I am very excited to share my second interview as part of the Enlightened Leader series. I will share these interviews consistently to shine a light on enlightened leaders around the world. My questions help uncover leadership styles and strategies and how these impact the employee experience.
When I refer to “Enlightened leader,” I am referring to a leader who is emotionally intelligent as it relates to their team members, one who understands their shortcomings and works to improve them, and one who looks at the power of TEAM and harnesses that to achieve business results and lift others up.
In this article, you will hear from Aaron Skogen, one of the most emotionally intelligent leaders on LinkedIn. Enjoy what I found out about his leadership style and what he considers his key areas for improvement and main leadership focus.
Tell me a little about how you landed in a leadership role.
Leadership roles seemed to present themselves as I progressed through my career. I never once set out with intent to “land” a role. Early memories of leadership roles started to present themselves shortly after I started my career. I credit my ability to develop relationships and several “right place, right time” scenarios. I led my first large-scale project when I was 21, which garnered great recognition for leading teams through complex projects. By my mid-twenties I was promoted to director of operations for a consulting firm, which again, in turn, led me to the next opportunity, working directly for, instead of as a consultant to, the largest client we had at the firm. Each step through my career has been based on referrals.
How would you define your leadership style?
My leadership style is supportive, nurturing, transparent and transformational. I work to motivate and support my teams, to increase productivity and efficiency through high levels of communication and visibility. I believe leadership needs to be actively engaged with all levels of the associates they support in order create a workplace based on trust and mutual respect. I am a strategic thinker, which allows me to see an ocean of opportunity, where others sometimes have trouble seeing a puddle. While I do tend to focus on the big picture and delegate the tactical aspects of the work to key associates, I am also very comfortable getting my hands dirty right alongside a welder, machinist, line worker or any other associate. As an example, at one point early in a new role leading a very large team, I spent the first several weeks wearing jeans and working every station on every line in the facility. This allowed me to first, develop relationships, and second, understand what caused an associate “pain” in their work. This approach allows leadership to prioritize the issues facing the organization from the associate perspective, while driving transformation toward the bigger picture and organizational objectives.
Can you describe for me a time that you were not the best leader you could be and what you did to come out of it?
I have failed so many times, I’ve lost count. I’ll use an example from several years ago. I was out walking the factory floor. Admittedly, I had been absent from regular interactions with the floor personnel due to reasons that at this point would be excuses. Yes, we had many things happening early that year, and I was involved in many activities, meetings and the like that kept me from the floor on my normal cadence. However, on this day I walked. I walked each line, checking in with our associates. I lost track of how many times I was asked, “where have you been?” I do not think that I have said “I am sorry” more times in one day than I did on that day. I had the honor and privilege of supporting hundreds of associates, and I learned that there is no good reason for not being visible. I was, and not intentionally, reclusive for a period of a few months, dealing with issues I thought, at the time, took precedence. Nevertheless, my presence on the floor, or lack thereof, was noticed. I learned how much my entire team relied on that visibility.
I learned that it’s OK to sincerely apologize to our associates and admit that I had no good reason for being unavailable and invisible. As leaders, or the “Chief Supporters” of our teams, we must remain visible whether things are humming along or we are navigating a tempest. Our teams depend on it.
What do you do to develop yourself as a leader?
Since so much of our time is spent at work, I believe it’s critical to surround yourself with smart, passionate people who share your values. Perhaps it’s a cliché, but I do believe that if you’re the smartest person in the room, then you are definitely in the wrong room. When building teams, choose your closest colleagues carefully. Select members who will challenge you and each other to be better. In addition to surrounding myself with crazy, smart, talented people, I love to read and to continue learning new things.
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What do you do to connect with the people you lead in a deeper way?
I work to be present and create space for the people I support. We all carry “stuff” along our journey; sometimes the stuff is work related, yet often it’s not. I believe in listening to learn and understand. If the issues are work related, can we address them and move the individual and team forward? On the other hand, when the stuff is something outside of work, how can we adapt, create some space and support the individual, while ensuring we continue to progress? I am happy to share my own stories of failures and successes with those I support, as well. Again, I think it boils down to an ability to develop relationships built on trust and respect. Of course, as leaders we are expected to deliver our objectives/metrics, develop our next generation, coach, drive strategy and growth within our organizations; those are table stakes. However, we also have an obligation to remain connected to our teams, as their dignity, their pride in the workplace and their personal sense of accomplishment rely on it. An occasional glimpse of our vulnerability leads to an increased appreciation, a personal connection, and ultimately a greater sense of trust.
When you combine smart, talented, and passionate people with a clear vision of the future in an open, transparent and supportive environment, WOW, anything is possible!
I think Aaron said all that needs to be said. This is pure GOLD for us looking to ramp up our leadership prowess and change our team members’ lives for the better!
Thank you for following this series. I hope that Aaron stated one thing that resonates with you. Please Share this article if you think others need to read these words. I would be grateful.
I had worked indirectly with Aaron a few years back. It had been like 20 years since I had a manager that was similar to him. I knew what the expectations were & went after them. I can say he relates to people very well & there are not many around like him.
Lee, thank you so much for sharing this. I went with my gut after supporting each other on LinkedIn, but after I met him in person, I knew he was perfect for this. I love this validation.
I totally understand what you mean. Love that guy!