Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Leadership Lessons: Dr. Alicia Aitken

I recently interviewed Dr. Alicia Aitken , managing director Asia Pacific, Human Systems International (HSI), to talk about the ins and outs of leadership in today’s competitive business landscape.  Aitken is a keynote speaker at the upcoming ProjectWorld & World Congress for Business Analysts 2014 conference in Seattle. She will be presenting a keynote session entitled, “Benchmarking Risk Management: What Good Looks Like.”

Check out what Aitken had to say:

IIR: How do you, as a leader, stand out in a crowd in this competitive business world?

Aitken: Being authentic. Today’s world is full of leadership models, business school taught methods and processes. Leaders stand out by being authentic and true to who they are and who they are leading.

IIR: What are characteristics of a GREAT leader?

Aitken: For me, great leaders are those that are not only visionary but are able to bring people on the journey with them to share and understand the vision and inspire them to want to work towards a better future state. Great leaders take the time to know themselves as well as their team and work to leverage each team members’ strengths on the journey.  Great leaders lead with authenticity and courage.

IIR: How does a successful leader communicate?

Aitken: Often and in many different ways. People hear and understand in different ways, it’s important for leaders to work hard to find and use all the different communication techniques, one-on-one, group messages, email, notice boards, texting and most importantly, listening. 

IIR: Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?

Aitken: Dr. Lynn Crawford has been the most influential leader in my life. She has taught me not only about project management but how to succeed in life by following your passions, having the courage to live by your values no matter what, constantly reflecting on your own practice to ensure you’re always improving, to open doors for good people along the way and to have the courage to walk through doors opened by others for you and the good grace to thank you as you step through. 

IIR: What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization or team?

Aitken: Who joins the team.  

IIR: As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?

Aitken: Encourage all team members to voice ideas and try new things and have the self-control when some of them inevitably fail not to get angry but talk through how we can learn from the lesson.  

IIR: How do you encourage creative thinking within your team or organization?

Aitken: I try to hire people with diverse backgrounds and diverse education paths so that my teams are mixtures of different ways of thinking. The mix of people generates ideas that spring from different origins which fosters creativity simply by coming at problems from different perspectives.

IIR: Which is most important to your organization or team? (mission, core values or vision?) How do you communicate the “core values” to your team?

Aitken: Core values are most important as they are the stable. The core values underpin the delivery of changing missions and visions over time. The core values are communicated both implicitly (I model them) and explicitly (I talk openly about what the core values are, how they manifest in behaviors and why we have them).

IIR: How do you help a new employee understand the culture of your organization?

Aitken: I talk to them. We are small enough that I can talk to everyone one-on-one. As we grow this will become less one-on-one and more through group sessions.

IIR: What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Aitken: Self awareness.

IIR: What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Aitken: I’m not sure there are challenges that relate to today in particular. Leadership is a base human need. It has been around for millennia and will continue into the future.

IIR: What is the one behavior that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?

Aitken: Hubris.

IIR: Can you explain the impact that social media has made on you as a leader?

Aitken: It has given me one more mode of communicating and bonding with my team. It has slipped into the mix along with everything else we do.

IIR: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

Aitken: Asking questions shows you care not ignorance – listening is one of the best skills you can employ with team members, clients and co-workers.

IIR: What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

Aitken: I am constantly looking for people I think are good at things I am yet to learn and try to model from their example

Aitken will be speaking at ProjectWorld & World Congress for Business Analysts 2014, taking place in Seattle, Washington September 22-24th at the W Hotel. The 2014 program is designed with courses for all training levels, a robust agenda, and most importantly tangible lessons which you can begin implementing the day you return to your office, making you even more valuable to your organization. PW&WCBA offers attendees 36 PDU/CDUs - that's more than half of the required credits necessary to maintain your certification in just one place.

To learn more or register for the event, click here:  http://bit.ly/1kA3cjq 

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