February 1, 2020
In 2015, The Fedcap Group established a Leadership Academy. Staff from our 22 companies compete for a slot in this challenging, year-long professional development experience.
Christine McMahon, the CEO of The Fedcap Group, welcomes each new class. After sitting in on her presentation, I asked if I could serve as guest blogger this week to share the topline guidance, insight and expectations she imparted.
Chris began by stating that she does not actually self-identify as a leader; indicating that this title presumes people are following, which suggests a degree of hubris that is unfitting for a leader.
She went on to discuss the tremendous obligation and responsibility of every leader. “When organizations fail, while it is never easy to transfer from one agency to another, clients can usually find a new place to receive services pretty rapidly. The people who really experience the brunt of poor leadership are the employees. Their livelihoods are impacted, many having invested their entire professional career within a single company. Staff, and their families, are counting on leaders to do the right thing to ensure the solvency of the company. I don’t go a day without contemplating this.”
Chris stressed that this way of thinking is not imposed on leaders but comes to you over time. “And when it does, the pressure will weigh on you. Consistently, you’ll ask yourself, am I doing what is right for the staff/team?” She shared that this is what keeps her up at night, and that if there is a time when this feeling about her role disappears, she should no longer serve as CEO.
During the class, Chris highlighted the three core elements of leadership that have, over time, become the foundation of her approach:
1) Listening to understand. Chris stressed that listening to understand is very different than just listening. When people come to you to make a decision or resolve an issue, there is tremendous value in trying to understand the larger picture, as opposed to driving directly to a solution. She pointed out that “It’s not always easy to understand. For me, the only way to understand is to ask questions. If you approach me, be prepared to be pummeled with questions. I have learned that at times, the person communicating their position does not fully understand the larger picture. Questions can help them deepen their critical thinking. Leaders need to build the skills necessary to understand what the person is trying to communicate and why it matters.”
2) Mining Perspectives. Chris underscored the value of “mining a library of perspectives.” She talked about the fact that when making decisions, she presumes that she starts out with only about 10 percent of the information that matters, and that seeking out diverse perspectives gets her close to 70 percent of the information that matters. The speed in which a leader has to make a decision drives how many perspectives can be sought. A good leader must continually remind themselves that they do not have all the facts. “You just don’t know what you don’t know.”
3) Setting Vision. Chris emphasized that every person in a leadership position should develop the capacity to set a vision. Whether it is about productivity standards, program culture, staff professional development or the future direction of the company—leaders need to hone this skill. “Setting a vision is complicated. In all cases, it needs to be realistic and at the same time stretch the team or organization. It also needs to be forward looking, positioning the program or the organization to succeed in the changing marketplace. Vision setting, by definition, requires being comfortable in ambiguity. A well-thought-out vision is inspirational. I have found that people will aspire to reach a bold vision, even if they cannot see the promised land at the end.”
The 2021 Leadership Academy Class was deeply motivated by the comments of our CEO and expressed their commitment to developing their critical thinking skills and becoming thoughtful, seasoned leaders.
Chief Strategy Officer
The Fedcap Group