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5 States of Mind of a Leader – By Sylvie Veilleux

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Author Sylvie Veilleux, VP of IT for Mozilla

There are a lot of articles and books on how to be a great leader.  You can easily get lost on what works for you with the sheer volume of different schools of thought.  I want to give you a different perspective and focus on what’s happening from the inside of a leader when they, or you, are at your best.  What state of mind are you in?  Who is surrounding you?  What pushes you to continuously do more?

As I reflect on the decades of IT leadership I’ve been privileged to be a part of, there are 5 states of mind that were instrumental for me in leading and being my best when doing so.  Leading as a technologist, as a leader of people, and as a woman in a predominantly male industry. Those 5 states of mind are:

  1. 1.Enjoy it more than not
  2. 2.Be vulnerable
  3. 3.Don’t take yourself too seriously
  4. 4.Develop deeper relationships
  5. 5.Lead from any chair


Enjoy it more than not.  If you are enjoying what you are doing most of the time, it’s a good place to be.  The energy, innovation, commitment and dedication needed to be a great leader can only be sufficiently fueled when you enjoy what you are doing. You know you are in this state when the day, the week, the month or more, has gone by and you just didn’t want to stop doing what you were doing.   If you are not having fun most of the time, you are usually just focused on completing the task at hand as quickly as possible so you can move on to something else.  If this is a typical day for you, assessing what is causing you to feel this way (i.e. the work itself, the purpose of your contributions, the role you are in, the people around you, who you report to, the industry you are in, etc.) is an essential step to make room for what makes you happy.

Be vulnerable.  Oh my, a leader that shares something that makes them vulnerable?  Yes!  Having the courage to share your vulnerabilities makes you stronger.  Leaders do this all the time!  They surround themselves with people that are better then they are at one or several things.  Taking this a step further, and sharing with your peers, team and collaborators on what you are good at and how it can help them, opens the door for you to accept help in areas you are not skilled at.  Accepting help and appreciating the talents and views of others, are key in enjoying what you do.  How fun is it if you struggle at something and don’t ever ask for help?Not much fun in my book!

Don’t take yourself too seriously.  How can you, if you are responsible for a large set of critical business services, a team of people, large amounts of money, strategic decision making?  Yes these things are serious and you must consider all aspects of your actions and their outcomes.  What I want to highlight here is that it’s OK and wonderful to show the other side of you.  You as a playful, funny, quirky, eccentric person, or other traits you exhibit in moments of pleasure around those you love or when practicing a passion of yours.   It’s ok to occasionally show your “not-too-serious” side.  It may be ok to show it more often.  The point is, just remember to call yourself out when everything you do and every thought you have is, well lets just say…Too Freaking Serious.  You will be amazed at what you can solve and the positive impact you can have when you shift your space to something lighter.

Develop deeper relationships.  What does that mean? Do you mix professional relationships with personal ones?  Having deeper relationships is to know more about what drives another person.  It’s also about knowing what they care for, what they fear and why they say and do the things they do.  It’s about someone who can be your side coach, someone you can trust will tell you when you are doing the thing you do not want to be doing, someone truly looking to help you improve or develop.  It’s someone who can give you the feedback you need at the exact time it’s needed.  Having people like this around you makes you stronger and better.

Lead from any chair.  Wherever you are in an organization, a team or a group, know that the leadership chair is not just one seat for one person.  It’s many seats.  Sharing the leadership chair will create fuller experiences for everyone.  Allow yourself to be lead and to support, to learn and have fun.   Leading from any chair is also an invitation to lead regardless of your title or position in a group.  When that opportunity presents itself, it’s up to you to take it!

Leadership starts from within.  Assess your state of mind when at your best and try to bring them to the table every day.  Life is too short to not enjoy the ride!

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  • Lisa Whitehouse

    Great point on enjoying what you do and not taking yourself to seriously. Humor and the ability to laugh at oneself is a big part of being approachable as leader, peer or team member. Be your authentic self!