, and this kind of energy breeds an ability to collaborate with others in meaningful and valuable ways including the generation of “great ideas.” This is how great ideas are born at UL and in myself.

Which is most important to your organization—mission, core values or vision?

Core Values. It’s not that mission and vision are not important, they are incredibly important, we need them. But core values are our north star. A mission and vision cannot be realized without direction and core values help to guide us. Anything that aligns with these is a viable direction and anything that does not is not an option.

How do you or other leaders in your organization communicate the core values?

By consistently modeling them. 

Most of us have or know one person in our lives we can count on. They are consistent and unwavering which makes them dependable. Most of us also know at least one person who oscillates and makes it difficult to depend on. Like most, I respect the guy or gal who adheres to and models their core values. I like dependability.

At UL core values are our north star and everyone works tirelessly to uphold them. During our monthly meetings we recite them aloud not because we need a reminder of how to act (we aren’t cave people) but because even the most dependable people can lose sight of the north star if it’s cloudy out.

At UL We respect one another’s freedom to choose, we operate with honor and integrity regardless of if others are watching which supports our core value of excellence, we are resilient when facing adversity, we encourage in ourselves and others the curiosity necessary to be lifelong learners, and we engage with one another by leveraging our own strengths and those on our team. Like anyone, some days we may struggle in one area and excel in another, but our core values are our guiding light and we strive to model and live them every day. There is no better way to communicate your values than to model them each and every day.

How do you encourage others in your organization to communicate the “core values?”

This one is easy, so I’ll keep it short and simple. By listening, practicing what I preach and modeling the way, and by offering support and guidance when needed.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

There are many necessary characteristics but if I had to pick on it would be resilience (grit).

The quality and maturity of a person’s leadership capacity is revealed in how they respond to adversity. It is not to say that a leader cannot make mistakes, we ALL make mistakes whether we are seasoned leaders or novice.  But, how that leader responds to mistakes and hardships is what can make or break the success of a team, and organization. Do they get back up? Are they too proud to ask for help or admit a mistake? do they just barely subsist? Do they default to the status quo? Leading others is hard work and for every person who wants to see you or your organization succeed there are equally those who would see you fail– it sounds cruel but it’s the honest truth.  To be a good leader resilience is necessary. A leader needs to be able to get back on the bike after a fall.

What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

I have two recommendations to share:

  1. Find a mentor. Someone has done it or been through it before and if they haven’t then they have at the very least several key ingredients to share. Do not downplay the value of learning from others’ wisdom.
  2. Calibrate your lens– Earlier I mentioned the importance of culture and environment. As a leader, culture and the environment created by a leader is closely intertwined with the lens that a leader chooses to look and lead through.

David J Schwartz in the Magic of Thinking Big said it best, “A person is a product of his/her own thoughts.” I wholeheartedly believe this. The lens a leader chooses impacts the culture they support and/or create and their ability to lead successfully. Recalibrate your lens to see why and how you can succeed rather than all the ways you can fail. Leading others, including ourselves is hard work but it’s even harder when you can’t see the forest through the trees. If we concentrate on the wrong things, focus on why something won’t work, we cannot expect to get the outcome we desire.

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Jennifer Manning, MBA