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Teachings from a self-made leader

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Lorraine Monroe’s life changed when a teacher encouraged her to run for student office in the fourth grade. That began what was to become Monroe’s lifelong affinity for leadership roles.

Highlights include launching the 60 Minutes-acclaimed Frederick Douglass Academy in central Harlem and serving twice on the New York City school board. Then she founded her own leadership institute.

Each of her experiences gave Monroe insight into what makes a great leader. Here’s a sampling.
  • Feel uncomfortable when days pass and you don’t sense progress. A leader develops institutional antennae: instruments of perception that let you sense changes in “the organizational hum,” an ever-present vibration of activity, energy, communication, hope and striving. Learn to listen for the hum and diagnose what it’s saying about the health of your organization.

  • Keep the good things you inherit when you take over a group. Don’t try to apply your “stamp” for its own sake. You may undo what’s working without having anything substantial to replace it. Instead, watch, listen and learn.

  • Linger at work after most people have gone. Then, you’ll see who the late-workers are and can engage them in productive conversations. Quiet hours after the phones stop ringing and customers leave are the best times to bond with your most committed people.

  • Hold people’s innovations and hard work up as symbols. Monroe tells of how her team tried to offer tap dancing at the Frederick Douglass Academy. They had a venerable teacher but no tap shoes. Then, the shop teacher showed how he could produce taps from old teaspoons. As it turned out, the school won funding for the program, but Monroe kept the teaspoon as an example of her staff’s can-do spirit.

  • Yield control to people who are as devoted to the mission as you are and who possess some knowledge or skill that you don’t. No leader can be brilliant at everything. Push your ego out of the way, and let them go for it.
— Adapted from The Monroe Doctrine: An ABC Guide to What Great Bosses Do, Lorraine Monroe, Public Affairs, Perseus Books Group.

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