Month: September 2015

always trending – leadership

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That’s a Good, Leader

Twitter: @m_e_nash || Facebook: M. e. nash’s Writer’s Page || Blog: almostfortytwo

August 1, 2014 || Updated September 10, 2015

If you conduct an internet search on the word “leader” you will no doubt come up with an impressive amount of information, including quizzes and assessments that claim to glean what type of leader you are. If you believe the assessments that I have taken throughout my career – for employers, instructors and a few that beckoned me via social networking – you would be convinced that I’m one of the best leaders alive. The reality is that I’m not. No one is. There is no such thing as a perfect leader – but being honest with ourselves and realizing that we are all fallible helps us become better leaders.

To be better leaders we have to always be aware of key areas that can either make or break our goals and reputation. In this article we will look at two different types of leaders; text book and inherent. We will also touch on customer service, the misuse of power, how perception impacts people, setting clear boundaries and showing good old-fashioned respect to others.

Bad Leader || At Office A there was a customer who tried to reach an executive (who happened to be best buds with the CEO) for weeks by calling and sending emails, all of which went unanswered. Finally the customer contacted Raquel, a member of the front line staff, and asked for directions to file a complaint against the executive. The procedure for filing complaints was to document the incident and forward the information to the CEO. Raquel followed protocol and waited for something to happen. Weeks passed and she hadn’t heard any news around the water cooler. Not soon after, the executive slacker, who by that time had racked up a number of other complaints, had been promoted. This action not only baffled all of the line staff but it angered them as well.

• Good leaders know that everyone, even the staff they like the most, must be held accountable for not meeting organizational goals.

Text Book and Inherent Leaders

Text book leaders take management classes or complete leadership tracks spurred on by their employer, their school, or by a personal thirst for knowledge. They may be introverts who happen to have landed a position that requires that they lead others. A text book leader may not want this responsibility but knows that it is a necessary evil in order to keep their jobs. These types of leaders can be successful if they develop the skills that are necessary to navigate the tricky leadership terrain. However, the truth is that not everyone was meant to lead and some who attempt fail miserably at it.

Born leaders, by contrast, come wired with certain behaviors that encourage others to listen to them. They are persuasive and passionate and the people who choose to be led by them feel that passion. Born leaders can either become honest, law abiding people who lead organizations to the pinnacle of success or they can become white-collars who cook the books (Enron) or gang members who are responsible for murders and drug trafficking (Monster Kody).

Inherent leaders have an advantage over text-bookers because not only are they behaving in a way that comes natural to them, but they can strengthen their skill by adding text book leadership to their repertoire. An inherent leader who studies the industry standards, examples and best practices is one who can make real change. 

Customer Service

One of the most important goals that most organizations have is to keep customers happy. Customers are everyone who the leader comes into contact with during their work related activities. They are team members, colleagues, and other stakeholders. If leaders fail these people the impact could linger.

“A customer…is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it…We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”  _Mahatma Gandhi

  

Bad Leader || John is the leader of an advertising company. He started there when he was just out of high school and worked his way up to CEO after earning his MBA. He felt accomplished and most of his workers knew his history. One of the rules that John put into place was that no one could eat food at their desks. However, every Friday John would bring in treats for his executive staff. They would all huddle in his office laughing and talking before taking their goodies back to the desks in their corner offices. They’d walk past the cubicles of the line staff with heaping plates of food while the line staff looked on. John sent a clear message that his rules were for some, not all.

• Good leaders know that the perception that certain members of a work team get special treatment can be based on hearsay or reality but that either way, the perception will prevail.  

Perception Is Everything

Perception can be defined as the ability to use our senses in order to understand something. In the life of a leader, whether in the boardroom or the community, perception is everything.

People died for civil rights and even today we balk when we hear about societies who still impose caste systems on its people. We balk because we know that in its essence these systems are misuses of power. That is one of the reasons that we tend to abhor dictators and throw tomatoes at stars like Gwyneth Paltrow who seem to be rubbing their wealth in our faces. Yet we find it okay in some organizations to have clear hierarchies that do not fit on the organizational charts. They are unspoken expectations that are enforced by small hints from leaders. They are also blatant attempts to define the structure of the organization as a top to bottom entity.

Leaders who demand that their staff be on time for work but are frequently late for their own meetings because of tardiness are misusing their power. The perception that they create is that because they are the boss they have earned the right to play fast and loose with company policies.

Boundaries 

There are obvious things that most leaders know they should not do. They should not drink liquor at work. They should refrain from using foul language or pat anyone on their butt and say “Good job, babe!” In any organization there should be boundaries between the leader and those who choose to follow her. Here are more things that leaders shouldn’t do:

  • They should not go on family vacations with their staff
  • If the leader is the CEO he shouldn’t be best friends with the Assistant CEO
  • The Assistant CEO should not go shopping or play golf on the weekends with her direct subordinates

Connecting with leaders on extreme personal levels, like the examples above, muddies the professional waters for the leaders and others who have to work with them. If you know that your boss went on a weekend excursion with your coworker’s family the weekend before you will be less likely to go to the leader to complain that you saw that person looking at adult sites while on the clock. 

Respect

People follow leaders because they connect with their views or behavior on some level and they appreciate something about the leader that they either see in themselves or wish to see in themselves. Leaders would be leaders only in name if people did not choose to follow them. Putting fear of retribution to the side, most people follow those who they respect. 

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” _Bruce Lee

Goals 

Organizations and their leaders always have goals to meet no matter what industry they are in. In for-profit organizations one of the ultimate goals is turning a profit. For nonprofits the pinnacle is usually staying within budget and increasing unrestricted funding to make programs better for customers. These goals are straightforward most of the time.

Leaders, whether they work in for-profit or nonprofit sectors, also have goals that are most times in line with organizational goals. We can call them micro goals. Micro goals can include individual professional development plans, going a full month without on-the-job injuries, exceeding expectations of a contract or other project, or implementing a wellness program. No matter the goal, it is always easier to reach it with a well-designed plan. At the macro level there is usually a business or strategic plan, but these roadmaps would do well at the micro level also. Departments within organizations should have tools to help staff navigate from point A to point B with as much independence as possible. The navigation tools most widely used are policies and procedures, documented regulations, processes, and monitoring departments for changes that require modification of them all. Without these tools leaders will find their staff frustrated and misinformed.

Bad Leader || Nelly worked for a nonprofit organization that employed over 250 people. She was hired to work with the facilities and maintenance department to lead an initiative that would produce better processes to meet the needs of its internal customers.

The current work order system was not efficient so Nelly wanted to look at the framework that it was built on to get much needed background. When she met with the facilities and maintenance manager she expected him to hand her binders full of information. Instead he sat behind his desk, filled with piles of paper and waited for Nelly to ask him questions. Nothing was documented. This meant that if the manager was hit by an asteroid on his way to lunch that no one in the organization would be able to pick up where he left off.

Nelly realized that people tend to feel less expendable if they are the only one who knows the combination to the safe. They mislead themselves into believing that it is a sure fire way to keep their jobs. However she also knew that in today’s ever progressive world all of the knowledge in the world cannot keep leaders from letting you go if they really need or want to.

Good leaders know that when you provide clear directions, documented procedures and accountability the results will be positive. There is no room for ambiguity in any organization, lest they want to fail.

People misuse power in a number of ways. One way is to promote or hire employees who “owe them”. For example, if you did something that could impact your livelihood and a leader is able to “save” you and does, you will likely be loyal to that person going forward. Power drunk leaders know that even if they ask you to compromise your professional mores, i.e. fudge numbers on a report, that you will do it. When other team members realize that this is the way business is done in their workplace it is like telling them not to bother.

Power 

People misuse power in a number of ways. One way is to promote or hire employees who “owe them”. For example, if you did something that could impact your livelihood and a leader is able to “save” you and does, you will likely be loyal to that person going forward. Power drunk leaders know that even if they ask you to compromise your professional mores, i.e. fudge numbers on a report, that you will do it. When other team members realize that this is the way business is done in their workplace it is like telling them not to bother.

Finally 

On our quest to be great leaders there are certain behaviors that should be avoided. Practicing nepotism, favoritism, and misusing power are just a few. To determine if we are practicing any of these undesirable behaviors we have to look far beyond what a quiz or assessment says about us. We have to look at our actions and how they impact others.

The type of culture that we promote in our organizations is critical to productivity and a happier workplace. Toxic work cultures inevitably impact the bottom line. When your employees are not happy absenteeism increases, productivity decreases, and turnover is greater. People want to go to work and love their jobs or at the very least like their jobs. No one wants to wake up five days out of the week ruing the fact that they have to go to work.

“When you want to be honored by others, you learn to honor them first.” _Sathya Sai Baba

 Bonus Suggestions for Leaders: 

  • Don’t raise your voice at your staff. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful. If you feel yourself getting to the point where you want to raise your voice take a literal step back. Remove yourself from the situation until you can calmly get your point across.
  • Approach and delivery goes a long way. For instance, never start a sentence with; “Didn’t I tell you…yada, yada!!” The person you are talking to has probably stopped listening to you and their defenses are up. You can’t get much done when that happens. Instead, take a breath before you respond to whatever perceived infraction has gotten you riled up.
  • Refrain from jumping to conclusions. Things go wrong all of the time in business, especially if there are unclear expectations and directions. Sometimes people own up to their mistakes and other times they throw their colleagues or subordinates under the bus. When the stuff hits the fan good leaders will get facts before they approach someone with criticism or disciplinary action. They will get everyone who is involved to offer their side of the story.

It is no coincidence that leaders who focus on internal customers (their employees) as well as external customers do better than those who don’t. These leaders know that without happy employees they cannot have happy customers. Good leaders know that you cannot separate the two. If one fails the other feels the impact. Now go forth and be a good leader!

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”_Colin Powell

Bad Leader || *See all of the examples above*

If a leader promotes a caste system in their organization most staff will not respect them. They will not be impressed when they see the vacation pictures from Jamaica that they took with the Assistant CEO and his family. Instead of respect there is contempt and the realization that either they are going to grin and bear it or look for other employment.

About the Writer

Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI  | Master of Science, Nonprofit Management and Leadership | Former cashier, food service worker, hotel cleaner, office cleaner, plastics molding press operator, assembler, server of at risk youth, mentor recruiter, assistant, manager and supervisor. Advocate for equality and justice.

You Can Download The PDF Here: That’s A Good Leader by m e nash

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