22: Leaders with Heart Deal with Their Imperfections and Make Them Better

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Today on the podcast we have Tammy Taylor, COO at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In this episode, she shares about her leadership journey, her style, and a little about how she was not always the best leader she could be.

Like many leaders, Tammy shares how, at one point, she let her ego get the best of her, but put that aside to become a better listener. Tammy outlines her communication strategy she uses while overseeing a 1300-person organization. She talks about the importance of celebrating successes and being an astute listener.

Her final words of wisdom for leaders was very impactful with such words used like “courage”, “imperfection”, and ”status quo”. This is a must-listen.

Extensive leadership experience in science and engineering disciplines. Experience in applied science and technology to support nuclear nonproliferation issues to identify and characterize emerging and persistent threats. Developed and led Radiological Community Preparedness Resources (RadCPR) Project focused on Emergency Responder preparedness for effective response to radiological incidents. Worked directly with Emergency Response communities to determine gaps in current state of preparedness and developed resources, including standards, protocols, and a web-based reference site to address needs. Led the development and coordination of Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation, 1st (2009) and 2nd (2010) Editions. Chaired ASTM Committee E2601 – Standard Practice for Radiological Emergency Response.

Specialties: Consequence management and recovery training specializing in radiological dispersal device (RDD) and nuclear detonation threats, response and recovery. Community preparedness. Environmental remediation, especially as related to radiological contaminants.

Leadership Beginnings

I found myself being efficient at being able to develop procedures and get other people – post-docs, students, technicians – into the laboratory more seamlessly than I could find time myself to do it.

I think that some of my supervisors recognized that and started pulling me into more leadership opportunities where I could, instead of doing procedure development, think about strategy development. I enjoyed that tremendously.

So it wasn’t a single event – it was several projects I was working on that kind of culminated in this new approach of building strategy, developing strategy. I really enjoyed writing proposals – not everybody enjoys writing proposals – and I was good at that. I’m good at writing; I’m good at speaking.

I think there are reward systems in place for recognizing that you have the opportunity to build on this talent. I, in turn, tried to really build that into what I do with the staff that I engage with.

It’s not that your people are staying put and just being 100% loyal to you, but it’s that you are growing and developing them and flourishing into what they’re called to be. #leaderswithheart Click To Tweet

Trust is the Foundation

I remember taking a Ken Blanchard course on situational leadership. It’s actually their Situational Leadership 2 curriculum, and it really clicked with me.

I hope that my direct reports see me as a person who’s really adaptable to what they need specifically. I am thrilled to be working with a group of people right now who are very autonomous, and the luxury of that is you can almost trust and then lightly verify, and make sure that things are going the way that you expect them to go. So people who are on the very high end of that leadership development style.

And then when you have someone who comes new into the position, making sure that they fully understand things, providing more time available to them, maybe weekly one-on-ones is usually how I start, so that people can get acquainted with the job through the lens of your expectations and my expectations for them.

I think that kind of encapsulates my leadership style.

I really trust my people; they have to create a reason for me not to trust them. I try to be really responsive to what their specific and individual needs are. Click To Tweet
There’s no destination here – it’s a journey. #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetAs leaders, the more senior you get, the more successful you are, the ego doesn’t get smaller – it’s just that we need to learn how to put it in check. Click To Tweet

Different Ways of Connecting

I think it’s important for myself, my boss, and my direct reports to have that connection to our staff. We each have a variety of tools that we use to get in touch with staff.

For me personally I have a lunch forum, where I buy lunch for people and teams of 8 or less, on subjects of interest inspired by the staff. They can propose anything and gather like-minded people, or a diverse-minded set of people to come together on that topic and we hash it out over lunch together.

My favorite thing to do, which I don’t have enough time to do with great frequency, is getting out into the field and seeing their laboratory work, the office environments where they perform their duties, cyber laboratories, just kind of getting out into the field and seeing things, attending group meetings. Just spending time.

Staff always have questions about what vision is being set at the executive leadership level, what kind of strategy is being developed, so just being able to have time to communicate about those things.

I have a weekly message that I send out every Friday afternoon that touches all of our staff. During the four years I’ve been doing that, I have individual conversations with staff. I respond personally to every response that they may provide to those things. I make sure that they come out from my inbox.

In any given week, there are on average only three or four of those individual responses, something that touches somebody that they want to make a comment on.

I try to find ways to connect personally. It may be only 15 or 20 staff that you touched on any individual week, but your relationship is built from that.

Be courageous in tackling those problems that you’re struggling with. Don’t acquiesce to just accepting them and becoming a status quo. Click To Tweet

 


 

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