Written by Kesha Brown
Featuring Guest Contributor: HR Leader Asha Menon, CEO of AM Talent Partners
Leadership is by far one of my most favorite topics to discuss because my ultimate career goal is to be able to leave a legacy by being a GREAT LEADER! I want to lead people to make better decisions, to build confidence for their career, and to be fearless in pursuing whatever sets their soul on fire. Did you know that we are all leaders? You may think that is a silly question, but we are. I recently watched a video presented by Patrick Bet-David, CEO of PHP Agency, and he shared that we all leaders, whether we are leading people to sell/do drugs or to go to school. After listening, a light bulb went off for me because I never looked at leadership like that. Why would I consider a drug dealer a leader? But they are. They are leading people down the wrong path. So here I am today discussing with you one of my favorite topics and all of the women who have shaped my leadership abilities and who have helped to accelerate my career from experiencing firsthand their good and ugly side of leadership.
I choose to talk about women because, out of my 10+ supervisors in my career, 8 of them were women, including my mother.
I think I have grown into a phenomenal leader because of my 11+ years of experience, the women who have led me as well as a few lessons learned from life’s hardships. On a scale from 1 to 10, I rate my leadership abilities a 9 because I believe that, no matter how skilled you believe you are, there is always room for improvement. As a life-long learner, this is my philosophy. I also want to add that my leadership growing pains are a result of a lot of traumatic experiences. I have been humiliated, embarrassed, and betrayed over and over, belittled, doubted, and hated, which has caused me a lot of hurt along the way. But none-the-less I have grown, and I am very proud of the leader I have become.
Let’s go over the many leadership styles so you can identify yours
In case you are wondering, there are various leadership styles that are considered standard and emotional styles. Standard leadership styles include autocratic leaders who make decisions without consulting their team members, even if their input would be useful. Democratic leaders make the final decisions, but they include team members in the decision-making process. Laissez-faire leaders give their team members a lot of freedom in how they do their work and how they set their deadlines. Emotional leadership styles include: servant leaders, transformational leaders, charismatic leaders, transactional leaders, bureaucratic leaders, and situational leaders. You can pretty much guess what these emotional leadership styles consist of based on their names. While we will not get into the pros and cons of all leadership styles today, the best type of leadership style in my opinion are servant, transformational, and a combination of autocratic and laissez-faire because these types of leaders lead by example. What type of leader am I, you might be wondering? I am a servant leader! All of my life I have been drawn to the power of service and passionately serving others, which has trickled over into my leadership style. I might add that I am an autocratic leader when the opportunity calls.
My first leader: My Mother
I can’t start the topic of women leader’s without talking about my first female leader, my mother. A little bit about my mom. She was born and raised in Jamaica, West Indies, graduated from college there, and has been here in the U.S., particularly Brooklyn, NY, for 40+ years. She raised me and my two brothers alongside my father, and has made a living as an entrepreneur and as a Housekeeper, which is her passion because she loves everything about cleaning. I have to say, I did not appreciate her leadership style until my mid-30’s. I am now 37.
Her leadership abilities did not meet what I thought were the ingredients of a good leader, which is someone who is calm, possesses excellent communication skills, is kind, patient, and comforting, and plays a role of a mentor—all the qualities that made me believe that my dad was the better leader. But now that I have experienced a few things in life, have spent a lot of time reflecting on past experiences, and can now see things from a different lens, I wholeheartedly believe that my mother is a PHENOMENAL LEADER. And here are all the reasons why.
- An extreme nurturer
- An extreme protector
- Very persistent
- A sacrificial giver
- Extremely caring
- Servant spirited
- A mentor
- Vulnerable when needed
- A great cheerleader
- Laid back
But she is also:
- A mediocre communicator
- Very assertive/a bully
- Very good at delegating
You may be thinking, “Wow, one person possesses so many leadership qualities?” The answer is YES! I couldn’t believe it when I started to write it down. As you can see, all her qualities are not perfect or what some may consider “GOOD,” yet they encapsulate all the ingredients that make up a good leader. I would describe her leadership style as a combination of autocratic and laissez-faire.
While she is a great mother, I resented her for a long time because of the things she did to me, because I just did not understand it. She was and still is very hard on me; she humiliated me often and had extremely high expectations of my performance because I am her eldest child. She burdened me with a load of responsibilities and expected me to execute no matter what was going on in my life. I must say, she is an excellent delegator. She is persistent and on my back until I complete all the responsibilities she gives me. Each task taught me more and more how to deal with pressure and high-stress environments. I can now thank her because she prepared me for real-world experiences, and I have now mastered my crisis management abilities.
What I learned from my mother is that to be a good leader you have to be tough/assertive, must be able to delegate and not feel bad about it, be able to stand your ground, and be persistent, while also playing the role of a coach/mentor, leading with a sense of urgency, and being vulnerable while also being a cheerleader. There has to be a mix of good and uncomfortable qualities, or else, when difficult situations arise as a leader, you will be walked over, and nothing will get done. It took me a long time to get to this point to realize how important having a mix of these abilities is to leadership. This leadership style gets results! When people are led by laissez-faire leaders, they can easily get complacent and too relaxed because they take their circumstances for granted, which causes them to underperform in some instances.
Laissez-faire leaders: The Nurturers
Now let’s get into the women who have led the majority of my professional career for 20 years. I have been fortunate to have been led by some really amazing women! They were smart, with accolades to back it up, were human, in some cases were mothers, and were very passionate about leading by example, which I admired so much. There names were Sylvia, Virtudes, Eve, and Charece. There last names have been omitted to protect their identity. These women gave me a lot of autonomy to do my work, they nurtured me like a mother nurtures her child, they respected me, and most importantly they BELIEVED IN ME! This combination of qualities allowed me to excel in my career because I honestly felt like I was superwoman. They did a phenomenal job at building up my confidence, which I am forever grateful for.
Let’s start off with my very first supervisor, Sylvia.
When I was 16 years old, I started my first real job as a call-receiving operator, and inherited the best supervisor any high school student could ask for. Her name was Sylvia. What I remember about Sylvia is that she was kind, patient, always took time to listen to my concerns or requests, and respected me and treated me fair even though I was the youngest worker in the entire 200 staff company. Sylvia treated me like how a mother treated her child, and she protected, comforted, and coached me, while cracking a joke or two here and there. Because of my experience with her, I was hungry to emulate her leadership style. She left a permanent mark on me and I often think about whatever happened to her because, unlike my younger self, I value relationships more now and regret not keeping in contact with her. What I learned from this experience is that I grew as a person because I was well taken care of, but I did not know how to deal with challenges/adversity when I was faced with them. After four years, Sylvia transferred to a new department; I inherited a boss named Jeff. He made my life a living hell, and I did not have the guts to stand up to him because I was not confident to do so. That was the direct result of the example that Sylvia left me to follow. She never challenged me, so I couldn’t challenge anyone.
Virtudes was boss number two. She was very similar to Sylvia: she was extremely kind and giving, she nurtured me, she supported me, she taught me patience, she always bought me special gifts, and she took time out of her day to have lunch with me. She provided feedback of my work and never made me feel bad about making mistakes. Outside of work, she called and checked up on me, and to this day we are still in touch. I loved her so much because of how well she treated me, and I always think about how great a human being she is. Because of her leadership abilities, she helped to build confidence so I feel I can do anything in this world. She helped me to believe in myself, but again I walked away after two years with her, not knowing how to handle challenges.
Charece, boss number four, was one of my favorite supervisors. Charece was very similar to Sylvia and Virtudes in that she was very kind, she was extremely supportive, she believed in me, she never looked down on me, she would often surprise me with gift cards and little treats to make me feel special, and she would have team meetings often, which made everyone feel like family. Unlike my other two supervisors, Charece and I were very close in age, but she carried herself in a way that I respected her, although she was very young. Charece left a permanent mark on me and when I think back on life, I cry and smile when I think of her. Charece was gentle yet tough when the opportunity called. I am so thankful that we are still in touch today and even more proud of the leader she has grown into. I am forever indebted to Charece for her never-ending support, but again two years with her, I walked away not knowing how to handle challenges because of how gentle Charece was with me.
Eve, boss number five, was my longest-running supervisor: she led me for 5+ years in my role as the human resources manager overseeing 800+ employees. What a journey it was with her. Although our relationship ended on a bad note, I can honestly say I owe Eve a lot and I sincerely hope life rewards her for her good deeds. She was one of the greatest supervisors any employee could have. For a very long time, she believed in me, pushed me to take on new challenges, and never doubted that I could execute. She really helped me to grow. She made me appear bigger than I was to all the people around us, including the Board of Directors because she believed how smart I was. She depended on me, and I depended on her. We were like family for a very long time, a bond that I never thought would come to an end, but it did. She gave me a lot of autonomy to do my work. I was comfortable for a long time, but I performed. I loved my job and went to work everyday because of the type of leader she was. I worked on days that I was sick because of how well she treated me.
Finally, a supervisor that challenged me—Eve! Eventually, our relationship went downhill. She betrayed me and tried to ruin the very career she helped me to build. I was devastated at what was happening and cried often, but I finally stopped crying because during that time my mother coached me and told me I have to stand up for myself. Eve would be the first out of two supervisors that I ever challenged in my 20+ career history. I guess Eve was preparing me for my next chapter because I was on my way to meet the bully from hell. What I learned from my experience with Eve is that you must speak up for yourself even when strong emotions are involved. You must hold people accountable for their actions. It took everything out of me to challenge Eve because I loved and admired her so much, but we must learn to defend what’s right and what’s wrong no matter who is involved.
The Charismatic/Democratic leader
These women led me with their charm and charisma, with a splash of democratic leadership styles.
Elaine, another phenomenal boss, was boss number three. The funny thing is that I spent the least time working with her out of all my supervisors, yet the time spent was so profound. I only worked with Elaine for a total of one year and three months. We met at my third job, and I served as her administrative assistant. Elaine was charming with her smile, style, and grace. She would light up a room when she walked in. She was very much into fashion and would wear the best shoes, bags, and suits money can buy. She was well put-together. Her smile would let you feel safe, and her humor made you feel protected. Aside from her charm, she was also no no-nonsense leader. She checked me when she needed to, and I respected her for that, especially because I was so used to being babied by my other supervisors. She reinforced my belief about how important it is to be accountable for one’s actions. She also pushed me to take on new challenges because she believed in my abilities. She always gave me increasing responsibilities because she knew I could execute. I owe her a lot because she opened the door to the biggest opportunity of my career: being appointed as Human Resources Manager, overseeing a staff of 800+ people. What I learned from Elaine is that as you lead people you must have a balance. You must allow people space to grow, but you must also remind them of when they are messing up, whether you believe they will be offended or not. You must challenge your staff, and you must push them to grow. You will be amazed to know that the people you are leading are waiting for you to lead them. People are hungry for others to leave examples for them to follow, and Elaine did that for me.
Carine, another charmer, was boss number six. Carine was a great leader! This is something that I often reminded her of constantly. Carine was kind and very giving, and she held me accountable with a smile. She was persistent, she was honest, and she believed in developing her staff, so she allowed me to participate in a lot of professional development activities, which I really appreciated because it allowed me to grow tremendously in my career. She would often include me in the decision-making process for various projects, which I valued especially because she was the CEO. I thought, “Wow: the head of the company values my opinion.” This really boosted my confidence. Because of her belief in my knowledge and abilities, I was very loyal to her. I did any and everything she asked me to do, no matter if I had a million things going on. She followed up. She checked in to see how I was feeling and how things were going during the course of the day. She would also surprise me with treats to make me feel good. Outside of work, we would have lunches and bond like we were friends. These activities made me admire her even more. She also supported me during some of the hardest personal struggles I ever endured, which brought me even closer to her. Our relationship had a semi-rocky ending because she would later recruit my final boss, the bully from hell who I would report to before resigning from corporate America. What I learned from Carine is that it is very important to develop your team: you must invest time training and coaching them and you must hold your team accountable without feeling bad about it because, in doing these things you are intentionally grooming people who will successfully and gracefully lead a team one day because of you.
The Autocratic/Bully leader
They always say, save the best for last. I thought I would do that this time around. In 2016, I inherited an autocratic/bully leader. This by far is maybe one my most favorite bosses in the world, and she made my life a LIVING HELL but the Kesha that you know now is the product of her. I owe her everything. Her name was Martha. She was boss number seven. The funny thing about Martha is that I voted against the company to hire her, but they did it anyway. I am thankful that they did. A little bit about Martha. She was a Latina lady, about five feet and less than 100 pounds. When you see her, you would never think she would cause you any harm. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. She was dealing with a lot of personal issues in her life when she took that job, and she often took her frustration out on me.
There were times when I honestly made mistakes because, like her, I was also juggling a lot of personal issues at that time in my life and started to fall short with my duties as the Human Resources Generalist. But instead of sitting me down to discuss my short-comings, Martha would report all my mistakes to the CEO. She did it for every little infraction of mine, until the CEO came to the conclusion that I was incompetent in the job. She humiliated me and embarrassed me over and over, in front of the CEO and other staff members and thought to myself, “Why does this lady want to ruin me like this?” I was the one who reported her short-comings directly to her because it was important for me to build that comradery as my new supervisor.
She would make mistakes over and over, and often blame me for them. She would corner me in her office and antagonize me and threaten my job. She would take her lies all the way to the board of directors because she just couldn’t hold herself accountable for the mistakes she was also making. She was drowning in her work, and the only escape was to blame Kesha. I did everything in my power to build a relationship with her despite everything she was doing to me. I later learned she wanted to get me fired so she could bring in a colleague to take my job.
Man, that woman made me cry. I cried and cried and cried and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. I had enough, and one day I fought back. I sent her a long, detailed email CC-ing the CEO and letting her know exactly how I felt about everything she was doing to me. Of course, I only stuck with factual information. That would be the last day that Martha would challenge me. She left me alone after that because I finally called her out on all her bullshit. What I learned from Martha is that, as employees, you must strive for excellence no matter what. You must put your best foot forward. Never give anyone a reason to question your abilities. I was making a ton of mistakes but was focused on the fact that Martha was highlighting them instead of improving myself. I also learned that as a leader it is okay to call out your staff and humiliate them sometimes because they might need it to get their self together. I was more conscious of my work and double-checking for mistakes because Martha was intentional about highlighting them. Today, I am extra paranoid about everything I do. I triple-check to avoid errors, and I only strive for excellence. I never want to give anyone an opportunity to second-guess my abilities, and I have Martha to thank for that.
Guest Contributor, Asha Menon
I thought I would bring to you some perspectives on leadership from a different lens. I would like to share with you two answers to questions that stuck out to me when I pitched a few questions to my audience. The response is from HR Leader Asha Menon, CEO of AM Talent Partners. Connect with Asha: www.linkedin.com/in/menonasha
About Asha: Asha is the sole Founder and Chief Consultant of AMTP, an independent HR and IR Consultancy. Asha has quite a high profile in the HR fraternity in Asia, doing speaking events at various HR conferences across Asia and rather impressively was chosen as one of “Malaysia’s Most Talented HR Leaders” “in 2018 and, last year one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Global HR Leaders” by the World HRD Congress. These are not awards which Asha applied for but were awarded in recognition of her passion and contributions to the HR industry.
Here are Asha’s responses to my leadership questions:
- What qualities make up a good leader?
With the need to contend with ever-increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, leaders today must be equipped with high levels of EQ/emotional intelligence to be able to manage a diverse workforce, embrace change, and innovate in the midst of disruption. It is also imperative and significantly impactful for leaders to possess self-awareness to be consciously “inclusive” in today’s workplace.
- What have you learned about leadership in your career?
Personally, for me as a leader and having led heterogeneous teams across the Asia Pacific region, I’ve armed myself with resilience, courage, and grit to be able to deal with setbacks, make my voice heard, earn respect, and protect my people.
So eloquently stated—I couldn’t agree more! Thank you, Asha.
Here is a list of a few leadership books I highly recommend reading because they have also helped tremendously to develop me as a leader. #1 is my favorite. I hope you enjoy.
- How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie https://amzn.to/2DdXO1I
- Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan https://amzn.to/2Gouicv
- David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell https://amzn.to/2BkzYRE
- Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson https://amzn.to/2t2MhNS
- The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell https://amzn.to/2DbkEqm
- Crucial Accountability by Kerry Patterson https://amzn.to/2t7Rzb4
- Handling Difficult People by Jon P. Bloch https://amzn.to/2Gpxwga
- The ONE Thing by Gary Keller https://amzn.to/2D7k2Cm
- Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday https://amzn.to/2G9r4dR
- The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham by Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley https://amzn.to/2G9B3Qb
My hope is that you walk away with a deeper understanding of YOU—yes, YOU– and how YOU have an impact on the lives of people around you whether you realize it or not. You are leading with everything you do: by the way you talk, by your actions, by how you live your life, and by how you treat people.
One sure indicator of your leadership qualities is if people are following you. Look around you. Are you doing a good job at leading people? Are people taking action in their lives because of you? I hope your answers to these questions are “yes.”
If you enjoyed this article, please share with family, friends, and colleagues whom you think may benefit from this reading. Thank you!