Courageous Leadership, Collaboration, and Change - In Conversation with Leslie Motter

Talking Trends
4 min readAug 11, 2022
Leslie Motter

One of the biggest aspects of leadership involves doing things that others may be afraid to do. Being brave, making tough decisions, and standing by them to ensure the betterment of the organization and employees is what defines a leader. Through troublesome situations and times of change, a leader must be able to act decisively, courageously, and candidly.

Leslie Motter is a resilient and strategic C-level executive. With years of experience leading in various organizations such as American Express and Make-A-Wish America, she is an adaptable connector, passionate about collaborating courageously, driving change and transformation, and making an impact.

Tell us about what it means to be a courageous leader like yourself. What defines your leadership style? How has it helped you through difficult situations, or through spearheading a change?

“Courageous leadership manifests in many different ways, and the aspect that I find comes first and foremost is integrity. A courageous leader doesn’t do things because they’re easy, but because they’re right. Sometimes, leading with courage and integrity means enacting change — whether addressing a difficult situation, giving sensitive feedback, or even changing your role.

“Leading with courage and integrity also means not being afraid to speak up. A common misconception I’ve seen in work cultures is that a ‘nice’ individual is someone who doesn’t say anything negative to anyone; someone who ignores issues. From my perspective, being ‘nice’ is, instead, speaking up when there’s helpful information a team member could benefit from, and giving genuine constructive feedback. This is especially so for those with the privilege to be in leadership roles — it is the responsibility of leaders to share their perspective and have candid conversations with their team, not to withhold their informed opinions for the sake of being ‘nice’.

“Along those lines, what makes a leader’s involvement and contribution most effective is having strong relationships built upon trust. To be more specific, trust that everyone’s intentions are positive and in the spirit of continuous improvement. Otherwise, leaders will struggle to share their authentic point of view, and team members will struggle to accept that feedback. It takes courage to be vulnerable and take that initiative.

“I’d describe my particular leadership style as a blend of servant leadership and situational leadership. Many of the individuals I work with have different needs that change over time or in different roles, and changing my level of involvement is how I can best support them. I adjust my leadership approach based on what others need from me. Sometimes, my team members need a more hands-on approach from me; other times, they just need a sounding board or to escalate issues and I adapt accordingly.

“One experience that captures this is when I had a conversation with a team member that wasn’t meeting the expectations of her position. I asked her about her personal feelings — what she enjoyed doing, and what she dreaded doing, what gave her energy and what depleted her. Through this conversation, it became clear to both of us that she was not in a role that she enjoyed — the root of the issue causing her low performance. This was a tough conversation about an individual’s performance at work that could’ve become negative or ‘ugly’, but it didn’t. It remained pleasant and constructive due to the trust in our work relationship, as well as the candid approach I took with her to focus the discussion on her, not just on her performance. This positive turn doesn’t always happen in performance-based conversations, and leaders must be prepared for cases when the conversation becomes more challenging but still necessary.

“A few years ago, I led a major technology transformation effort. My team and I developed the vision of creating a cohesive network of modernized technology across the organization. We advocated for creating consistency where it did not previously exist. This new centralized technology upgrade enabled the organization to effectively pivot to remote overnight during Covid, to be efficient and to continue to deliver the mission nearly seamlessly.

“Any change you undertake, personal and professional, requires courageous leadership. Initially, not everyone was in agreement with the changes and there was pushback.
Through exploring the benefits, the vision, and the risk mitigation of the changes, most colleagues were able to see the benefits and lean in through the pain of transition. Many leaders were huge advocates for our technology advancement and still are. We have strong relationships built on trust.
Courageous leadership is staying the course when it is the right thing to do for the organization even when there is pushback on a decision while simultaneously listening to and acknowledging concerns and remaining flexible enough to adjust where needed. “

It’s clear after spending time with Leslie that her style of leadership is intentional, empathetic, courageous and authentic.

Thanks for sharing, Leslie.

Leslie Motter on LinkedIn

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