As we recognize National Leadership Day, MITRE’s Wen Masters discusses what she’s learned over a varied career in science and technology. One thing stands out to her: In today’s dynamic work environment, there’s no such thing as an “ideal leader.”
“How can I be a reliable leader in a changing environment? How can I anticipate changes and gracefully lead my team through ups and downs instead of being reactive?”
These are the questions Wen Masters, MITRE’s vice president of cyber technologies, has repeatedly considered along her journey to the C-suite.
Before joining MITRE, her work in academic and government environments, all within the science and technology sectors, exposed her to a range of leadership styles.
In one transformative experience at the Department of Defense (DoD), Masters observed a tenured senior executive service leader regularly gather insight from each of his team members, regardless of their status or military rank.
“He had workshops and brainstorming meetings that were collaborative debates,” she recalls. “After giving everybody a chance to talk, he would listen intently, without ever prejudging or correcting them.”
A humble mindset and consistent introspective practice can help leaders achieve the best version of themselves.
The interactive sessions proved that leadership could and should be a two-way street. To this day, Masters strives for the same healthy symbiosis with her team, regarding it as a key to effective leadership. She sums up all of her guiding principles in 25 words:
1. RECOGNIZE THAT ONE SIZE DOESN’T FIT ALL
To Masters, there’s no such thing as an ideal leader. All leaders are human and make mistakes, she notes.
“Situations are always dynamic, and people are always different. So, different times require different leadership approaches.”
2. EMPOWER THE COLLECTIVE BRAIN
Early on, she ripped a page out of her old DoD boss’ leadership handbook and her horizons immediately expanded.
“Any single person’s understanding of knowledge is limited,” she says. “When I began opening myself up to inputs from the team, I benefited from new insights about things I hadn’t thought about previously. These insights become important data points when I decide how to proceed in a given situation.”
3. AMPLIFY STRENGTHS
Leaders must get to know their people. Understanding what makes them tick, their skill sets, and their pain points all contribute to a strong relationship foundation. Further, it’s important to acknowledge an individual’s limitations and give them grace. Playing on your team’s strengths is the most productive way to advance your collective mission, Masters explains.
4. EMPLOY A MATH MINDSET
As a mathematician, Masters views life in a systematic way—considering multiple data points and factors in her effort to reach an optimal decision.
When it comes to being a leader, she derives data “from understanding who someone is, and what motivates them. Once you form a holistic picture of the situation, the best way to move forward becomes clearer.”
5. ENACT AN OPEN DOOR POLICY
The strongest connections are made through a regular cadence of simple conversations.
“I have always found it beneficial to knock on doors, and keep my office door open,” Masters says. “I want people to be able to share ideas in a casual, comfortable manner.”
6. CLEAN YOUR MIRRORS
“Teams should bounce ideas around on a regular basis, kind of like using mirrors,” Masters says. Such honest, open relationships help leaders identify their blind spots, as uncomfortable as that may sometimes be.
“A humble mindset and consistent introspective practice can help leaders achieve the best version of themselves.”
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