Unlocking Leadership Potential: Insights from May Busch

Key Takeaways

  • Reflect on past successes, review feedback, and seek trusted opinions to identify your leadership strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Use your key strengths in leadership scenarios and highlight them to others to ensure recognition.
  • Partner with those who complement your weaknesses and showcase your strengths to change perceptions.
  • Enhance self-awareness by being present, inviting feedback, and asking “what” questions to guide your actions.
  • Build a strategic network by connecting with diverse individuals, especially those outside your usual circles.
  • Manage diverse teams by engaging in reverse mentoring, sharing opportunities widely, and giving team members the freedom to act.

Identifying and Leveraging Personal Strengths in Leadership

We interviewed May Busch, the Founder and CEO of Career Mastery, to get her expert insights on leadership and career growth. With her rich background in investment banking and executive coaching, May shares practical advice on identifying and leveraging your strengths, turning weaknesses into assets, and enhancing self-awareness. She also discusses navigating career changes, stepping into higher roles, and managing diverse teams.

“Here are three simple strategies you can use to identify your unique strengths and weaknesses as a leader:

  1. Look at Your Past: What are the things that you have found you do with ease when it comes to being a leader? Maybe it’s about the way you communicate. Maybe it’s about how you make people feel. Maybe it’s about having strategic vision. The things that you do uniquely, you probably have been doing with ease without even thinking about it for some time in the past. These are your strengths. 

    In terms of your weaknesses, look at the opposite: what are they things that have always been an uphill battle for you? What aspects of leadership have you consistently struggled with?

  1. Review Existing Feedback: Take a closer look at formal feedback you’ve received, as well as notes you’ve taken on any informal feedback. There will likely be clues there as to what your strengths and weaknesses are. 
  1. Ask for More Feedback: Choose people who you trust and who have experienced you as a leader, and ask them: “How would you describe me as a leader? Please use positive words only.”

Keeping it positive makes it easier to begin and sets a constructive foundation for more conversations later. Plus, it will make your strengths more obvious. And then for your weaknesses, see what is not being said and read between the lines.”

There are two strategies that I want to share with you: 

  1. Inside Out: This strategy starts with yourself and identifying what your super strengths are, especially when it comes to being a leader. Maybe you’ve got a great network that you can tap into. Or maybe you’re excellent at reading a room and knowing exactly what to say.

    Whatever it is, make sure you know that inner inventory of things that you are exceptional in. And then, when you come across a situation where you can apply your strengths, you can use them to your advantage. So it’s looking internally  first and then applying it to external situations. 

    For example, it might be that the situation calls for detailed planning, but you’re a big picture person. If you’re aware that one of your strengths is your wonderful network, you can leverage the strength of your network to find someone who is a detail-oriented person to come in and help with that part. 

  1. Outside In: This strategy starts with making sure other people know what your special strengths are. And then opportunities will come to you, because other people will call on you when they’re in need of your special strengths. 

    How do you do that without feeling like you’re bragging? The most effective way is to share stories about particular situations where you were able to apply your special strengths. 

    If you know someone well enough, you can be more direct and say, “In that situation I was able to help. So if you ever need somebody to do that, let me know. I’d be really glad to help.”

There are three ways to do this:

  1. If You Can’t Fix It, Feature It: That’s what one of my mentors, Victoria Labalme, likes to say. And what this means is, look at the flip side of your weakness, which can usually be turned into a strength. For example, if you’re not seen as the most decisive person, then you can lean into that and be the person who instead taps into the wisdom of the room and builds consensus. 
  1. Partner with Someone Who has the Complementary Skill to Your Weakness: So for example, if you’re indecisive, you could team up with somebody who is very good at making decisions. So you form a leadership team and can solve problems together more effectively. 
  1. Go on a Campaign: If it’s a perception issue and your “weakness” is just something people haven’t seen you do yet, then you can go on a campaign. This is what my friend and former colleague Carla Harris did. People weren’t perceiving her as tough, even though she was plenty tough. So she went on a campaign to use the word “tough” as many times as she possibly could. And in a few months, she heard her team coming down the hall saying, “I hope you did all your homework because Carla Harris is so tough.” And she knew she had really nailed it.”

“Self-awareness is at the heart of being a great leader. Leadership is about progressing toward a common purpose by bringing people along. So if you’re not aware of how you are landing with others and how others are perceiving you, then that can be a real problem for you as a leader. 

Here are three things you can do to develop your self-awareness: 

  1. Pause and Notice Your Own Behavior in the Moment: And that takes being more present in the moment. Then you can be intentional about observing yourself and then choosing how you want to conduct yourself, how you want to speak, and how you want to come across.
  1. Be Open to (and Invite) Feedback: Feedback can be so scary because we don’t like to hear that we aren’t doing things exactly perfectly. But as one of my colleagues says, “Feedback is love.” Platonically, of course. Feedback is love. Framing it this way makes it a whole lot easier to be open to that feedback, listen to it, and take the pieces that are really going to help you become a better leader. 
  1. Ask Yourself “What” Questions, not “Why” Questions: For example, instead of asking, “Why did I say it that way?” Ask yourself, “What was it that caused me to say that? What was the situation? What was I doing?” This is something I learned from Tasha Eurick her HBR article about what self-awareness really is and how to cultivate it. And it works because “what” questions lead you to concrete action steps you can take. Instead of worrying or assuming the worst about “why” something happened, you can take action to address what went wrong and what you can do differently next time.”

Navigating Career Transitions and Opportunities

May is speaking on stage at a conference
May Busch

Here are three actions to take when you’re thinking about a career change or new opportunity: 

  1. Listen to Your Inner Voice: Take time to reconnect with yourself. It might be through breathing, meditation, journaling or a trip away from your usual environment. Whatever it takes, listen to your inner voice and let it be your guide. The goal is to find out what you really want, not someone else’s idea of success.
  1. Ask for Feedback: Talk to trusted family members, friends, colleagues, or former professors who know you well. Ask them for their observations on when you’ve been the most and least happy in your career, and what you were doing in each case. This gives you an outside perspective on your preferences you might not have noticed otherwise.
  1. Conduct Experiments: An experiment is the smallest possible step you can take that gives you information without risking your career. It’s like a “baby step.” For example, you could set up a meeting with someone who is in the position you want. Talking to someone who is already there will give you a better idea of if it’s a move you really want to make.”

Here are 3 steps to take to prepare for a higher leadership role:

  1. Reframe the Situation: A new role brings new challenges and can make you question whether you’re ready. But remember that they chose you for a reason. Remind yourself of all the experience and skills you do have. And think of this as an exciting learning opportunity.
  1. Learn the Care and Feeding of Your Team: You want to treat people the way that they want to be treated. So have conversations with your team and get to know them as people. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What motivates them? And how can you best support them?
  1. Build a Support Network for Yourself: When you’re a new leader, it can feel pretty lonely. It can be helpful to build an informal network where you have other people that are in similar situations to yourself, or people who are further advanced that you can go to for advice. You could even hire a coach or join a mastermind group.”

Firstly, if you’re looking to change careers, connect with people at the edges of your network. And then connect with people at the edges of their networks and so on. The people closest to you are a good place to start, but they’re likely to travel in similar circles to you and therefore less in touch with those completely new opportunities. 

Then, once you’re actually making your career transition, it’s useful to have a diverse network of relationships you can draw on for advice, support and mentoring. The more diverse your network of relationships, the more you can be sure to have the right people to turn to when challenges come up. And the more likely it is that your transition will be successful. 

Finally, to build your strategic network, be thoughtful about the kinds of people you will need in your career. Ideally, choose people you trust and respect who collectively bring a mix of talents, expertise, experiences, backgrounds, seniority, skill sets and connections. And when you meet with them, remember to end the conversation with, “Who else should I talk to?” or “Who else would have interest in this?” That way you can keep expanding your network with warm introductions.”

Building and Leading High-Performing Teams

Here are 3 ways to bring out the best in a diverse team:

  1. Engage in “Reverse Mentoring”: This is when you ask your team members for advice. For example, you could ask a junior team member to keep you up to date on what’s going on at their level. This is a great way to tap into the wisdom of the room.
  1. Share Opportunities Widely: When opportunities come up, give them to more than just “the usual suspects”. If you get into the comfortable routine of always giving assignments to a few trusted people, you’ll miss out on the strengths of the team members you haven’t seen in action yet. 
  1. Give Them Freedom to Act: First, make sure your team members are clear on your expectations and on what decisions they can make on their own. Then give them access to the resources and conversations they need to do their job. And finally give them the freedom to test their ideas and put their creativity to work.”

Here are 3 strategies to defuse conflict between team members:

  1. Choose Your Words Wisely. When dealing with a tricky conversation, stay away from words that might sound confrontational or like you’re arguing. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in a debate instead of moving towards a good outcome. 
  1. Go With the Flow. When a conflict has been brewing for a while, it will take a while to resolve. So don’t put pressure on finding the solution right away. Be okay with having a series of conversations. And always leave the door open to speak again.
  1. Find Common Ground. Tune into what success looks like, for you and for them and try to find the underlying goals you all have in common. When you tap into someone’s bigger aspirations, like having a successful career or making a meaningful contribution, you’ll have greater scope for finding a way forward.

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