Lessons from the Art of Leadership Conference

Great leadership is vital to any successful organization. At 6S, we are continuously looking for ways to improve — both individually and as a company. To help better ourselves, we attended the Art of Leadership conference on Monday and gained some valuable insights from many inspiring speakers. The lineup was diverse, including New York Times best-selling author of The Happiness Project and Better than Before, Gretchen Rubin; NASA astronaut, Chris Hadfield; Somalian hostage survivor who was played by Tom Hanks on the big screen, Captain Phillips; and many more.

One of the main takeaways from the conference was to understand yourself better so you can better lead others. Gretchen Rubin’s presentation was focused on this concept and how habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. She proposed that we operate 40% of the day because of them. She also introduced the idea that all people fall under one of four tendency groups:

  1. Upholders: They keep external and internal expectations. These are the type of people that keep their word to others and to themselves. They understand how to do something really well, but have a hard time thinking outside the box.
  2. Questioners: They hate the arbitrary and question everything. They love to learn and will only do something if it makes sense. They have an issue of analysis paralysis — the need to understand everything and want of perfect information.
  3. Obligers: They are the rock of the world. They are great at keeping external expectations but not internal. This group is subject to resentment and burning out.
  4. Rebels: They resist all expectations, internal and external, and will do things their own way. They think outside the box but are hard to manage because they always push back.

Rubin explained that most of the population falls under the Questioners or Obligers groups. To manage Questioners, you must help them set boundaries. For example, giving them two weeks to research their view and make a decision so they don’t burn out. To manage Obligers, you must set external accountability for internal expectations in order for them to be met. You must also watch out that they are not doing too much for too many people.

Her final address was urging the audience to not try to figure out which was the “best group” to fall under, but rather to really understand the motivations of the people they manage. Not all people are clear cut into one group so it’s paramount to understand why people do they do the things they do.

While the conference was centered around leadership skills, the subject matter was relevant for all levels of a team, covering communication, perseverance, and developing skill sets. Professor Liane Davey, an Industrial/Organizational Psychology expert from the University of Waterloo, led us through a process to guide toxic teams on how to become healthy, and take healthy teams to their next level. She explained that giving good feedback starts with a positive assumption, and to change your team for the better she recommends amplifying the voice of the minority, learning to say no and embracing productive conflict.

The shining star of the day was the tireless and enthralling Commander Chris Hadfield. A truly engaging speaker, his talk centered around practicing competencies. He told us that success is not about being born brave or good at things, it’s about being led through a process. He discussed the relentless pursuit of competence, and sharpening your focus by asking: “What’s the next thing that’s going to kill is?” That’s a bit intense for our intents and purposes as a digital marketing agency, but the principle, he explained, gives us permission to ignore the minutiae, which is remarkably fitting for our digitally-fuelled lives. It makes sense, he went on, to visualize defeat and then plan for it, because everything breaks and you will build confidence by strengthening decision-making skills.

Another major takeaway from the conference, aside from a signed copy of Commander Hadfield’s new book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, was how proud I felt that the 6S values mirror much of what these keynote speakers had to say. In a highly competitive industry, we are extremely fortunate to work in a supportive, communicative and respectful environment, and events like this serve as great reminders of that fact. #WeAre6S 

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