Angie Morgan, Courtney Lynch, and Sean Lynch, authors of Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success, have two things in common. First, they all learned about leadership while in active duty and far outside of a classroom or corporate environment: Courtney and Angie in the Marine Corps and Sean in the Air Force. Second, they all work at Lead Star, a leadership consultancy that Courtney and Angie co-founded when they realized the private sector’s lack of leadership training and readiness.
Spark is a word used to describe someone who takes leadership on regardless of his or her title. The book so named is not only the synthesis of what they learned in teaching leadership to companies of all sizes and to leaders at all levels of the organization, but also a plan on how one can develop into a Spark. So don’t wait for that promotion or title: instead of being given permission to become a leader, become that Spark no one can ignore. Angie Moran joins us to answer questions about Spark.
1. You mention in your introduction how companies need Sparks more than ever before. But what made you decide to write this book now?
There is an urgency within businesses to adapt to change faster, to thwart disruptions faster, to innovate faster, etc. Organizations want to move fast, and in order to do so they need leaders not just represented at the top but all throughout the company. When leadership isn’t a title, but a behavior, everyone within an organization knows how to take initiative, where their focus should be, and how their actions are connected to results. This allows businesses to be nimble and responsive.
2. How was working on this book different than working on Leading from the Front? How did working with a third author change the process and how did you decide who would write what?
Great question! Leading from the Front was challenging to write because it was the first time either of us had ever written a book, and we struggled initially with how to blend our voices. With SPARK, we had experience that we could lend to the process, so getting the concept and framework down was easier. The challenge with three authors is that there are now three opinions related to content. Fortunately, we’ve worked with each other so there was high trust, which made the process much more efficient.
3. How did you come up with the seven leadership traits? Why seven and why these? Were there other runner-ups? Why did they not make it into the list?
When Sean, Courtney, and I thought about what made people Spark, we reflected on what we learned about leadership in the military, and we balanced that against the talented leaders we’ve met in our consulting work. Through this process, we identified seven behaviors that we felt best reflected individuals who standout in organizations. There were some runners up, and we’ll be the first to say that the leadership behaviors we’ve presented aren’t exhaustive – they’re just the ones we felt were most important. If we were to make an 8th behavior, it’d likely relate to “thinking quality.” We’ve been doing a lot of research on design thinking and we believe Sparks are always searching for new ways to look at old problems.
4. A topic addressed in many leadership books is the difference between leadership and management. I’d love to hear how the three of you define them and their differences.
The greatest difference between management and leadership is that management is a title … leadership is not. Management is a place on an organizational chart, leadership isn’t hemmed into a position. Management is about processes, staffing, efficiencies, and budgets. Leadership is about people. To be a manager, you need to get selected for a position. To be a leader, you need to understand that leadership is a behavior and you can demonstrate it whenever and however you like.
5. What should a potential Spark with a bad boss or in a bad culture do? How can a Spark determine a good fit during the interview process?
If you’re a Spark, or someone with Spark potential, and you find yourself in an unproductive work environment, the first question to ask yourself is “What can I do about it?” How can you influence your environment positively and who can you provide leadership to, even if it’s only your colleagues? If you feel stuck and/or not supported, that’s a great time to contemplate if this is the right environment for you. As far as determining a good environment in an interview process, I highly recommend doing your informal research when you’re onsite – do people look happy? How is performance rewarded? Of course, sites such as Glassdoor can give you insight into the type of environment you could be walking into, too (though online reviews aren’t everything).
6. Of all the steps you’ve outlined, what is the first and most important action any person can take to nourish their inner Spark?
I often find that businesses are filled with talented people with bright ideas – but what distinguishes anyone in their career is their ability to do – to act. Actions always speak louder than words and Sparks distinguish themselves through their initiative and drive.