Sometimes it’s possible to get a lifetime’s worth of education in just 30 minutes. Such was the case in our latest Inclusive Leadership Session with Michael Baptiste on Committed Leadership. Michael is the Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Metro Atlanta Chamber and he is responsible for ATL Action for Racial Equity. It’s part of his job to get as many of the thousands of business leaders in the Metro Atlanta region to commit to bold action for racial equity. What’s especially interesting about Michael’s approach — and it mirrors what we learned from Aubrey Blanche in our first session — is that Michael thinks about leadership in terms of humility and service, and that’s the lens through which he views committed leadership.
Said Baptiste, “A committed leader realizes that leadership is a privilege that’s earned and not a right. It’s about service first and foremost. Putting others needs before your own, becoming more connected and committed, more capable today than you were yesterday. A willingness to learn and a willingness to be taught. The best leaders surround themselves by people who are smarter than they are who can fill their blind spots. A committed leader ensures that those around them are set up for success.”
Commitment, as Baptiste describes it, is to the people you lead. It’s about building relationships based on trust and an acknowledgement of each individual. “You have to lead based on who you are leading. Everyone requires different motivation, you have to be able to adjust with who is in front of you.” Trust, especially for the youngest generation currently in the workforce, is best earned with a leader’s willingness to be transparent. Team members today want to hear “the good, the bad and the ugly” and they want to understand if and when we’ve made mistakes, what we’re learning as an organization and how we’re pivoting. The key to mitigating mistakes, says Baptiste, is about having the right people in the room. “You have to be able to trust others for what you hire them for. You can’t be afraid to take risks, but you can’t dance around a mistake. Whether you make a mistake or a team member does, it’s a great learning/coaching moment.”
Committed leadership means both modeling how to admit to and learn from a mistake, and it also means helping team members do the same — which grows the team’s capacity to take bigger risks together. One of the ways Michael ensures his team is always ready to step up to challenges is investing in their development. “I tell people when I hire them, I’m positioning you to take my job at some point. I want to make sure you have all the resources and tools to step into my role at some point. I want you to say that your time with me was the most rewarding, the most challenging, and no matter where you go next you’ll have those skills.”
Michael left us with seven great pieces of advice for committed leaders:
1. Be your own leader, and be the best leader that you can be — take the best from every leader you encounter (and leave behind what doesn’t work).
2. Follow The Four Agreements: be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best (whatever that is for that day).
3. Always lead with good intent.
4. Embrace differences. The more you can embrace, acknowledge and respect differences the more you will build trust with your team.
5. Listen to understand.
6. Meet people where they are. Wipe away the history and show up for the moment you’re in.
7. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable. The more you can step outside your normal seas, that’s where you see yourself blossom and grow and develop.