Name: Izaiah Swain
Title: Branch Manager/Director
Organisation: ANZ/Unturned Stone Marketing
I've been a leader in my career for over seven years as a thirty year old, however my pride and joy come from raising my kids and teaching them every day.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Izaiah's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
I've found that the most challenging thing to accomplish as a leader is to accomodate everyone in your team. Some say it's impossible and, sometimes, it may be. However for the idealists like me, many situations can be resolved by taking the time to listen to your team as individuals, not as a conglomerate.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I led my first team back in 2014, however I wouldn't consider myself a leader until closer to 2019 where I first really began to consider my team's needs, goals, strengths and weaknesses and adapt to them. Prior to this I would take a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. This can work, and it can be effective if done well, however my personal approach to leadership is to lead individuals, not teams. In this sense, my first child was really the catalyst to me becoming a leader in my own eyes.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My days are filled with a fine balance of rigidity and flexibility. Some things require a solid routine, such as waking time, bed time, meal times, etc. As a leader however, it is important to understand that not all plans can work out when urgency arises, and having back-ups are essential. To this end, my day consists mostly of whatever plan I concocted the week before to be prepared with the most recent information.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
A recent lesson I have been reminded of is that not every problem has a solution (that you like). The best leaders in the world are all still people, and we make mistakes just like the people we lead. Sometimes these mistakes aren't possible to fix or remediate and we have to decide to dedicate significant time building renewed foundation, or scrapping it and starting again. When the issue is a team member, this can be the hardest decision or conversation you have, but whatever you decide stick to it.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Any parenting book! They are full of shockingly good insights that, granted, mostly apply to kids. However if you flip the script and try and apply them to you, you may find some insight from the self reflection. Apart from this, I would have to say Magician by Raymond Feist. I know what you're thinking, this is not a book on leadership. I'm not big on reading those though. I love fantasy novels with world-building and well developed characters, and many of these books will have their own leading characters who are often also leaders through their own choices or not. In particular, Magician has reinforced for me over the years that a leader may be born, grown or lucky, sometimes all three, but ultimately what a leader does is inspire people, stand up for what is right, challenge norms (in a constructive way of course) and listen to those around them.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Don't assume you know all you need to know. Be receptive to feedback and even criticism despite how it comes across. Because whether people are trying to help you or hinder you, you can always learn something from what they say and how they say it. It is then up to you to take the advice and implement it in to your own leadership style, or see something you disagree with and maybe recognise in yourself and make the conscious decision to avoid it.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I cannot avoid discussing my kids for this question simply because I have the platform to do so and I can't help it. One of the most meaningful stories from my time as a leader comes from a chat I had with my four year old daughter. She had thrown a shocking tantrum, worst one nearly in years and I was furious. I wondered to myself why she would do this at her age. I yelled at her and sent her to time-out and realised that my reaction to her tantrum was not too dissimilar to the tantrum itself. While not condoning inappropriate behaviour, it is rarely helpful to mimic the behaviour and expect a different result. Now, I know kids are different to adults in many ways, and sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do to get through the day, but it was a good reminder to me to make sure that before I react I try and calm myself and model the behaviour I want to see in those who look up to me. In the same way at work, if your team look up to you, they will begin to model you. If they don't then you will be fighting an uphill battle for their respect.