Self-Awareness — Know your values, strengths and gaps. This is important because it means you are aware of your likes, dislikes, and triggers, and the way you respond to situations.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole F. Smith.

After 26 years, Nicole became a corporate world dropout! With her background in Talent Management and Leadership development, Nicole took all her lessons learned and became an author, a nationally ranked Leadership Coach, a certified DiSC and Emotional Intelligence Coach and Practitioner, and a certified Professional Life Coach — all while leading and running JMS Creative Leadership Solutions, a boutique leadership development and coaching practice. She is a best-selling author and international speaker helping individuals Show Up and Show Off their strengths and talents. At JMS, they focus on unlocking the potential of leaders and aspiring leaders so they can become exemplary leaders while making a significant impact — personally and professionally!

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

Yes! I am in the middle of creating a venue for others to reflect and grow. My business partner and I are cultivating a 1-day summit to help shift leaders’ mindset in Leadership, Literacy, Lifestyle, and Love. This summit will provide tools, resources, knowledge, and strategy to actualize your goals, be a limitless leader, and continue to show up and be authentic in your journey personally and professionally. So stay tuned! Of course, within my practice, we are constantly helping clients continue their self-leadership journey leveraging their emotional intelligence to make an impact at every step.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

Yes, I have a tribe that helps, guides, and is an emotionally safe space for me. But in regards to having just one leader that influences me — I don’t! Let me explain. I have a group of like-minded leaders whom all have traits and knowledge that I pull from. I have been influenced by a variety of leaders who demonstrate consistency, are decisive, compassionate, and solution and result driven in their business or employer. But I also see leaders who demonstrate a work-life blend and continuously show what is a priority to them and manage that focus when appropriate. I want to say I have been influenced by many leaders whom some may know on global stages, but I have been influenced by others who have poured into me and said, “Don’t imitate me. Take these nuggets and make them your own so you show up authentically.” And having those many influences have guided me along the way.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

My biggest mistake was that I wasn’t paying attention to the details! There are lessons in everything we do if we are paying attention. I focus on results. I am very results-driven, which can be a strength and a weakness. I started in leadership at the young age of 20! In my previous roles, I have led teams as small as just one other person and larger teams where I have to pay attention to multiple personalities and all their motivators. I didn’t at times, and it cost me. I didn’t have anyone guiding me in this. Maybe a mistake was not asking for mentorship. I was young and didn’t know what that looked like or have the confidence or courage to ask for a mentor. I discovered that as a leader, the people mattered and came first. Honestly, I was paying attention to my agenda and rising up the proverbial corporate ladder. Figured out, it is not a ladder. It jungle gym, my friends! I discovered two things during this time: 1) You have to learn how to navigate the corporate jungle gym and that it is not always about titles to be a leader, 2)You have to pay attention to the details of the tasks and most importantly, the people who get the tasks done on your behalf, and 3) I decided and committed to the type of leader I wanted show up as.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

When I was “growing up” in the corporate world with the baby boomer generation, I saw authoritative leadership and a style of just people only managing the tasks at hand. I thought that this was the way leadership was supposed to be. For a minute, I thought leadership was about being boss and telling people what to do, how to do it, and when to get it done. As I started to pay close attention, I realized that this style was not the way — at least for me. I saw that people wanted to be seen and heard. And understanding their motivations, feelings, and thoughts was critical to their productivity and efficiency. Being a leader now has nothing to do with a title — that was a belief that was passed on to me from other generations. We have to LEAD people who MANAGE the tasks. And if you want to be a leader, you have to have followers; otherwise, you are just taking a walk. Being a leader today means being authentic and inclusive; you empower, inspire, and encourage others to be present, dig deep into their values and beliefs, and motivate them to show up and lean into their strengths and talents. That is authentic, inclusive leadership!

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

Quite frankly, I stopped being bossy demonstrative authoritative leadership style. We can’t just boss people around and think we are leaders. Being bossy means making decisions or solving problems on your own, not being flexible, and being aggressive. Imagine a person stomping their foot and saying, “My way!” And this behavior shows that you lack self-awareness and do not understand how your behavior impacts others. Yes, at times, as leaders, we have to decide and commit to decisions due to the situation or the environment, but how you deliver the message will demonstrate your persuasive, influential, and empathetic leadership skills, which will command more respect and rapport as a leader.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

After being in the corporate world for 26 years, I realized the one behavior that worked for me and benefited my team members was having a coaching mindset. The coaching mindset helped me gain trust and rapport with others and demonstrated other traits that were just as important as a leader. These traits included self-awareness, empathy, and compassion, showing social awareness as I attempted to understand others’ emotions. As you can see, these are all wrapped up in that ONE vital competency we all should have, especially as leaders — emotional intelligence! By being an emotionally effective leader, I can control my emotions, influence other’s emotions and behavior, and develop relationships with my team and colleagues thoughtfully and respectfully. Emotional intelligence creates a healthy work culture in which everyone feels validated, heard, and respected. It also helps deal with issues outside of work!

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

I am placing my coaching hat on my head! My first question is: Is this leadership behavior getting you the desired results? One of the best ways to solve a problem is by looking through a different lens. That said, we should dig into what this behavior or style serves. What belief are you holding onto, and why are you adamant about hanging onto it? What are the habits that you keep doing that display antiquated leadership skills? Something within the mindset is making this leader believe they are getting positive results. Some additional questions — Who do you have around you who are not giving you honest feedback? I would suggest 360 feedback with raters who want to see you grow and want to provide honest feedback. Somewhere on this journey, leaders using an old playbook lack self-awareness, have low EQ, and are not confident in their leadership abilities and an individual development plan must be put in place to level up…into the 21st century!

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

For new and emerging leaders, I recommend accessing your emotional intelligence and leveraging it to be impactful. Start reflecting on yourself and gain a keen sense of self-awareness. Ask yourself, why do you want to be a leader? This leadership journey is not just about having a good bottom line — that isn’t your goal. Your goal as a leader is to lead people with different behavior styles, perspectives, and opinions, foster an inclusive environment that invites those differences to the table, and ensure the “tasks” get done to make the bottom line. So, how will you encourage, inspire, and empower them to do so? I encourage you to reach out to leaders who do this leadership “thing” beautifully. What characteristics do they have that work, and you see that people want to work not only with them but for them? Find those people and be courageous enough to ask, “Can you share how you became an exemplary leader?” Begin that mentor relationship now!

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.

Self-Awareness — Know your values, strengths and gaps. This is important because it means you are aware of your likes, dislikes, and triggers, and the way you respond to situations.

Empathy — Leadership Superpower! Being in tune with your team’s feelings, thoughts, and concerns help you adjust expectations, know their motivators, and allows you to get to the heart of issues, and show that trust is key among you and the team.

Flexibility– Being flexible demonstrate that you are listening to others and know that “your way” is not “the way”. It also show that you are confident in your abilities, ideas, and opinions and that other’s displaying theirs does not minimize you or what you bring to the table.

Inclusive — Allow team members to feel safe to share their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and perspectives on workplace issues to make an informative decision on matters at hand. Foster a sense of belonging that demonstrates fairness, respect, and compassion.

Coaching Mindset — As a leader, you should also take on the mindset of being a coach by taking the time to get to know your employees and their goals to help set them up for success.

BONUS: Emotional Intelligence! Leaders should be able to recognize, understand, and manage their thoughts, feelings, and emotions to be able to recognize, understand, and influence other’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It is the skillset of taking emotional and social cues and using them as data, not directives and responding appropriately.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

I go into each day with the mindset of doing everything to the best of my ability every day. I focus on what is happening today, understanding that each day provides a lesson you can take with you. I have many examples that demonstrate this; however, one that stands out is when I didn’t show up as the authentic leader I want to exhibit every day. I allowed an individual who didn’t deserve it to take my emotional power, and that masterpiece went out the window. I regretted it then. But today, I see a valuable lesson that I took that day to help create a masterpiece each day moving forward. I don’t beat myself up about it. I use it as an example for others that you can make a mistake. You cannot show up as the leader you desire if you keep ruminating on past mistakes or poor behavior. The gift we get each day is being able to try again and focus on each day as a beautiful masterpiece with many wins, lessons, and growth.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader? I want to leave the legacy of being an authentic, inclusive leader! I grew up in the corporate world and after 26 years, I had the urge and desire to show people the ugly beauty of leadership and how they could thrive as leader doing the work today which will impact tomorrow. My legacy will be that I stood loud in my authenticity. That I demonstrated to other leaders that they could be comfortable in their own skin, use their powerful voice, stand loud in their authenticity, be empathetic, and be exemplary all at the same time.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

I can be reached at JMS Creative Leadership Solutions and you can sign up for my biweekly email newsletter. I can be emailed at [email protected] and of course on LinkedIn at Nicole F. Smith, M.Ed. I look forward to connecting!

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!