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Learning in Leadership

Apr 22, 2014   //   by eahill   //   Blog  //  No Comments

In my experience, leadership is often the reason employees leave a company, fail in their jobs, or generally just aren’t satisfied with their own development.  Being a leader is so much more than thinking you get to boss people around all day.  That’s what differentiates a manager from a leader.  Leaders strive to train their staff while managers think that’s irrelevant and wasteful.  I’ve come up with with my own personal list of some common mistakes that managers make and ways to correct them.

Shutting down: A common mistake that managers make is not considering the thoughts and ideas of their employees.  Being in a position of authority means that your employees come to you with questions and hopefully seek you out as a resource and mentor.  Having the presence of mind to encourage questions and foster that communication makes your job easier.  More importantly, it shows that you are willing to learn yourself by not just listening to yourself, but by being open to what others have to say.

Focusing on negative actions: It has been my experience both as a manager and as someone who is being managed, that bosses focus towards the negative.  It’s an easy trap to fall into, but one we must avoid.  A phrase that always runs through my head when I realize I might not be focusing on the strengths of my workers or giving praise on occasion is “Catch them doing something right.”  It’s simple yet effective for me because I know I want my employees to understand that I value them.  I notice that when people are put into positions of authority they think that part of their job is observing their staff’s actions.   In observing they misunderstand it’s not to purposefully find something “wrong” with them, but about seeing how they are an asset to your team.

Start the day in silence: I feel sure that this one is not something most managers think about.  How often have you arrived at work for the day ready to go and feeling good and there’s not interaction with your boss?  How about with your fellow employees?  Now, I realize that I’m a morning person and that most people are not morning people, but in my opinion it sets the tone for the day.  I worked for a company where the CEO used to walk in, past everyone’s desks in the office and head straight to his office with his head down.  He’s a great guy, but he had no interactions with the staff which kind of left me feeling like he didn’t care about us as a company.  I made it a point to always say hello to him and smile as a way of creating something positive when he arrived.  In my own time as a manager I’m always sure to greet my fellow employees and say good-bye when they leave.  I’m spending more time on this one because sometimes it really is the little things that make a difference in someone’s day.

Negativity as a form of development: I have definitely seen this method used on myself and other managers use this on their employees.  This comes in forms of yelling, demeaning the employee, berating them in front of others, or embarrassment.  This is never effective if you mean to offer criticisms as a way to train or correct actions in your employees.  I’m not saying you have to speak to your employees like toddlers and avoid truths about their work, but it does not mean purposefully making them feel that they are worthless.  My method is to be direct (read: not cruel) about what it is that they can improve upon while offering them a solution or alternative to how to perform that action differently in the future.  That’s real constructive feedback and it cements a further open dialogue between you and your employees.

Being a know-it-all:  We are all continually developing, but some of us are more open to that than others.  Some people fall into the boss role because they’re the only option while some people prove they’re an excellent fit and role model for their staff.  When I got my first promotion to a supervisor I made this mistake.  I couldn’t understand why some of the employees wouldn’t listen to me.  I was frustrated and it created tension between us.  However, I reflected on why that was and I quickly stepped back and observed my own interactions with the staff.  I realized that I cannot change other people and the only person I can change is myself.  It was a learning experience for me as I realized that I had to change how I interacted with my staff and it quickly turned around for me.  I became more observant and realized what motivated them and how to drive them.  Realizing that even though you are are the boss it doesn’t mean you don’t have something to learn.

Setting the tone:  This mistake is important to me.  Most people can identify with that feeling of being dissatisfied with a job that they’ve worked for.  You get that feeling of unease and sense of dread because going to work just doesn’t make you happy.  As a leader it’s your job to set the tone for your staff.  They really do look to you for guidance and, whether you like it or not, they’re always watching you.  They want to see how you react to situations, feel about the company, and they respond in kind.  When I worked as a retail manager I very often dealt with angry customers face-to-face.  It can be difficult to not let those types of interactions ruin your day and go beyond that situation.  Once you open the door that complaining about people or situations is okay, your employees do the same.  It quickly becomes toxic, when instead you can find ways to turn those situations around.  There is always a time and a place to vent when needed, but letting it become part of your every day isn’t the answer. If something bothers you talk to your boss and be open to letting your employees talk to you privately.

Hopefully, you carry these mistakes with you and turn them around as a means for growing in your role as a leader.   Happy managing!

“Attitude reflects leadership, captain.”
Julius Campbell – Remember the Titans


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